Making “Tracks” Interactive–A New Book And App Update An Amazing Journey

Photographer and publishing entrepreneur Rick Smolan is back with a new book that revisits a 37-year-old seminal journey while pushing the boundaries of media interactivity.

In 1977, National Geographic sent then 28-year-old photojournalist Rick Smolan to chronicle portions of Robyn Davidson’s 1,700-mile trek across the Australian Outback, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, with four camels and a dog.


Beyond the resulting National Geographic article, the adventure inspired Smolan’s 1992 From Alice to Ocean photography book and CD, Davidson’s 1995 bestseller Tracks, and a 2014 film of the same name, staring Mia Wasikowska as Davidson and Adam Driver as Smolan. The journey struck a nerve among readers because of its daring and independence.

(L-R) Rick Smolan and Robyn Davidson in 1977, and today.Photos: Inside Tracks and Matt Nettheim

Now, Smolan—who also brought us the Day in the Life series and The Human Face of Big Data—has revisited that original journey in a new coffee table book, Inside Tracks: Robyn Davidson’s Solo Journey Across the Outback, that includes more than 200 unpublished and re-printed photos, movie images, and essays by Davidson, Smolan, and Tracks director John Curran.

In keeping with Smolan’s tradition of incorporating technology in his publishing projects, Inside Tracks comes with a downloadable augmented reality app, developed by HP Aurasma.

The app enables readers to point their smart devices at any of Smolan’s photos from Davidson’s camel trek and immediately view that scene as it appears in the Tracks movie. Smolan’s photos inspired the film’s casting, costumes, and sets. (See the above slide show for comparisons.)

The technology does not use QR codes, but instead recognizes each image as a unique “fingerprint” wherever it appears–in a book, on the web, or in a gallery–and instantly streams a video clip to the device.

“Of all the books I’ve worked on, Inside Tracks is the most inspiring,” says Smolan. “My hope is that Inside Tracks and Robyn’s belief that ‘an ordinary person is capable of anything’ will inspire readers to embark on their own voyage of self- discovery.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.