Journey through time with unique AR app

Michael Gibb


CITY IN TIME vividly brings back to life Hong Kong’s extraordinary history, says Professor Shaw.


Compatible with a range of devices, easy to download and fun to use, the app “CITY IN TIME” is a collaboration between the Centre for Applied Computing and Interactive Media, the School of Creative Media (SCM), City University of Hong Kong (CityU), young local artists and historians, and the Tourism Commission.

Using cutting-edge augmented reality (AR) technology, this exciting new app offers users a fully immersive way to experience Hong Kong’s geographical and environmental transformation over time via a smartphone.

“CITY IN TIME vividly brings back to life Hong Kong’s extraordinary history,” said Professor Jeffrey Shaw, Yeung Kin Man Chair Professor of Media Art in SCM, who conceived and directs this project.

The AR technology integrates digital images with the real world and enables 360-degree historical panoramas of some of Hong Kong’s most visited and historically rich locations to be juxtaposed with the present-day surroundings so that users can simultaneously see Hong Kong’s past and present in these locations, he added.

The cutting-edge AR technology enables a 360-degree historical panorama of Hong Kong’s most historically rich locations.


The historical panoramas are presented either as photorealistic reconstructions or as artistic renderings produced by leading Hong Kong illustrators. There are several designated sites in Central and Kowloon, and at each one the AR system presents a different period in the history of Hong Kong.

Users first locate the AR markers in the city via the internet or simply while strolling around town. You point your device at the QR code on the marker, an unmissable red pole, and download the app. You are then free to point your device at the clock-like face on the pole to activate that location’s information. 

The app allows you to explore the 360-degree panoramic artwork that depicts what Hong Kong looked like at the spot where you are standing at a specific period in history. Each location has been assigned a particular year. The surrounding historical panorama and the existing environment can be simultaneously viewed on the mobile devices screen with accompanying ambient sound and animation unique to that location. 

“You can also take selfies against the artistic rendering of the historical panorama and share on social media as well as read about the history of the location,” said Professor Shaw.

The process for developing the app began with laser scanning the different historical locations around Hong Kong, constructing a 3D model, taking reference from historical photographs, and then using artistic and photorealistic rendering to create the rich texture.

“CITY IN TIME’s panoramas were created using historical photographs that were digitally assembled, as well as panoramic illustrations specially drawn and painted for the project by renowned Hong Kong artists. The panoramas were modelled in 3D so that optical tracking could be used to spatially align them with the actual environment, using AR,” said Professor Shaw.  “We have used technological innovation to show how Hong Kong’s fascinating, ever-changing past evolved into and has influenced the living present.”

The app offers a unique level of accessibility or artistic quality, and the potential is vast.  It may inspire similar development for other cities in the world, offering equally exciting glimpses into the past, with the unique possibility of a historical selfie.



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