Home >Science >Health >New virtual reality app lets you visit 16th century Edinburgh

London: Scientists have developed a new virtual reality (VR) app that enables users to see Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh as it may have been in the 16th century.

The smartphone app, developed by researchers from the University of St Andrews in the UK lets visitors explore the city, Edinburgh castle and its surrounding landscape.

“It is striking how the cityscape is both familiar and different from the city today. Instead of the new town there stands a great loch yet the castle stands guard over the city much as it does now," said Sarah Kennedy, digital designer of the University of St Andrews’s spinout company Smart History.

‘Virtual Time Binoculars: Edinburgh 1544’ provides a unique window into the capital around the time of the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Visitors will experience the digital reconstruction through a virtual reality app that hosts a range of virtual reality headset usage, as well as a web resource.

“We intend for it to be the first of many Virtual Time Binocular apps with depictions of St Andrews and Perth already in the pipeline," said Alan Miller, director of Smart History.

“We have had interest from across Europe and Latin America, so we expect our virtual time travel platform to go global," said Miller.

Using their mobile phones and VR headsets, users will become virtual time-travellers as they are immersed in historic scenes, stereoscopic video and 360 degree images.

Visitors will be able to explore present day St Giles’ Kirk and the Grassmarket as they learn more about their 16th century equivalents in parallel. Guided virtual tours of the Royal Mile will allow virtual time-travellers to compare Edinburgh’s past to its present.

The app allows users to view the reconstructions either in full screen mode or through more immersive virtual reality mode. Hotspots highlight the scenes with more facts and historical images for users to learn about the location.

The digital reconstruction is inspired by a drawing created by the English military engineer Richard Lee, who accompanied the Earl of Hertford’s May 1544 expedition.

Lee’s drawing, now held by the British Library, is one of the oldest surviving depictions of Edinburgh, and became the defining English impression of Scotland’s capital.

St Andrews researchers supplemented the information from Lee’s plan with archaeological evidence, 16th-century written sources, and information about the geography of the modern city, to create an updated reconstruction of Edinburgh.

“The Virtual Time Binoculars project is ground breaking for digital reconstruction because it uses technology already in people’s pockets," said Iain Oliver, head of Systems for Smart History.

“We have developed a software framework which will enable us to continue to send people back in time," Oliver said.

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