This is our Skunkworks area, where we talk about some of the odd stuff we are working on.


For our newest and most off-the-wall project we have been working with researchers at University College London on a mobile app called VisAge. This aims to turn a smartphone or tablet device into a combination of X-Ray camera and time machine that can see inside buildings and reveal the people who lived there in the past.

The system uses what is known as augmented reality, or AR, to visualise a layer of social history on top of a real scene. To do this it needs to pull together quite a lot of information.

Step by step, it will work something like this.

1. The GPS functionality of the device will be used to work out where it is, then pattern recognition will enable it to understand which building it is pointing at.

2. Next, it will pull in a floor plan of the building and render this as a 3D space superimposed on the facade of the building, giving the effect of being able to see inside it.

Once we can achieve that, the system will search for old census returns and street directories to discover who lived in the building in the past, their name, occupation, gender, age and so on. It can then render 3D avatars of the people within the 3D space.

Knowing what people did for a living, how large the family was and the type of home they lived in provides clues as to how wealthy or poor they might have been.

This information can then be used to search for examples of appropriate interior decoration and the clothes they may typically have worn.

This information will then be used to 'dress' the 3D interior spaces and the avatars that represent the residents at that time.

So there's quite a lot to do.