Imagine an iPad or iPhone app that allows you to be in two places at the same time—one a virtual world, the other reality.
You could as easily stand on Pier 54 today and watch the Carpathia sweep into New York Harbor with Titanic survivors aboard 100 years ago, for example, as view your planned Redondo Beach home before it is built on an empty lot overlooking The Esplanade.
If Mark Skarulis has his way, Circa, which is scheduled to launch at the App Store in September, will make all that possible and more.
“Circa means 'around' (and is) used when talking about a time frame, such as circa 1920,” Skarulis explained during an interview at , a site ripe with ghosts of the past, including the long-gone .
The Redondo Beach entrepreneur, who spent the last year developing the Circa technology, flashed onto the idea of superimposing (or “ghosting”) one image over another when building a bicycle application to help orient cyclists riding around Santa Monica and the South Bay.
At present he is in the process of raising $85,000 through Kickstarter (a platform for funding creative projects) to finalize the application that will allow users to download and view ghosted photos, videos and, eventually, 2 and 3-D images on their handheld iOS devices—something that Redondo Beach Historical Commission member Michele Brown likens to time travel.
Although the Circa prototype is built (which Skarulis demonstrated by showing how old images replace existing ones when viewed with his iPad), he is still “getting rid of a few coding bugs,” he said.
Here's how it works.
Say you are approaching the and want to view what was in the area 100 years ago. By holding up your iPad, Circa will allow you to view the old roller coaster once stationed adjacent to the pier as if it existed there today.
You may also want to see fisherman fishing off Manhattan Beach Pier in 1920, or the '60s jazz club that once inhabited Hermosa Avenue where the Lighthouse now stands in Hermosa Beach.
“Anyone with an iOS device will be able to witness and (or) recall experiences first hand,” Skarulis said. “You can ghost any digital image and leave the image fixed, in perspective with reality, for others to view with their own mobile devices when they visit that spot.”
Individuals can post their own ghosted images—a long-ago honeymoon picture, for example, a milestone marathon or college graduation—and share the location of the image with friends and family on Facebook.
Providing new ways to share millions of photographs stored away in shoeboxes and archives is a driving factor behind Circa, its founder said, as is getting people outdoors.
Images culled from various sources, including the beach cities' historical societies, the Los Angeles Public Library and USC Digital Library, will be programmed to jump to the fore on Circa when any iOS user visits specific areas, including many sites along the coast.
“The device will tell you your existing location and (that) 13 or 20 images are within a quarter mile radius,” Skarulis said. He believes the app will go nationwide once various organizations and historical societies recognize the value of posting ghosted images from the past.
Viewing old images in context of the present “makes history relevant,” Skarulis said, as he aimed his iPad toward the spot near Veteran’s Park where the old Hotel Redondo once stood.
The hotel came onto the screen, replacing construction work and beach goers, its formidable architecture fitting perfectly into the current landscape.
Skarulis, a serious techy with a boyish crew cut, hails from Long Island, his mind perennially absorbed with solving the “massive complexity” of his undertaking.
Part engineer, part artist, part inventor, he began to forge his entrepreneurial path at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) as an engineering student in upstate New York. He then held jobs in telecommunications and fiber optics and, after moving to Southern California a dozen years ago, attended graduate school at USC, where he earned an MBA in 2005.
Married with a 2-year-old son, Skarulis admitted that Circa sometimes occupies him to the detriment of his relationship with wife, Barbara, a burden he does not carry lightly.
But Circa, a cherished goal not without labor pains, is a child worth having—one he ultimately hopes to adapt for Android devices, he said.
Help with the all-consuming project comes in the form of his partner, Curtis Baumgartner, a long-time friend in Culver City, who was in on Circa from the start. The two met 10 years ago while working in the telecommunications industry.
“Curtis was working at a bicycle shop near the Santa Monica Pier, and he realized that when people were renting bicycles, they sometimes got lost or (wanted to know how to get to) other areas,” Skarulis said. Baumgartner suggested a paper map, Skarulis an app.
While working on that project Skarulis got the idea for Circa. (His company, Circa Mobile LLC, partnered with Regard Inc. to develop the Circa App Prototype using the Metaio Mobile SDK. Metaio is an augmented reality software company.)
Along with campaigning for funds, the partners have accumulated backers (named on the website), including “a gentleman from a construction company in Mexico who thought we could work together,” Skarulis said.
See, Circa doesn't only allow users to see into the past—it can also offer a glimpse of the future.
Builders, architects and urban planners can ghost future plans on site so the public can view their vision in context. Eventually, this will include 3-D images.
“Imagine holding up your iPad at an empty lot and being able to select what you want your house to look like, have it pop up, and then you walk through it,” Skarulis said.
Going back in time holds true for videos, he said as his iPad came alive with a vintage film of the Carpathia bearing survivors from the Titanic into New York Harbor 100 years ago. “With my technology, you could stand on Pier 54 and just hold up your device and see exactly that.”
Through Kickstarter the partners hope to develop new ways of ghosting audio, videos and 3D models, as well as work with artists and developers to realize augmented reality games.
Those who join in the effort will be invited to beta test Circa well before it hits the App Store, as well as generate comments and make suggestions, Skarulis said.