Travelling The World Through VR

Our Lead Developer has a fascinating hobby outside of work and after he introduced it to us all at his introductory Lunch and Learn session, we were excited to hear more. It involves travel, VR and your sofa. Intrigued? Over to you Ed… 

There is a crazy world to see, but the wanderlust itch can be a difficult one to scratch for folks encumbered by work, childcare or just the scary logistics of getting there and back again. VR, whilst still a fledgeling medium, has started to gain traction as an alternative way of exploring beyond your everyday horizon; without giving up your creature comforts.

For those who have yet to try out high-end VR. The magic is in its unquantifiable sense of presence. When you remove the headset, you feel like you’ve returned from somewhere else. It’s this surreal ability to disconnect you from the real world that makes the concept of VR tourism so promising.

Google Earth VR turns the whole globe into a grand-scale model village like experience. As a hovering giant, you can fly over towns and cities, or dive into a 360 street-view mode where you can admire just how clean those Japanese streets really are.

A recent update added a vertigo-inducing ‘human scale’ mode, which as the name suggests makes everything life-sized. The first thing I did was plonk myself on top of the Bristol University building to admire the (albeit virtual) view. Then I flew off to America, Brazil and every other landmark I could think of to perch my virtual-self upon. It’s incredibly good fun.

The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a lot smaller than I expected!

What to try first?

Over the last few months, a couple of new VR tourism experiences have been released. The one which really caught my eye was Nefertari: Journey to Eternity. Whilst I’ve seen various artefacts at the British Museum, I’ve never visited an actual tomb. This is a photogrammetry recreation of Nefertari’s tomb. Specialised cameras are used to take thousands of photos, which software reconstructs into an explorable, photorealistic 3D recreation of the tomb, down to the dust particles floating in the air.

Shining your virtual flash-light at the walls of hieroglyphs will play museum-esque audio descriptions, teaching you the fundamentals of Egyptian culture, their gods and belief system. The whole experience takes about 45 minutes. Although brief, it gave me a new perception and appreciation of somewhere 3,600 miles away. And, more importantly, I did this entirely whilst wearing my pyjamas.

There are still many technical hurdles VR will need to overcome before it can become mainstream. But even in its current form, it’s application for both tourism and education is a huge step up from traditional TV and textbooks.

Edward Welsby

Edward Welsby

August 15, 2018

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