A new augmented reality two-device prototype allows archaeologists to see and even smell ancient civilisations. The Dead Men’s Eyes uses an iPad’s GPS to pinpoint the user’s location. When users hold the iPad’s camera up to the landscape virtual reconstructions of ancient sites and settlements long gone are placed on top of the real world images. Meanwhile, the Dead Man's Nose works as a "smell delivery device" that wafts certain smells, like log fires, into your nose based on your location. Metro speaks to prototype developer Dr. Stuart Eve, an honorary research associate at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, to learn more.

What inspired you to create this gadget?

– I was studying for a PhD in Archaeology at University College London - looking at the Bronze Age landscape of Cornwall, southwest England. The site I had chosen, Leskernick Hill, consisted of around 50 roundhouses comprising a Bronze Age village. However, when I visited the site all that was there was the vague outlines of the houses on the ground, made up of a series of jumbled stones. I wanted to feel and experience what it was like during the height of the Bronze Age and how different the landscape would be if I could see, hear, feel and smell the houses, people and animals. Augmented reality seemed to be the only way to do that.

What's the idea behind Dead Men's Eyes?

– The main reason for making the app was to enable someone to go to an archaeological site, hold up an iPad or tablet computer (or augmented reality goggles) and experience the site as it used to be. I study archaeology to find out what it was like to be a human in the past - and I want to use Augmented Reality to do that. However, I want the experience to be tied to a place. If I was just using a Virtual Reality headset I would not be able to recreate the feeling of wind in my hair, the way the hills make me tired when I walk around them and how the form of landscape affects me. Archaeology is about exploring places and how humans interacted in them - this is not possible to do whilst being plugged into a virtual world in your bedroom.

How does the device work?

– I collect the archaeological data within a Geographic Information System (GIS), essentially a spatially enabled database. I use a combination of Unity3D, with the Vuforia augmented reality plugin to virtually place those spatially located features (for example, a Bronze Age house) within their real locations. The app uses the iPad's GPS and compass to figure out where in the landscape I am standing and which way I am looking. It then calculates what the houses would look like if I viewed them from that location. These models are then overlaid onto the iPad's video feed, which enables you to look around the real hillside and see the houses as if they were there. This is then coupled with 3D-located sounds, that get quieter or louder depending on where you are in relation to them.

How can Dead Men’s Eyes help humanity?

– Learning about the past is vital to understanding who we are as people and where we are headed in the future. I want my project to help people realise that everywhere in the world has a history and everywhere we are standing has been stood in before. In addition, Augmented Reality is very different from Virtual Reality, in that it forces people to experience it in the real world. By concentrating on Virtual Reality (as most of the tech world seems to be doing at the moment - Oculus Rift being a prime example) - we run into the danger of plugging people into their computers and having all of their interactions mediated through some kind of virtual space. AR on the other hand means that people at least have to leave their houses and go and visit somewhere else to have the experience.

But you can 'smell the history', too?

– Yes, the Dead Man's Nose is an add-on to the Dead Men's Eyes app that allows you to smell the past. It is an Arduino microcontroller, connected to a computer fan, which has a phial of smell mounted in front of it. The app uses the GPS to recognise where it is and when it is in a place where I have programmed a smell to be - it starts the fan running, which gently wafts the smell towards your nose.

What is the future of your project?

– Currently I am using the project to explore some other archaeological sites. It is still in the testing phase and I only have a prototype. Currently, I am looking for funding.

Website: dead-mens-eyes.org