Visitors to Israel’s many archaeological sites are often told to come equipped with a camera, and an imagination. The camera is to take photos of themselves and their companions at these famous sites — and the imagination is supposed to help them visualize what many of the faded, ancient, and time-worn places looked like during their heyday.
There are loads of aids to help prompt those imaginations, from guidebooks to audio recordings to professional guides. But Architip, a new app created by a team of image and archaeology professionals, takes a decidedly high-tech approach to the issue. Using augmented reality (AR) technology, the app lets users see what sites actually looked like long ago, bringing to virtual life a view of the ancient world.
Augmented reality is a technology that uses mathematics, models, location services, camera technology, and advanced algorithms to impose a virtual image that melds into a real-life one. “For example, you might look at an ancient mosaic on the floor of a synagogue or church, and barely see the decorations on it because of the fading,” said Yaron Benvenisti, CEO of Architip, which is located in Jerusalem and has been operating for about six months. “With Architip, you would see the mosaic in full color, with all its drawings intact.”
Because each site needs to be mapped and augmented separately, Architip is being marketed as a “white label” engine, which will be used at specific sites. As a pilot, the Architip R&D team, led by Israeli AR and computer vision pioneer Sagiv Philipp, has mapped and “virtualized” the Tel Lachish archaeological site in central Israel. Tel Lachish was a fortified city surrounded by towers, and had many stately buildings, but looking at the site today, it’s hard to visualize the city as it was. With Architip, users can see the site in all its ancient glory just by holding up their smartphone’s camera at the location and looking at the screen.
“With Architip, you can see Tel Lachish as it was,” Benvenisti said, “walking through its streets and seeing the reconstruction through your device.” All a user has to do is point their device at a specific point, and Archtip’s technology does the rest.
AR technology, of course, has a million and one uses, and the engine developed by the team does as well. But Benvenisti has a soft spot for archaeology — one of the reasons he convinced the team to gear their first commercial application to it. “Archaeology is my passion,” said Benvenisti. “We wanted to help bridge the ‘imagination gap,’ between what you see and what’s behind the plain view. People want to experience more, and our technology is perfect for that.”
Archaeology — applied to sites that attract tourists — is also the basis of Architip’s business model. “Sites will want to use our technology to enhance the visitor experience. They can offer the download for a few dollars, or make it a part of the admission package, and give every visitor the experience of having a personal guide.” Adding voice to the app would also be possible, he said, so the Architip app could be used as a substitute for real-life tour guides.
Philipp has been working in the AR area for a decade, and on Architip’s technology, but the company started marketing the app only late last year. The company, so far self-funded, recently got its first customer, a tourist site in Jerusalem — Benvenisti declined to identify the site — and the app will be available in the summer. “We have been talking to other sites, and other cities as well,” Benvenisti said. “Countries all over the world are working on ways to enhance their offerings to visitors. This app is definitely going to help them.”