Timescope – A French Startup Makes Time Travel (Virtual) Reality

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A Timescope rendering of the Bastille in 1789, the year of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Have you ever walked by a spot in a new city, or even your own city, and felt a pang of regret that you’ll never know what the place looked like a few decades or even centuries ago? We resort to poorly executed documentaries or books with long, detailed descriptions to get a fleeting image of what we’re missing. Our longing may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to new French startup Timescope that gives history a visual boost thanks to virtual reality. Timescope has already received the Paris City Hall seal of approval. French Morning set out to find out more.

We caught up with Adrian Sedaka (@scadak), co-founder of Timescope with childhood friend Basile Segalen (@basiloo), who gives us an enticing preview of how they’re changing the way we visit cities and shares some of his favorite sightseeing spots in the City of Lights.

FMEE: As tourists, we travel from country to country, carrying around guidebooks and hiring actual guides to tell us about places. In your opinion, what’s missing in the way we visit sightseeing destinations…and what did you decide to do about it?

AS: Tourism around the world is booming, and that means the amount of travelers is on the rise as well. What we’ve noticed is that despite this increase, there is little to no emotion in the typical way we visit landmarks. Sure, there’s plenty of information: guidebooks, guides, photos… but it’s still very difficult to actually fathom what it felt like to be in those landmarks at their high points in time. If you visit La Bastille in Paris, try to imagine the revolution took place there: not an easy feat when you’re staring at the Opera designed by Carlos Ott. Or at Pompeii, for example, try picturing the volcanic eruption with all those tourists around you!

Virtual reality (VR) introduces a new immersive way to experience things. You feel like you’re actually there, inside the environment you’re watching. With Timescope, we decided to bring more entertainment and emotion in the way we discover landmarks with the help of virtual reality.

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Timescope, the easiest, fastest way to travel through history.

FMEE: How does Timescope actually work?

AS: Timescope is the first self-service virtual reality kiosk out there. On sites where History has a story to tell, we give visitors the opportunity to experience full immersion in an animated, realistic, 3D environment. This environment replicates the exact spot they are standing in, but at another point in time. By peering into Timescope, viewers travel back in time, the Middle Ages for example, and can experience just how much everything has changed. It’s a virtual time machine!

FMEE: The Timescope technology is based on the Oculus Rift…but not everyone out there is a tech geek. Will everyone else understand how to use the device?

AS: Timescope is designed for everyone and anyone! We tested our device on numerous occasions in the streets of Paris, and people of all ages, 7 to 77 and more, were very excited about it. We also designed a specific size adjustment system to ensure the best viewing experience for everyone, from kids to grown-ups.

FMEE: What makes Paris such a good first market?

AS: 

For starters, the city is obviously full of History, and that comes as no surprise to anyone. What you might not know is that among approximately 5000 streets, more than 50% display relevant historical facts on facades (informative signs, memorial plaques, historical monuments…).  Looking towards the future as well, Paris is a very dynamic city and we’ve got a number of architectural projects in progress at any given time. Timescope will be there for those, too: we’ll soon be supporting renovation projects to show the public what they will look like when they’re done.

FMEE: Now that you’ve captured our interest, when will we be able to experience Timescope?

AS: Our roadmap is simple: we want to implement Timescope stations wherever people need them or would find them useful, in France and abroad. This means anything from historical landmarks inside or outside cities, museums, airports, to urban renovation sites.

FMEE: Let’s say I’ve never been to Paris before. Apart from the classic tourist destinations, where should we go to get an interesting viewpoint of Parisian history?

AS: Even for Parisians who have been living here for a long time, there are still so many places that have a hidden and intriguing history. One of my favorites is the Tour Jean-sans-Peur (or “Tower of Fearless John”), located between the Grands Boulevards and the neighborhood of Les Halles. Most people walk by without noticing it, even though it has been there for centuries: sneak inside and you’ll discover an amazing ceiling and an absolutely crazy history of delusional paranoia. I won’t say any more and let you discover it for yourself…

Timescope overlooks popular sights in Paris, giving tourists and locals a view of the past.
Timescope overlooks popular sights in Paris, giving tourists and locals a view of the past.

FMEE: If you could truly go back in time for twenty minutes, what part of Paris would you visit?

AS: I would choose the “Belle Epoque” at the end of the nineteenth century, and I would walk into the Montmartre district to see the Moulin Rouge in its heyday, the way people used to dress, and at the top of the hill I would admire the city the way it looked back then. Then I would stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine, stop in a few cafés, and hopefully cross paths with Verlaine or Rimbaud.

To find out more and stay updated on when you’ll be able to travel in time with Timescope, head to www.timescope.co