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Almost 30 years before Google Street View, a team of MIT students and faculty took a road trip to Aspen, CO, to create an interactive map of the city. The result was a videodisc, first demonstrated in the summer of 1979, that let users choose their own routes through the streets, listen to interviews with Aspen locals, change the season, or go back in time to see historic photos of existing buildings.

The Aspen movie map, as its creators called it, was one of the first applications designed for a videodisc player–a prototype of which the Architecture Machine Group at MIT had received from MCA in 1978. The player was the first that went to “the non-top-secret community,” says the project’s director, Andrew Lippman ‘71, SM ‘77, now associate director of the Media Lab. The 12-inch discs read by the player were designed to store 30 minutes of footage. But Lippman says that the MIT students immediately started playing with other possibilities. Broken down frame by frame, 30 minutes of video was the equivalent of 54,000 images; a slide show devoting one second to each image lasted hours. Having hit upon the idea of using the discs to store information in this nontraditional way, the group began making an interactive map of MIT.

Peter Clay ‘78, then an undergraduate, rigged up a set of cameras and walked the halls, taking a photograph every 10 feet. ­Robert Mohl ‘70, PhD ‘82, then put the images together so that a person could use the video­disc player to “travel” through the Infinite Corridor and nearby halls. The result was impressive, but the group hoped to film a place with broader appeal. “We were interested in visually attractive things … that could demonstrate how this could be neat, neat stuff,” Clay says. “The halls of MIT just didn’t do it for people who weren’t from MIT.”

Funding to create a full-fledged movie map of Aspen came from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 1976, the Israel Defense Forces had rescued hostages from ­Uganda’s Entebbe Airport after preparing for the mission by training in a partial replica of the airport. DARPA saw that movie maps might provide a simpler, more affordable way to familiarize trainees with new locations.

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Credit: Courtesy of John Borden

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