Delving into the mysteries of our past by exploring delicate paper archives was once a privilege reserved for professionals. Through Chronogram, the EPFL+ECAL Lab opens the doors of this historic universe with a new approach to virtual reality. On the occasion of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch fair, it unveiled the Chronogram project, the result of a collaboration with watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin and the Digital Humanities Laboratory of the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.
Vacheron Constantin boasts an uninterrupted history of 260 years devoted to watchmaking excellence. Above all, it provides a unique testimony about our society: since 1755, more than 350 linear meters of documents retrace the aspirations of each era, the emergence of new knowledge, and the birth of trade across continents. These archives also preserve the memory of each timepiece, century after century, and thus constitute a world heritage of immeasurable value.
The challenge is to turn these fragile pages into an accessible and dynamic information system. The Digital Humanities Lab investigates digitisation principles able to recognise historic handwriting, connect its content and place this in context to provide a comprehensive historical view. However, the Chronogram project goes one step beyond by transforming this content into a unique experience: a universe through which we can travel to sense the richness of our past.
The EPFL+ECAL Lab addressed this challenge by revisiting the use of virtual reality. Not only does it create a new virtual universe to showcase historical documents, it also rethinks the design of the VR headset. The objective is to offer an interaction that enhances the content, meaning and emotion emerging from our history.
This virtual universe requires a novel design to meet complex challenges: it must evolve along with the gradual digitisation of archives and provision of additional references such as historical artefacts. It gradually highlights the links and information revealed by the collaboration between the Heritage Department of Vacheron Constantin and the Digital Humanities Laboratory. It requires the creation of an unprecedented visual language and narrative principles to enhance the content, without the stressful effects typical of digital games. To reduce the distrust potentially felt by users who may often be removed from the specific gaming culture, the Laboratory has brought together several designers to explore the devices themselves, in cooperation with seasoned craftsmen. Thus, the glasses are adorned with leather to acquire a nobler status, offer protection through a form inspired by fencing masks, and relieve the user of any fastenings with a device reminiscent of tourist binoculars.
The Chronogram project was on display at the Vacheron Constantin boutique in Geneva during the SIHH watch fair in 2017. The exhibition included the scientific approach for ancient text recognition as well as interactive devices.
Interaction Design Lead
Product Design Lead
Nicolas Le Moigne
Bertille Laguet, Dimitri Bähler, Béatrice Durandard, Egli Studio
Nicolas Le Moigne, Béatrice Durandard
Dr Andreas Sonderegger with assistance of Ocyna Rudmann
© EPFL+ECAL Lab / Daniela & Tonatiuh
© EPFL+ECAL Lab / messieurs.ch