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Smartphone Makes Korea DMZ Disappear

By The World August 4, 2011 Post a comment
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Korea's Demilitarized Zone before and after the use of a smartphone app (Photo: Korea Unification Project)

A new technology allows smartphone users to visualize Korea without its heavily fortified frontier between North and South. Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with the media artist behind the project, Mark Skwarek.

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Lisa Mullins: Many Koreans dream of seeing the border between North and South free of weapons and checkpoints and walls and barriers. Well, soon they may be able to, at least, virtually. The Augmented Reality Korean Unification Project is being launched this month. The idea is to allow people to see an alternate reality when they look at the Demilitarized Zone that separates the Koreas. Michael Skwarek is developing the project. The New York based artist has a goal.

Michael Skwarek: To allow the general public, the Korean people, to view this location and show them what it could look like, or would look like, if the conflict was no longer taking place. I think of, possibly, older people who may never see a united Korea which is probably a very likely thing and then it would give them one last look, or something like that. It is what it is. We are not actually healing the border, so we are not making any broad claims. But, I think, what it wouldn’t do is, just sort of the idea in…we’re trying to go back to the idea of the unified Korea and maybe if…it’s keeping that fire alive, keeping the hope alive that something like this can come to pass soon.

Mullins: If I were standing at the border, what would we need to be looking at? I mean, what would we have in our hands?

Skwarek: You would have a smartphone; our mobile device. So this could be Android or iPhone. It would have to be a 3GS iPhone, or newer. You could stand there with this phone; you would load up the App. Then, what would happen is, you would hold it out in front of yourself and you would see the model appear in front of you. It would, sort of, cover over the fortifications, the obstructions in that space.

Mullins: So what’s there instead?

Skwarek: Nature, essentially. So, there would be a continuous valley instead of the obstacles which are dividing both North and South Korea. So, it’s an additive process as well.

Mullins: Well, what are you adding?

Skwarek: Sometimes, you would be adding trees. You would be adding, maybe, rice paddies; you could add natural topography.

Mullins: Can you pan with this?

Skwarek: Yes, you can. You would be able to stand in place and you could, sort of, pivot for the best results. We’d be standing in place holding the device in front of you like a looking glass – think that you’re looking through a magnifying glass or a looking glass. You’re using that Tablet or that smartphone as a looking glass, and you can pan back and forth and see the space. What you would see is bits of physical reality and then it would be mixed with these 3-D objects. So it’s kind of a collage – a 3-D collage of virtual 3-D computer-generated objects in the physical world.

Mullins: Really briefly, tell us about the part of this augmented reality.

Skwarek: What’s happening is, think of it the way we create our art is, we take these 3-D models and put them into physical space. So, it’s like using your computer, but it’s all around you, all the time. And it’s spatialized so I can walk around it and it can move with me. The way that we work, mainly, would be very similar to using a Google map. If people were to use a pin…you create a pin and a marker and place it on that map and say, I put a pin at my house. What we’re doing, or I’m doing, is actually putting a model there…instead of showing where my house is, I’m putting a model at a specific point in space. This software that we’re using will calculate the GPS and where that model is supposed to be located. And, you can actually go to that place, turn your phone on and then see the model; walk around it and view the art. What this basically allows us to do is, or allows me to do would be, to put art in places that would be very difficult to do using any other medium.

Mullins: That’s a fascinating project. We wish you the best on that. New Media artist, Mark Skwarek, who has developed the Augmented Reality Korean Unification Project that unites South and North Korea, at least with the use of a smartphone. Mark, thank you.

Skwarek: Thanks a lot.

Mullins: You can have a peek at the augmented reality of the Korean DMZ through our website, About an hour’s ride north of the DMZ, there’s a North Korean vacation resort that greets visitors with this music [music playing]. It’s a hearty welcome to a grand experiment between the North and South. That experiment is the Mount Kumgang Special Tourism Zone. It’s a complex of hotels, restaurants, paths and trails around Mount Kumgang. The resort was developed in the 1990′s by the South’s Hyundai Asan Company as a way to create economic ties. It’s attracted thousands of tourists from South Korea and brought millions of dollars into the North. But, 3 years ago, one of the many North Koreans soldiers posted at the resort, shot and killed a South Korean woman who strayed from the mountain path. South Korea retaliated by stopping all tourists. The North then seized control of the resort from Hyundai and threatened to sell South Korea’s assets. Now there’s a new development. Just yesterday, came news that a New York based company has signed a deal to operate tourists to Mount Kumgang in North Korea.

By the way, a couple of years ago, I got to spend the night at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea. You can check out my story at

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