Jerusalem could emerge as virtual reality capital, say experts
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Jerusalem could emerge as virtual reality capital, say experts

A hackathon at the Tower of David shows museums the great potential of AR/VR tech

Members of the Zombie Rat team, winners of the Hack the Walls event (Courtesy)
Members of the Zombie Rat team, winners of the Hack the Walls event (Courtesy)

Jerusalem’s Tower of David played host last week to the first museum-sponsored and -related hackathon, where teams used augmented reality and virtual reality technolog to bring some of the museum’s stories to life.

The winner of the hackathon, held last Thursday, was a group that called itself Zombie Rat consisting of two adults and three high schoolers who developed a game called Escape the Kishle. It was based on the “escape room” game genre – in which people are locked in a room and have to solve puzzles and find clues to escape – and set in the Kishle, a Mandate-era prison that held Jewish fighters against the British presence in Palestine.

The game is designed to be played on the ENTiTi augmented reality and virtual reality platform by Israeli AR/VR start-up WakingApp. It enhances the experience with voices from inmates held in the prison, and has sub-plots that take players into the times of the Crusaders, King Herod, Hasmoneans and King Hezekiah, bringing to life various periods of Jerusalem’s rich and dramatic history, said the team.

The winners received NIS 5000, a pair of Epson Moverio BT200 glasses (with allows the use of AR/VR applications), and a package from AtoBe Accelerator at the Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem providing office space and mentorship to help the team further develop and eventually commercialize the game.

Hacking the Walls hackathon participants (Courtesy)
Hacking the Walls hackathon participants (Courtesy)

The hackathon was held in advance of a conference this week that brought together representatives of dozens of Israeli museums to discuss how technology could be used to enhance the museum experience. Many of Israel’s museums – like Tower of David – could use a digital spruce-up, said museum director Eilat Lieber.

“When this museum was first opened thirty years ago, it was state of the art, with maps, hands-on exhibits, and much more,” she said. “Unfortunately little changed since then, and a few years ago we decided that it was time for an update. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of the technology produced in Israel to do that.”

In 2015, Tower of David premiered an advanced 360 degree online tour of the museum, allowing anyone anywhere to virtually tour the museum with a guide. The hackathon is the next logical step, utilizing the next level of technology – AR and VR, said Lieber.

Eilat Lieber (Courtesy)
Eilat Lieber (Courtesy)

AR/VR is also the next level in an industry that has quietly become very hot in Jerusalem – animation, said Yoram Honig, director of the Jerusalem Film Fund. “We have over 120 animators working at several studios in the city now, and there are currently several large productions being done here, including Disney series ‘Star Darlings.’ This is the result of hard work and effort on the part of the city and the tech community, as well as the film industry, which has tried several times in the past to establish itself in Jerusalem but failed.”

Yoram HonigThis time, the city, along with Honig, consulted with city planners and industry experts to figure out what Jerusalem’s best entertainment industry bet was – and they came up with the idea of animation, given the city’s vision technology expertise. Jerusalem is home to MobilEye, the world leader in road safety detection systems utilizing vision technology, as well as OrCam, maker of a system that allows blind and visually impaired people to “see,” using 3D cameras, sensors, and other advanced technology.

In addition to these companies, Jerusalem is home to Hebrew University, which has a very strong vision technology program, as well as the Bezalel school of art, which has some of the country’s most advanced courses in computer aided design, animation, digital art, and more.

Those are all building blocks of AR/VR, said Honig, and their presence in Jerusalem means that the emerging technology could be the city’s big tech break – doing for Jerusalem what mobile tech did for Tel Aviv, or chip technology did for Kiryat Gat.

“AR/VR are still in their infancy, and professionals around the world are searching for the apps and technology that will enable schools, businesses, service firms, and many more to incorporate AR and VR into their offerings,” said Honig. “Given Jerusalem’s expertise in both these key areas, there is no reason the city cannot emerge as a leader in this area. If the walls of this museum could talk, they would tell an amazing story – and with the AR/VR tech we can develop here, we can bring that story to life.”

“Jerusalem is the right place to introduce these new technologies, especially augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), both of which Israeli museums have begun using to make their messages more relevant,” said Eynat Sharon, director of Digital Media at the Tower of David, and serving in the same role at ICOM Israel, the local branch of the industry group International Council of Museums. “Jerusalem is a center of vision technology, with companies like MobileEye and OrCam headquartered here. The message we are sending out from Jerusalem is that there are many stories to be told, and the technology we develop here in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, can be an AR/VR ‘light unto the nations.’”

 

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