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A visitor gazes at a different reality, yesterday at the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem..(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Tower of David Museum launches hi-tech innovation lab
The museum is hosting a mix of local startups specializing in augmented reality and virtual reality, many of which seek to beta-test their products on site for free.
Housed in a citadel built by King Herod some 2,000 years ago, the Tower of David Museum’s hi-tech innovation lab opened to the public on Tuesday, promising to be a boon to the Jerusalem technology ecosystem.

The museum, located in the capital’s Old City, is hosting a mix of local startups specializing in augmented reality and virtual reality, many of which seek to beta-test their products on site for free.

For youngsters addicted to their digital devices, the Tower of David Museum seeks to become more visitor-friendly by marrying its low-tech archeology to hi-tech gaming.

Some 400,000 people visit the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem annually. "At the launch, visitors were able to explore the museum with AR (alternate reality) and VR (virtual reality) headsets, including with Microsoft’s HoloLens, which enables one to interact with Star Wars-style holograms – when a laser projects a 3-D image. Other devices on site include Woojer’s unique haptic vest, which allows one to feel vibrating sound waves and immerse in a locale.

“How do we overcome the obstacles to mainstream adoption of these technologies?” asked Devora Mason, head of the museum’s innovation lab. “Eighty-five percent of people haven’t even had the chance to use an AR device... And we’re becoming a crucial part of the AR/VR market with products that can be readily available to visitors.”

The new innovation lab offers workspace and equipment for the start-ups that are selected into the program, along with pairing them with a mentor. Many of the firms develop entertainment or digital educational products, and they seek to collaborate with world heritage sites.

When The Jerusalem Post visited the museum in August, a host of venture capitalists, municipal officials and major investors were on site. For start-ups selected to take in part in the innovation lab, the Tower of David’s rolodex promises to be a boon for advancing to later stages of capital development.

One Israeli start-up operating from the innovation lab is Blimey TV/The Holy City, which offers a gamified VR experience highlighting Jerusalem’s status as a holy city for the three Abrahamic faiths.

“You can teleport yourself to the city and really see your presence. You’re not disconnected, you can hear the sounds if you were standing in that position, you can see everywhere that you would, you can interact and you’re entering the city gates,” said Nimrod Shanit, the company’s director and producer of experience, adding that participants could virtually enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during its annual fire ceremony and be a fly on the wall.

The start-up does its filming locally and is partnering with a Canadian VR studio for post-production work and to further its expansion. “We’ve already found several cities that have similar interests in the form of pilgrimage, whether it’s in China, Korea or India. They’re set in Far East Asia, because interest in VR and AR has taken off there.”

The site is also leading the way domestically when it comes to museums partnering with tech firms to transform the visitor experience. Curators from Japan to Germany visited the innovation lab on Tuesday, expressing interest in the Tower of David’s embrace of digital devices.

As an ancient archeological site, the Tower of David Museum offers panoramic views of Jerusalem and is centrally located, next to Jaffa Gate. Its innovation lab is funded by the Jerusalem Development Authority and a mix of corporate partners. The joint investment with the Jerusalem Development Authority will be NIS 2.7 million ($700,000) to refurbish and develop.

The museum has previously hosted hackathons, where youngsters stay awake all night and seek to computer code or brainstorm new business development plans.
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