Time Travel in London with Timelooper App

Last night we headed into London to discover what all this “time travel” talk was about from Timelooper – a company with an app and a Google Cardboard box.

A viable, permanent, all encompassing virtual reality is getting closer, you don’t have to travel to London to know that! But you do have to travel to London to get to the sites, including St Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London and Trafalgar Square, where you can get to see what Timelooper have done with it.

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In brief, Timelooper have created a short, site-specific, video, that you can view on your mobile phone, which will transform your surroundings and whisk you back to a particular moment in history.

After downloading the app and the three videos that we were going to be seeing throughout the evening, and picking up our Google Cardboard, we were set to go.

At the Tower we were treated to a rather random moment, during the Lent of 1255: that of the arrival of an elephant, a gift from Louis IX of France to Henry III of England (the giving of exotic animals was “a thing” amongst the rulers of Europe in those days).

At the time, the beast, the first to arive in England, must have been an extraordinary site for the untravelled multitude, but today the event is somewhat underwhelming!

The graphics are good and the 3d / 360 effects are pleasing as you spin and turn to study the scene, but the elephant is seen from some distance and the rest of the scene is of some boys play-fighting and folks going about their business in a pleasant market scene, which rather fails to project the excitement of the arrival of such a magnificent beast, which, I presume, was the whole point of chosing that event in the first place!

It is a gentle introduction to the app and we all have fun comparing the action with our actual surroundings as we look around to discover our new surroundings.

Next we are off to St Paul’s to witness Londoners battling the fire of London in 1666. Here, just by the statue of the firefighters, we watch groups of men tackle the blaze whilst women and children hurry off to find somewhere safe.

Again the images are well produced and the syncing with our actual surroundings as we turn is excellent, making us a very humourous  sight on the pavements of rush-hour London as we twist and turn to watch the virtual action.

The proximity of the statue, which is, of course, not present in the video, makes for a painful reminder not to move whilst exploring a virtual world and, being engrossed in 1666 London, it is easy to forget your 2015 surroundings which, my security-minded companion pointed out, could make you and your possessions vulnerable.

Finally we are off to Trafalgar Square to witness the Blitz of 1940. For our group the sync between virtual and real world was not quite right but it really didn’t effect our enjoyment of the night-time scene as bombers fly overhead and the anti-aircraft guns open up, in an attempt to protect London from the onslaught.

At this stage we were also starting to experiment with the software. Rather than use the Google Cardboard sets, you can just use the screen on your mobile device. Although this makes the experience less emersive, it does improve your situational awareness and, in an open area like Trafalgar Square, or standing by a busy road, that is extremely important for visitors to any large city.

So all in all we liked the Timelooper app. We did however have the benefit or tech support from the Timelooper guys when things went wrong and, as we were in a group, our personal security was much better than it would be if we were on our own. But, even in a group, we naturally operated a “you look, I’ll look out”. This was also useful as we each held the other’s coat or bag, or newspaper whilst the person doing the time travel enjoyed the experience and could make sure that their phone did not fall out of the Google Cardboard VR headset, as, to fit the phone in, you have to take it out of its protective case!

So for visitors to London, Timelooper is an interesting snapshot of three particular “days of old” but maybe Virtual Reality is something to enjoy in the safety and comfort of your own room, rather than the middle of a busy city square!

Afterall, if you have come all this way to see this wonderful city in real life, why watch it on a small screen!

The Timelooper app can be downloaded, for free, from the Apple App Store or Google Play.