Get close-up view of history with Google Glass

History buffs can now crawl through the Marsiling Tunnels, used by the Japanese during World War II, from the comfort of their homes.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has obtained access to the Google Glass prototype - a lightweight eyewear computer which lets wearers film what they see.

NHB researcher John Kwok, 36, wore the glasses as he clambered through the narrow entrance to the 72-year-old tunnels and filmed a six-minute video which was uploaded to the board's YouTube channel on Wednesday.

It is the first in a series of nine NHB videos to be filmed using Google Glass technology. NHB is the first public sector agency here to gain access to the prototype, which it can borrow from Google Singapore as and when it needs to.

The board's group director of policy, Mr Alvin Tan, said there are plans to film videos of the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter and artefacts from the National Collection housed in the Heritage Conservation Centre in Jurong.

The technology will also allow the board to take the public through the conservation process - for example, the various steps involved in removing creases from delicate textiles dating back to the 19th century.

The aim is to take people behind the scenes and give them access to sites, artefacts and processes through the eyes of curators and conservators.

Unlike a regular camera, Google Glass allows the user, in this case, the researcher, to call an expert, search and recall information from the Internet and share photos and videos instantaneously.

Recently his team also used Google Street View technology to produce panoramic tours of sites at risk of redevelopment such as the Sungei Road flea market. There are also plans to use drones that give a bird's eye view of other heritage sites.

Google Glass was launched in the United States last month and despite its US$1,500 (S$1,900) price tag, stores sold out within a day. It is available only in the US.

Dr Kwok said the eyewear works well in harsh environments: "It frees up my hands to hold on to a torch, grab on to a rope and run my fingers across the tunnel's walls."

Completed in February 1942, the tunnels were originally designed as a British Royal Air Force fuel reserve depot but the facility was captured and modified by the Japanese shortly after. It had a capacity of more than 4.5 million litres and could supply fuel to more than 4,000 Japanese fighter planes.

Assistant conservator Chuance Chen, 31, who works in the textile department at the Heritage Conservation Centre, said the technology will help him to share his expertise with new recruits.

"Textile conservation requires you to use both your hands and it is difficult to capture the process with a regular camera," he said.

"Something lightweight like Google Glass helps me to record and narrate the various steps to share with new colleagues and members of the public."

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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