They are called the Jules Verne Augmented Reality Glasses, so named for the French-born writer whose Voyages extraordinaires series of novels and stories not only changed the face of literature in many ways, but changed the way we see the world. He was considered a kind of scientific prophet for how prescient he proved to be.
Yet Verne would insist “I invented nothing” and rebuke the idea of his prophesy. In fact, his explorations of science and technology, while fictionalized, were deeply-rooted in extensive and relentless research that he undertook during his early years studying in Paris and which continued for the rest of his life.
The collaborators on the Jules Verne Glasses project share much in common with the man himself.
Bruno Thircuir, Director of Fabrique des Petites Utopies, a theater company based in Grenoble, began to consider how his storytelling medium might evolve in the new millennium. Like, Thircuir, Jules Verne spent time working in the theater, before eventually having his own adventures beyond his home in France.
Thurcuir and his company have, for the past 20 years, travelled from France to Sarajevo, all over Europe and into North Africa, staging their repertoire of shows for local audiences. With their show Confidences et voyages, however, they began to create stories expressly about the places they travelled to, in caravans and makeshift outdoor theater spaces in those very far-flung places themselves.
The idea grew in Thircuir to bring the same sense of site-specific, immersive adventure that Confidences et voyages embodied back home to Grenoble. How might he tell a new story in such a familiar place? How could he see it with new eyes, sifting through layers of history to reveal something unexpected? In any given city or town, he knew, no matter how familiar we might be with locales, landmarks, and lore, there’s always more to see, to know.
A center of culture, creativity, and innovation with a rich and vibrant history, Grenoble is not only the home to Thurcuir’s company, but also to a diverse group of innovators, cultural advocates, and inventors, all of whom would eventually become partners in the endeavor to bring the Jules Verne augmented reality glasses to life.
Hexagone, representing the arts, together with La CEA Grenoble, representing technology, created the Atleier Arts Sciences which housed and supported the project. Through this initiative, Thircuir was connected with ActivMotion, Akylas, and MicroOLED. The team created a moving theatrical and cultural experience: ActivMotion provided a bespoke headset that rests on the outer part of the ear, thus not blocking out the sounds of life in the city, instead adding a narrative and acting as de facto guide. MicroOLED, specialists in micro-displays, created the technology allowing the augmentation to be housed in the inner lens of a pair of otherwise discrete sunglasses and Akylas provided the engineering and design support to pull the effort together and see the glasses go from rendering to real life.
Whether a tourist in Grenoble or a local, users simply put on the glasses and headset, download an app, and listen to the storyteller guide take them, in this first use case and rightly so, on a walking tour of the rich history of science and engineering in the town at the foot of the French Alps. The glasses use geolocation and indicators to then reveal and overlay various images depending on where the user is and which part of the story is being told: here, it’s the history of Houille Blanche, then it’s the Jardin de Ville, and so on. Users will have a visual and auditory experience of the story before the display changes and the user moves to the next bit of hidden history waiting to be revealed.
What the Jules Verne use case tells us definitively is that in this sleek and simple glasses design, any city or town, any cultural center or society, any tourism group, can adapt the same technology, engineering, and design to fit their location and tell the stories that are theirs alone to tell. Stories that tell us who we are in the places that we live and visit, that allow us to feel more a part of the continuity of time.
For Jules Verne, Bruno Thircuir, and the team of innovators in Grenoble, everything they do begins with a simple idea - an idea which, at one time, might have seemed impossible. But as Jules Verne once wrote: “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” With his namesake glasses, he proves himself the prophet once again.