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SYFY WIRE Technology

Almost a real-life Stargate: Sci-fi portal gives two-way window into cities hundreds of miles apart

By Benjamin Bullard
The PORTAL project Portal in Vilnius

A civic-minded team of scientists, city leaders and (we’re pretty sure) sci-fi fans has just hatched a cool idea that’s one part Stargate, one part Star Trek, and all parts awesome: placing a pair of high-tech public “portals” in two European cities, giving anyone who’s strolling past a real-time look into life as it’s happening hundreds of miles apart.

The pair of giant circular windows into other places have gone online in Lithuania and Poland, relying on massive video screens and the internet to give people a visual, if not quite physical, connection. The debut installation from a team called the PORTAL project, they’re the first of what the team hopes is several more two-way portals connecting far-away people and places across the world. Both portals are in high-traffic public areas; one is near a train station in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius; the other is located in the central square in Lublin.

The PORTAL project Portal in Vilnius elevation view

They may be more than 250 miles apart, but residents in the two cities can gaze through a futuristic wormhole that shrinks the distance to make it feel like there’s a whole other world just on the other side of the glass. In pictures, the portals exude a tantalizing invitation to step right through and reemerge in a new place — which, of course, we don’t have the technology for, just yet.

Still, that idea of bringing people closer is what spurred the project in the first place. With their circular display surfaces and life-sized dimensions, there’s a little more to the portals than just rigging up a pair of live-feed cameras, and the know-how for the project came from engineers at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University’s LinkMenų fabrikas center.

“‘Humanity is facing a lot of problems, be it social polarization, climate change, or economic issues. Though if we look closely, it’s not a lack of brilliant scientists, activists or leaders, knowledge or technology that cause the fragmentation of humanity. It’s tribalism, lack of empathy, and a secluded perception of the world, which is often limited to our national borders,” explains Benediktas Gylys, president of the namesake Benediktas Gylys Foundation that came up with the idea and coordinated the resources to make it happen.

“That’s why we’ve decided to bring the crazy idea of PORTAL to life — it is a bridge to unity, an invitation to rise above prejudices, above the disagreements that belong to the past, it’s an invitation to rise above the illusion of us and them.”

Think of it as a use of technology straight out of Star Trek’s barrier-breaking playbook; the kind of unifying science fiction that Gene Roddenberry would probably endorse. With the first portal pair opened on May 26, plans are already in the works to connect the Vilnius portal with more far-away places, including London and Reykjavik. Once these portals are installed in enough places, maybe science will have figured out a way to let people actually step through them.