Anyone who has visited the iconic Italian capital will have felt as though they were stepping into the past. Now, a VR tour bus aims to let passengers experience ancient Rome in person, complete with images, sounds and smells. From the ruins of the Colosseum to Circus Maximus, €15 can buy you a ticket to experience the Roman remains across Rome as if it were 50 AD. At least, that’s the promise.
From the outside, the vehicle appears like a typical city bus. On the inside, however, OLED screens and a multi-sensory system will show passengers Rome as it once was. The bus follows a route from the Imperial Forum, around the Colosseum and then back past the Theatre of Marcellus, packing Roman architectural highlights in one quick trip. So how do they do it?
There are no clunky goggles to wear for this experience; it’s all part of the bus. Virtual Uncle reports that the vehicle is fitted with numerous gadgets to enhance the journey. Those worried about the common motion-sickness effect of VR headsets should be safe from nausea. The screens on which ancient Rome is projected are transparent, meaning that they can show modern Rome in one moment and historic buildings in the next.
The 3D recreations shown aren’t just videos. Bumps, turns, and speed are all tracked and reflected in real-time, so if the bus stops, so does the view.
And the sound system emphasises the bustling city: passengers should feel as if they were moving through a crowd of ancient Romans.
Those onboard will also be treated to the smells of the old city, thanks to a partnership with a perfume company. Small vents deliver smells like frankincense, myrrh, charcoal, Guaita wood, birch, and vetiver grass as your drive past Temples, and hints of metallic aldehydes, civic musk, and cumin as you pass the Colosseum.
“The VR Bus project will allow visitors to literally immerse themselves in the history of Rome,” said the city’s mayor Roberto Gualtieri, who described the experience as a “one-of-a-kind initiative” that will take tourists and Roman residents “on a journey to discover Rome’s past.”
VR technology has been pushing its way into heritage and historical sites for a few years now, with many looking to the possibilities of goggles and headsets to convince visitors. Now, however, the bus could be our ticket to the past. It does raise questions, though: how much of the 30-minute tour time is reserved for sitting in traffic? Perhaps that’s part of the authenticity: getting stuck in traffic was not uncommon in ancient Rome as well.