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Classic Tower Optical Viewer given solar-powered digital upgrade


August 22, 2013

The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront

The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront

Image Gallery (15 images)

If you've exchanged a small coin for the chance to briefly gaze at stunning views throughout the US and Canada, there's a good chance that you've used a Tower Optical Viewer to do so. Design consultancy Pensa has ripped out the internals of this iconic tourist spot mainstay and brought it into the digital age. Thanks to the inclusion of special video and image content, visitors to a New York neighborhood are now being given the opportunity to travel through time and learn about DUMBO's past and present.

Tower Optical has been manufacturing its iconic binocular viewers for over 80 years now. The chrome plated bronze housing sits atop a cast iron base, and can be rotated 360° on the horizontal axis, and tilted up by 45° and down by 22°. There's a slot underneath the eye pieces for receiving 25 cent coins, and a lever next door feeds the beast to offer the user a few minutes of viewing pleasure before everything blacks out.

Late last year, the Pensa design consultancy partnered with the family-owned business to modify the internals of a pair of its classic viewers to create the Tower Optical Digital Viewer. Instead of viewing clifftop or seafront scenery, users who push down the original coin lever and look through the eye pieces are offered enhanced digital content, such as videos, interactive images and even games.

The units can also be programmed with augmented reality content, like the modified telescope at the Messel Pit in Germany. TD Bank in New York subsequently loaded up some special content and plonked the units in Union Square.

Pensa has now made some reliability improvements and given the Viewer a bit of a video and slideshow refresh. It's been installed on Old Fulton Street and Water Street in the DUMBO (District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Brooklyn, and allows users to embark on a virtual journey through the neighborhood's recent history.

This version of the Digital Viewer gets its power needs from a cafe umbrella standing nearby, which has its own battery pack that's charged via PV panels up top.

Have a look at the short project overview below.

Source: Pensa

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Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden
1 Comment

So exciting that you have built upon this idea, which we pioneered and executed in collaboration with Tower Optical Company, based on their iconic binocular Viewer, three years ago! The California Academy of Science commissioned us to design, build, and install an identical digitally-augmented tourist viewer in conjunction with their exhibition about the Farallon Islands, and it's delighted visitors since its debut.

See the original iteration here: http://www.slminneman.com/Images/Farrallon%20Tourist%20Viewer/FarallonTouristViewer.html [More images on request, including a near-identical "Making Of" sequence as I worked through various details with the folks at Tower Optical.]

Visitors to the exhibit, which premiered in 2010, were virtually transported to the landscape and see the wildlife of the Farallons, a nature preserve which tourists are prohibited from disturbing. The Academy supplied us with incredibly-compelling, fully-panoramic content that brought the site to life and made the experience very engaging. This earlier viewer has all of the features mentioned in your DUMBO version and more...virtual through-the-eyepiece imagery slaved to pan and tilt, image/text hotpot overlays, triggered video and audio clips, fully-operational zoom control (using the old "focus" knob), and, of course, that incredible Tower Optical nostalgia!

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