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Coeur d’Alene entrepreneur develops app that lets people experience history in 3D

Chris Whalen is creating an app which brings history to life through the screen of a cell phone.
Credit: CDA Press

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Imagine experiencing the past in 3D.

That’s what Coeur d’Alene entrepreneur Chris Whalen is creating in his app, Historik, which brings history to life through the screen of a cell phone.

“It’s a technology that I’ve never seen anywhere,” said Dave Walker, chair of Coeur d’Alene’s Historic Preservation Commission. “This can really, really grow into a big deal.”

Historik uses augmented reality, a combination of real and virtual worlds, to recreate lost historic points at their origin in 3D.

Users can point their device where the history once stood and see the original computer-generated model in real-time while walking around the object.

“I want to be able to bring our city to life with technology and have history be the centerpiece of that,” Whalen said. “We're trying to reach the older generations and the younger generations at the same time.”

Planned to launch in June 2022, the app lists historical locations on a map, with information on each location and settings to create a self-tour.

Whalen said he hopes to create about eight augmented reality experiences, including the first completed one, the Wilma Theatre, which once stood at the corner of Second Street and Sherman Avenue.

The theater was built in 1936, closed in 1983 and was demolished in 1997 after the roof collapsed.

Whalen said he has shared the augmented reality experience of the Wilma Theatre with a couple dozen people and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I was able to stand with my feet exactly where I looked down and stood buying tickets when I was 10 years old,” Walker said. “I hope (Whalen) gets some financial backing to just really help this thing grow because I think it’s going to be an incredible tool for Coeur d’Alene.”

Whalen said the project is mostly self-funded, although one private investor gave them the runway for the summer.

Whalen said he's trying to raise the rest of the capital to be able to meet the June 2022 deadline.

He said he hopes to raise $250,000 to develop the product in Coeur d’Alene and then take it across the nation.

Whalen said the idea for the app came during a road trip to Boise when he felt frustrated because there was no way to find information on historic locations he passed without stopping.

For content, Whalen said he has a strategic partnership with the Museum of North Idaho, from whom he's received a lot of information and imagery.

Whalen said the hope is for Historik to create an open source database that anyone can contribute to so families with hundreds of years of history can keep their artifacts within the family, but digitally share them with the public and get credit to their family name.

Whalen said that while museums are the best representation of a community’s history, the problem is they have only so many resources they can throw at preserving history.

“Our job at Historik is to create a platform for communities to have a place where they can digitally preserve that history,” he said. “So no matter what happens to the actual artifact, their history will live on forever.”

Whalen said he plans to expand the app to include activities to engage young people, including designing special history experiences for school field trips using augmented reality and geocaching.

He said the app will be free. However, some features like augmented reality, hands free audio and bookmarking will be a part of an annual subscription.

Walker said that while he was blown away by some of the app's features, what excites him more is that his 8-year-old grandson is also interested in the app.

“That’s what I think makes it more valuable,” Walker said. “Here’s a kid that’s not quite 9 years old, and that is something that piques his interest.”

To stay informed and receive an invite to the beta launch, sign up at www.historik.com.