By Michael

Several of us recently visited the VR exhibition at the National Museum Australia. You sit in their theatre and they give you an Oculus Rift with which you see two short films. Here are two videos to give you an idea of what it is:

The two films together are about 30 minutes together. The first one was about the Great Barrier Reef. You “join” a submersible vehicle and divers and you dive along with them in the Great Barrier Reef. This is quite spectacular, you get to see all kinds of fish and reef colonies as if you are there with them, in the water. The second film was about the emergence of life on our planet. It featured all kinds of 3D animated scenes from various times in Earth’s history. This was just as spectacular as the first film.

There were problems though. The field of view was kind of limited to what’s in front of your head. If you looked sideways, the picture would get blurry and discoloured. Then of course, there was the problem of dizziness and feeling sea sick. In the second film most of the interesting stuff was on the left, so you had to turn your head. Because we were sitting in chairs, we had to keep our head to the left for 10 minutes instead of just turning left which was kind of annoying. The 3D cameras they use are not perfect, and particularly with things that were close to the camera (fish and various plankton-like things), they would appear and disappear unexpectedly.

But, this is the future. Once they (hopefully) sort out these problems over the next few years, just think of the possibilities. One thing that I found particularly amazing was the ability to float in space through micrometre-sized cells, and witness the collagen holding them together. What else can you watch in this? Crystal structures? Atoms? Molecules? Any kind of three dimensional thing you want to see! Tetrahedral phase diagrams? Easy. Structural diagrams, such as folds and foliations? Done. This has huge potential, both for education and beyond. If all of the 3D things I had to visualise in my head during my undergrad years (and that’s a lot for someone who studies geology) were displayed in something like that, life would have been so much easier. What about science? Instead of having videos showing rotating blocks of data obtained from a CT scanner, you can just fly through it. Unbelievable. What a time to be alive.