Electronics

Classic Tower Optical Viewer given solar-powered digital upgrade

The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront
The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront
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Work begins on the digital conversion of the Tower Optical Viewer
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Work begins on the digital conversion of the Tower Optical Viewer
The Pensa team modifying a Tower Optical Viewer
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The Pensa team modifying a Tower Optical Viewer
The original optics and mechanisms were removed to make room for the electronics
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The original optics and mechanisms were removed to make room for the electronics
Installing the digital content system
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Installing the digital content system
Almost ready to offer users enhanced digital content
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Almost ready to offer users enhanced digital content
Instead of viewing clifftop or seafront scenery, users of the new Digital Viewer are offered enhanced digital content, such as videos, interactive images and even games
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Instead of viewing clifftop or seafront scenery, users of the new Digital Viewer are offered enhanced digital content, such as videos, interactive images and even games
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°
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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 or 50 cent coins, and a lever next door feeds the beast to offer the user a few minutes of viewing pleasure before everything blacks out
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There's a slot underneath the eye pieces for receiving 25 or 50 cent coins, and a lever next door feeds the beast to offer the user a few minutes of viewing pleasure before everything blacks out
The TD Bank in New York installed the Digital Viewers in Union Street late last year
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The TD Bank in New York installed the Digital Viewers in Union Street late last year
TD Bank created some special content for visitors to Union Street in New York
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TD Bank created some special content for visitors to Union Street in New York
The latest version of the Digital Viewer has been set up on Old Fulton Street and Water Street in the DUMBO are of Brooklyn
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The latest version of the Digital Viewer has been set up on Old Fulton Street and Water Street in the DUMBO are of Brooklyn
This version of the Digital Viewer gets its power needs from a cafe umbrella standing nearby
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This version of the Digital Viewer gets its power needs from a cafe umbrella standing nearby
The cafe umbrella has its own battery pack that's charged via PV panels up top
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The cafe umbrella has its own battery pack that's charged via PV panels up top
Visitors to DUMBO can look through the eye pieces to embark on a virtual journey through its recent history
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Visitors to DUMBO can look through the eye pieces to embark on a virtual journey through its recent history
The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront
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The Tower Optical Digital Viewer on the DUMBO waterfront

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

Tower Optical Viewer

1 comment
slminneman
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!