The Aspen Project
at night on July 3, 1976, the Israelis launched an extraordinarily
successful strike on the Entebbe, Uganda, airport, rescuing 103 hostages
taken prisoner by pro-Palestinian guerillas, who were give safe haven
by dictator Idi Amin. By the time the one-hour operation ended,
twenty to fourty Ugandan troops were killed and all seven hijackers were
dead. Only one Israeli soldier and three hostages also lost their
lives. This impressed the American military so much that the Advanced
Research Projects Agency, ARPA, was asked to investigate electronic
ways in which American commandos could get the kind of training the Israelis
had had to succeed at Entebbe.
the Israelis had done was build in the desert a physical model, to
scale, of the Entebbe Airport (which was easy for them to do because
Israeli engineers had designed the airport when the two nations were on
friendly terms). The commandos then practiced landings and takeoffs,
as well as simulated assaults on this accurate mock-up. By the time
they arrived in Uganda for the "real thing," they had an extraordinarily
keen spatial and experiental sense of the place, alloowing them to
perform like natives. What a simple and terrific idea.
the idea as a physical embodiment was not extensible, in that we
just could not build replicas of every potential hostage situation or terrorist
targets like airports and embassies. We needed to do this with computers.
Once again, we had to use bits, not atoms. But computer graphics
alone, like that used in flight simulators, was inadequate. Whatever
system was developed would need the full photorealism of a Hollywood stage
set to convery a real sense of place and a feel for the surrounding environment.
and I proposed a simple solution. It used vidoediscs to allow the user
to drive down corridors or streets, as if the vehicle were located
in those corridors on those streets. As our test case, we chose
Aspen, Colorado where the city's grid and size were manageable and where
the townsfolk were sufficiently odd that they didn't worry about a homemade
film truck driving down the middle of all the streets for several weeks,
during several seasons.
the system worked was simple. Every street was filmed, in each direction,
by taking a frame every three feet. Similarly, every turn was filmed in
both directions. By putting the straight street segments on one videodisc
and the curves on the other, the computer could give you a seamless
driving experience. As you approached an intersection, say,
disc player 1, player 2 would line itself up at the intersection,
and in the event that you decided to turn right or left, it would
play that segment. When playing the turn, player 1 would then be
free to seek out the straight segment of street onto which you had turned
and, once again, would seemlessly play it as you ended your
turn and started down the new street.
the Aspen Project was magic. You could look out your side window,
stop in front of a building (like the police station), go inside,
have a conversation with the police chief, dial in differnt seasons,
see buildings as they were forty years before, get guided tours, helicopter
over maps, turn the city into animation, join a bar scene, and leave a
trail like Ariadne's thread to help you get back to where you started.
Multimedia was born.
was so successful that military contractors were hired to build working
prototypes for the field, with the idea of protecting airports and embassies
against terrorists. Ironically, one of the first sites to be commissioned
was Tehran. Alas, it was not done soon enough.
-- Being Digital