The Bastille—famous for the storming that signified the start of the French Revolution—was demolished in 1789. Today, in the Place de la Bastille in Paris, nothing remains of the historic castle and prison, to the disappointment of many tourists and history-lovers.
However, a new Paris tech startup called Timescope has created a virtual reality-powered public kiosk that can take you back in time—or forward—in 360 degrees of images and video. And, the very first place it has been deployed is in the Place de la Bastille, where it can time warp you to 1416, just after the place was first completed, or 1789, when it was symbolically seized by revolutionaries throwing off the yoke of oppression.
"We are convinced people won't be in the streets with their VR headsets," said Adrien Sadaka, Co-founder and CEO of Timescope.
That's why the company self-funded its public VR kiosk, which looks like a slick corporate product built by a Fortune 500 design team, but was born out of the upstart Paris hardware lab Usine IO. Sadaka and his team are now courting investors for funds to power the growth of the company over the next two years.
At the Bastille site, the Timescope costs two euros for the minute-and-a-half experience of either 1416 or 1789. You can pay online at timescope.co and get a reservation code or use a contact-less credit card to pay at the kiosk.
The final price for a site to buy a Timescope hasn't been set yet, Sadaka said. But, in the few months since it's been at the Bastille site it has already generated over 100,000 euros in revenue so the company is pitching it to prospective customers as a way to enhance the customer experience at a site while also generating a new revenue stream.
When I tried Timescope at Place de la Bastille, I was impressed with the experience. The hardware looks extremely polished and is very easy to use. You can adjust the headset to your height and the machine swivels smoothly in 360 degrees so that you can look around the whole area in VR. The day I was there, the contract-less credit card payment wasn't working so I had to go on to the site on my phone and pay the €2,00 fee and get a code to plug into the machine. To Timescope's credit, the site was easy to navigate on mobile, available in both French and English, and I quickly went through the process twice so I could experience both the 1416 and the 1789 experience.
My only complaint was with the content. The visual image was impressive—a nice mix of historical research and effective 3D modeling. But, while I was able to easily look around the image in 3D and liked what I saw, there were only a couple text callouts with more historical details in each of the two experiences. That left me wanting more.
While the Timescope team designed the product with historical sites in mind, Sadaka said it could also be used to show what a site could look like in the future. It's easy to imagine it being used to preview the future construction of a new bridge, a skyscraper, a stadium or an Olympic site, for example.
Here's a video (in French) that shows Timescope in action at the Bastille:
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Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.