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Take In The Scenery Of The Past While You Walk, With This Augmented-Reality App

Soon you’ll be able to use your phone to see what the past looked like exactly where you’re standing.

There are places all around the world that are in danger of disappearing or being forgotten. Even in the cities we inhabit every day, we lack a tangible sense of what they looked like–and what they felt like to walk through in the past.

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Asma Jaber created the app PIVOT so people could look at a place through the lens of the past.

The app notifies users whenever they come across a “PIVOT point,” a spot from which the app can show historic images of the surroundings. Using a neat trick with augmented reality, the viewer can point a phone at a landmark and see what it looked like at different points in the past.

While there are other projects aiming to peel back the layers of cities, Pivot is unique in that it shows what a place looked like historically alongside today’s landscape. There will be virtual tours in case you can’t make it to the actual location you want to explore.


Jaber was drawn to preserving cultural heritage after her father, a Palestinian refugee from Nazareth, passed away in 2012. She wanted to create a platform to both digitally preserve historic photographs and show people what used to exist on the ground they are standing on today.

“There were over 400 villages destroyed in Palestine during the Nakba,” says Jaber. “The idea for PIVOT was born in Palestine, but with crowdsourcing, the idea can scale beyond that.”

An example of a PIVOT point in Bethlehem

PIVOT won a $25,000 prize from the Harvard Innovation Lab for its idea of “shoebox archiving,” through which the team will complement institutional archives with individuals’ photo collections. That level of crowdsourcing will allow for the app to scale both in geography and in the richness of experiences it offers at any one PIVOT point. The team is currently running a Kickstarter campaign in order to refine its augmented-reality and shoebox archiving features.

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Right now, the app is starting with pilot programs in the West Bank and on the Harvard campus. The team plans to expand to other areas in danger of losing their history, such as Iraq and Syria, as well as popular tourist destinations such as Rome and Paris, where it could be a complement to traditional sightseeing.

“Our goal is to both digitally preserve places and to promote historical learning,” says Jaber.

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About the author

Jay is a freelance journalist, formerly a staff writer for Fast Company. He writes about technology, inequality, and the Middle East. He read a lot of Walter Benjamin in college and his favorite sci-fi author is Ursula K

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