The global engineer
E&T on CINeSPACE - an intelligent sensor-fusion system incorporating GPS, WLAN tags, inertia cubes and marker-less optical tracking.
When you decide where to go on holiday, do you choose your location for the art, or the weather, or the history, or the monuments? Or is it because you've seen a movie shot there? The tourism industry is increasingly convinced the latter is a popular option. Already, tour companies are gearing up for the release later this year of 'Eat, Pray, Love', in which Julia Roberts plays a woman who tours the world in an attempt to overcome her mid-life crisis. Travel company World Expeditions is already encouraging us to book up to 'follow Julia Roberts' as she finds the pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy, the power of prayer in India and the inner peace and balance of true love in Indonesia. With the ease of travel now, it seems more likely that we'll go somewhere we've first encountered on a big screen.
One new device is hoping to exploit this travel trend. Soon, if you choose Venice, San Sebastian or Glasgow as your holiday destination you won't have to wander around with a guidebook, looking for the spots where your favourite film was shot. A gadget resembling a small DVD player with eyeholes is being developed, which will superimpose you into the set, as if you were an extra in 'Death in Venice' or 'The Talented Mr Ripley'.
This CINeSPACE project offers a far more immersive experience than staring at the small screen on a smart phone. Hold it up to your eyes like a pair of binoculars, and you can see multimedia content superimposed on the surrounding streets and squares. You're guided around the alleyways and over the canals by an intelligent sensor-fusion system incorporating GPS, WLAN tags, inertia cubes and markerless optical tracking. Location-aware services tell you where to go and where to stand for the best 'augmented reality experience'. Real and digital worlds will merge, allowing you to 'step back in time'. 'In St Mark's Square in Venice, for example, users could position themselves where Audrey Hepburn stood [in 'Roman Holiday'] and view the Basilica ... Or they can watch historic footage of how the square used to look,' says María Teresa Linaza, technical coordinator of the CINeSPACE project.
One intention of this latest bit of high-tech is to enhance the visitor experience and, as a result, increase tourist revenue. Presumably that's why its development is being funded by the EU - that is, you and me. But I do wonder how wisely our money is being spent, and how big the box office for this new device will be. I can think of a couple of scratches on the celluloid dream to make us all stars in our own movies. First, do we necessarily want to be transported in this way while we're actually travelling? The CINeSPACE device has yet to be named (hopefully with only one capital letter at the start), but 'Blinker' seems like a good title to me. It literally blocks out our sight of the new place we're standing in, instead filtering it through familiar images. It would certainly eliminate surprises; we're only going to see what we've programmed the Blinker to show us.
As Glasgow is one of the three trial locations, I would also offer a word of caution to the Scottish Tourist Board. One wonders what film you're going to be morphed into in Sauchiehall Street? Danny Boyle's 'Trainspotting' was filmed in Glasgow, but I can't see encouraging visitors to morph all that drug-injecting into the surrounding scenes will be good for the tourist trade. And Venice's 'Don't Look Now' is scary enough as it is, without having actually to be part of the terrifying stalking scenes as you negotiate your way along the narrow canals.
This cumbersome device, which hangs round your neck, like an oversized camera, at the same time as all other kit is shrinking, also seems to ignore the division between fact and fiction. Movies aren't documentaries - they're made up. And many aren't shot anywhere near the place they claim to depict. 'Anna and the King of Siam' was filmed in Malaysia, not Thailand, and 'Bangkok Harbour' was relocated to Penang. Even recent flick 'The Ghost', which shows Piers Brosnan as a Tony Blair-like figure holed up in a designer bunker on Martha's Vineyard, was actually filmed more than 6,000km away over the ocean on the German island of Sylt. So, which country exactly are we going to project onto which?
Admittedly, there is a current trend in travel to make one place appear rather like another. I've pointed out in earlier columns how hot countries are furiously building snow domes and cold countries constructing temperate zones under giant plastic pods. Now Asia's first safari park has opened, offering visitors 'a unique African experience in north-west Taiwan'. The Leofoo Resort Guanshi boasts African-themed rooms and the opportunity for guests to get up close to giraffes, rhinos and zebras.
It makes me wonder why we have to leave home at all. If the Blinker can project a film set on to the Grand Canal, why can't it transform my sitting room? Surely it would be just as satisfying, and a whole lot cheaper. And I wouldn't have to spend hours queuing at security and worrying about volcanic ash. I could just order in a pizza from my local home delivery outlet, pull out a bottle of Chianti, and get superimposed.