I always pictured a time machine in the form of a DeLorean, a spaceship-like vessel or perhaps even a red telephone booth. But, as it turns out, the world’s first time machine has come in the form of a Volkswagen.

Time travel machine, a Volkswagen van on cobblestone street in Luxembourg City.
Time travel machine, a Volkswagen van on cobblestone street in Luxembourg City.

A company based in Luxembourg, Urban Timetravel, has produced a large-scale and “totally immersive” virtual reality experience that allows travelers to explore the City of Luxembourg’s Pfaffenthal quarter as it was in 1867.

Although the buildings in Luxembourg City have changed, the fortress has been largely destroyed and walls torn down, the neighborhood’s basic layout and cobblestone streets remain. This allowed Urban Timetravel developers to build a virtual representation of 1867 Luxembourg directly over the city of today.

To access this virtual reality world, travelers hop into a VW bus outfitted with GPS technology, high-powered computers and an Oculus Rift headset for each rider.

The first-generation time travel machine is not wheelchair accessible, but staff helped me transfer from my personal wheelchair and into the bus. A staff member was left behind to look after my wheelchair while I was riding around in the 19th century.

1867 Luxembourg virtual reality environment. | Image courtesy Urban Timetravel.
1867 Luxembourg virtual reality environment. | Image courtesy Urban Timetravel.

Once you put on the headset, you’ll be transported back in time — to the back of a horse-drawn carriage in 1867 Luxembourg.

When the van moves in 2019 Luxembourg, your horse-drawn carriage also moves in the 1867 virtual world. When the van stops, you stop. The GPS system onboard the van tells the VR system where you are, and that historic location is relayed to you through the VR headset. [youtube_embed src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTIuNFTUSBY”/]

What makes this experience unique are the physical inputs. Because the streets in this historic area of Luxembourg are still made of cobblestone, the bumpy ride in the van reflects what your mind would expect to feel while riding in the back of a carriage in 1867. When your other senses back-up what you are seeing, this helps to make the virtual experience appear realistic.

As the quality of graphics improves, it is easy to see how VR technology could transform our future with immersive experiences that delight the mind and senses. Even though the time travel machine’s animation doesn’t look live-action yet, this project is an incredible first step that will still leave you giddy with excitement. It’s cool to be one of the first to try new technology and experiences.

If you’d like to hop on the horse-drawn carriage in 1867 Luxembourg, you can purchase tickets from the Luxembourg City Tourist Office in Place Guillaume II. The tours take place on Sundays and tickets cost €15 (~$17 USD). For more information, contact the LCTO at touristinfo@lcto.lu or +352 22 28 09.

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