Flux lets you travel through time

The augmented reality app lets users view historic pictures overlaid on a current scene.
Flux users outdoors
Imagine being able to walk through your neighbourhood and see it exactly as it was 100 years ago.

A new augmented reality app developed by Toronto-based Normative and Smlr (pronounced smaller) makes that possible. Flux, available for iOS, is borne out of a military system called Wide Area Persistent Surveillance, which can accurately bring together images from different sources to create composites. For users, it allows them to place and share digital content in a precise location.

For instance, the City of Toronto could upload historic images of Liberty Village to the app for users to look at through the viewfinder, overlaid onto the present-day scene. The images can be layered as well, making it possible to flip through and see a street corner transform through the years, from cottage-style homes to condos. Individuals could also upload old photo album pics to the exact location where the photos were taken, allowing them to revisit the site where they exchanged vows on their wedding day, for instance.

The app offers new ways of exploring a place tourism authorities or amusement parks could take advantage of, Gregg Sypeck, one of the founders of Flux, says on the phone from Washington, D.C., where he is SVP of aerospace and defence technology co Mav6, which invested in the work Smlr is doing on Flux.

And most importantly for brands, it provides an opportunity to deliver context-relevant content to consumers, with companies that produce content or want to drive people to content being a natural fit, he says.

“That is really one of the big pushes we had,” he says, “folks that have a lot of content that is relevant to discover geographically or geo-spatially.”

For instance, he says Flux recently talked with a large news organization in Toronto about the possibility of it placing a photo in a location that could link back to an article associated with it.

People talk about the big data problem, how do you manage it?” he says. “We are trying to narrow it down to specifically what you are looking at and use that as a way to discover content.

“We really see it as an interesting new way to manage a lot of content for rediscovery where it’s contextually relevant.”

The app features include a compass that shows where content is stored on a map and allows people to filter through it, as well as social media functions, like the ability to follow other users or share a captured photo against its current backdrop on Facebook or Twitter.

While the app is not in beta mode, it is not in its final version either, Sypeck says. It has been available on the iTunes App Store for about two months, but the team has not done any heavy promotion around it, relying instead on a concentration of users based in Toronto and Washington. Currently, users can only place, share and view photos, though the functionality exists for multimedia.

Meanwhile, one of the challenges for the Flux team is improving the reliability of GPS, on which the app relies heavily. At present, Sypeck says the user experience can be compromised in areas where there is a lot of metal and stone (ie. inside most buildings) because the app struggles to load the right image at a location. But technologies like WiFiSLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) that are being developed to improve geo-location will allow for an enhanced experience and help solve that problem, he says.

Matt Nish-Lapidus, partner and design director at Normative, adds that the goal for now is to see how people interact with the app. For instance, someone experiencing a concert may snap a ton of selfies in the app, leaving the images there for someone else to find, in a technologically-advanced version of hide-and-seek.

“This is the first version. There is going to be new features and improvements coming all the time and we are really interested in seeing how people use it, even if it’s a relatively small number of people,” he says. “We want to get a sense of how people use it, what is interesting about it to them, so we can keep making it better.”