Tech

A Tale of Two Cities: Real-Time 'Portal' Connects Lithuania and Poland

Not quite Dickensesque, but a modern take on the science fiction classic apparatus, portals.
IMAGE BENEDIKTAS GYLYS FOUNDATION, VILNIUS TECH LINKMEN FABRIKAS
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Time machines and transportation portals may still be a thing of the future (or sci-fi movies), but trust humanity to find a workaround. The people of Vilnius, Lithuania and Lublin, Poland can now save 7.5 hours of land travel time by waving to each other in the street before catching the train at a nearby station or passing through each city’s squarethat is, through a circular 'portal' that broadcasts live between the two cities. 

In this modern tale, Benediktas Gylys, the president of his namesake foundation, initiated the creation of the two portals that cost around 130,000 euros (around P7.7 million). The project was a partnership between the government of Vilnius in a competition to promote tourism in the city. The Crossroads Centre for Intercultural Creative Initiatives, Vilnius Tech, as well as the City of Lublin also had a hand in helping PORTAL come to fruition. 

This is only the beginning, because these digital wonders will soon start multiplying in different cities. According to their website: connections between Vilnius and Reykjavik, Iceland as well as to London, United Kingdom are next in line for this project. 

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The creators are open to suggestions, so this experience may not only be exclusive to European cities in the future.

While the futuristic ‘portal’ allows people from these two cities in different countries to peek at each other’s lives for a brief moment, it comes with limitations that may be improved. For starters, PORTAL does not transmit sound, meaning that maybe Zoom calls have not lost functionality to this visual marvel. 

Sadly, this “door” to another city does not actually allow your hand to go through the other side, even holographically, like in the movies. We figured as much, but it would have been cool, though. Instead, it looks and feels like a massive screen. It’s literally a camera and a live feed, so citizens may need to exhibit more creativity while interacting with the people on the other side. Still, PORTAL serves as a digital bridge between people just hoping for a little interaction during the pandemic. Not quite Orwellian in its function, the project’s goal is to encourage everyone to "rethink the meaning of unity," which is something we need a little more of in 2021.

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The PORTAL has been five years in the making by the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, but its unveiling couldn’t have come at a better time during the COVID-19 pandemic when good news is scarce. With quarantine restrictions still in effect around the world, it may feel like a breath of fresh air to finally see beyond your city limits in these claustrophobic times.

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Marielle Fatima Tuazon
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