To commemorate Singapore’s 50th birthday, Audi Singapore launched a mobile app named “SG50 Time Machine” and also organised a week-long event named A Drive Back in Time, where the public can experience what Singapore looked like 50 years ago while driven in an Audi A6.
The ride starts and ends at the Fullerton Hotel, formally the General Post Office of Singapore. There wasn’t many people queuing, probably due to the rather heavy haze that has hit us in the past month. Upon boarding the car with a friend, we were handed a LG G4 mounted on a customised VR headset based on the Google Cardboard VR headset.
The driver took us around the civic district, and with the help of GPS technology, the 3D imagery of old Singapore is presented through the headset as we move along. The guide told us that the GPS functionality is a new enhancement the app developer has added; previously it was just a static video which sometimes did not sync well with the ride. The ride is narrated by Dick Lee’s voice played over the car’s sound system.
Passing through the Anderson Bridge then alongside the Padang, we saw the bumboats that used to be present on Singapore River, the Victoria Theatre, Supreme Court / City Hall didn’t change that much, but over the other side, we can see that the shoreline is a lot closer. And of course, Marina Bay Sands didn’t exist back then.
The app developers have also taken some artistic license, creating 3D shophouses along the way. I understand those shophouses didn’t exist back then, but it sure adds some elements of interest in an otherwise empty area.
The ride continues through along Connaught Drive, passing by St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the civilian war memorial (aka “chopsticks”) and Raffles Hotel. As we make our way back to the Fullerton Hotel, the VR imagery showed that we are floating above the water. Fifty years ago, our shoreline was much closer and the road we were travelling on didn’t exist back then.
Soon (maybe too soon), we were back at Fullerton Hotel, ending the ride in time. We are now “back to the future”, so to speak.
Although it was short and the 3D images are kind of low-resolution, I enjoyed the experience. This is a very interesting and educational use of VR technology, and it has a lot of potential. It can possibly be extended to cover more areas of Singapore. We are always progressing so quickly, tearing down old places in the name of city development, and this is a good way to present how things look like before.
Tomorrow (25 Oct) is the last day of the event. Online booking of seats are full, but from my experience today, you can simply walk in and register on the spot. The app is also available for download from Apple App Store and Google Play Store, so if you happen to have a Google Cardboard headset, you can probably also re-create the experience with the help of a friend or family member to do the driving. The app also works without a headset, although the experience won’t be as immersive, of course.