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Virtuality

Augmented Reality Recreates A New York City Not Seen for Centuries

Inventing America brings New Yorkers to Governor’s Island, circa 1623.

Dan RobitzskiAugust 2nd 2018

If you’re looking to augment your walking tour of New York, but you grew tired of catching pokémon, shooting zombies, and hiding virtual graffiti, there’s a new AR app to help you make more of your stroll through the Big Apple.

Inventing America is a new AR experience mapped to real-world Governor’s Island, an (yep you guessed it) island that sits squarely in the East River, due East of the Statue of Liberty.

Today, Governor’s Island is a scenic destination broken up into a small national park and several historic sites. But originally, it was a seasonal outpost for Native Americans (who inhabited the whole region) to set up camp and collect fish. The British arrived, and the island changed hands several times between the English and Dutch — specifically, the West India Company, which made the island the base of its operations.

This post-colonial scene is what you step into on the Inventing America app. Viewed through a phone or tablet, Governor’s Island becomes the locus of a rip in the very fabric of spacetime. Step through the simulated time warp and you’re thrown back to the 17th century as a cartoony colonist, animated through 3D rendering and motion capture technology, work to settle the future New York City.

The brainchild of mixed reality artist Roi Lev (a former Israeli intelligence officer but more recently a master’s graduate from New York University), Inventing America features a cast of virtual characters and a branching storyline that users can freely follow, explore, or ignore as they see fit. It’s entirely up to each person how much they want to interact with the app’s narrative and cast of virtual colonists. And because the project relies on augmented reality rather than a virtual reality simulation or standard video, the only way to explore the virtual island is to wander the physical island.

The animation isn’t perfect by any means — the project’s official trailer shows a virtual character’s hands and arms clipping through his vest as he gestures. But it’s OK to suspend your disbelief — many indie-made video games share similar design glitches and the literally island-sized undertaking that is Inventing America can surely afford a couple of bugs.

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Given Magic Leap’s much-anticipated but utterly-disappointing demo, augmented reality could use some cool new projects that are more fun than high-tech body-shaming. And for Lev, Governor’s Island is just the beginning of his New York City time travel adventures.

“This is a first episode of experiences of the city in different times,” Lev told Futurism. “We recently started developing an experience set in the Lower East Side in the beginning of the 20th century.”

More about the future of augmented and virtual reality: Virtual Reality Has Reached A “Tipping Point.” It’s Officially Here to Stay.

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