Immersive Interactive Virtual Reality in the Museum
Maria RoussouFoundation of the Hellenic World
254 Pireos St.Athens 17778 Greece
+30-1-4835300, +30-1-4834634,email@example.com, http://www.fhw.gr/
Abstract. The use of immersive Virtual Reality (VR) technology is a relatively recent trend enjoyedalmost exclusively by the academic, military, and industrial research and development communities.However, as VR technologies mature, research is expanding from the military and scientificvisualisation realm into more multidisciplinary areas, such as education, art, culture, and thehumanities. As representative institutions involved in the research and presentation of these fields,museums, cultural centres, and entertainment venues may be in a better position to make use ofadvanced virtual reality technologies in order to investigate their educational potential whileeffectively shaping how they deliver public education and recreation. This paper will discuss theissues involved in using state-of-the-art interactive virtual environments in cultural public spaces bypresenting the virtual environments developed for learners of all ages at the Foundation of theHellenic World (FHW), a cultural heritage institution of informal education located in Athens.
Virtual Reality in the Museum
The development of new interactivetechnologies has inevitably impacted the moretraditional sciences and arts. This is moreevident in the case of novel interactivetechnologies that fascinate the broad public, ashas always been the case with virtual reality.The blending of disciplines and the evolution oftechniques has brought forth the need forbetter modes of communication.Consequently, virtual reality interfaces,interaction techniques, and devices haveimproved greatly in order to provide morenatural and obvious modes of interaction andmotivational elements. Nevertheless, theprohibitive costs and inaccessibility of VRtechnologies, coupled with issues of usability,staff training, operation, and maintenance,present
important drawbacks for the use of VR inpublic spaces, making it difficult to incorporatein dwindling museum or school budgets. Inspite of these concerns and objectionsregarding the appropriateness and educationalefficacy of virtual reality, there remaincompelling reasons for believing that VRenvironments for the broad public warrantserious investigation and can provide strongtools for learning. Institutions of informaleducation, such as museums, research, andcultural centres are in a better position to makeuse of such advanced systems and investigatetheir educational potential while effectivelyshaping how they deliver public entertainmentand education.
Of particular interest to museums in the useof virtual reality displays and computer-generated interactive experiences is the factthat they can allow visitors to travel throughspace and time without stepping out of themuseum building . The potential totranscend the physical location of the builtenvironment and the growing sense of theeducative function of the museum juxtaposedwith the commercial pressure has leadmuseums to consider virtual reality as anecessary component in the arsenal of tools toeducate, entertain, and dazzle .
When used for cultural heritage purposes, avirtual reality exhibit may give scholars acompletely new way of communicating thescientific results of archaeological investigationwithin the scientific community, improving alsothe way in which these results arecommunicated to the public . In addition tothe fairly photorealistic representation ofplaces, people, and sites that do not exist,never existed, or may not be easilyexperienced, there are two basic advantagesoffered by virtual reality programs: theimmersive experience and interactivecapabilities that characterize this medium.Immersion is the illusion of being in theprojected world, being surrounded by theimage and sound in a way, which makes youbelieve that you are really there. It offers a"better than real life" or "better than beingthere" experience. Interaction refers to the factthat members of the audience are not merely aviewer of the realistic scenery, but can activelyparticipate in the program and determine whattheir experience will be. Since the contentdisplayed in VR exhibits is not predeterminedor pre-recorded, but generated in "real-time",the audience is able to interact with theprograms and define their behavior. If, forexample, the program exhibited is the journeythrough an ancient city, museum visitors canchoose the path through the city just as in areal tour. They may also "knock" on doors toenter buildings, or fly up high to view the city
from above with the use of simple devices suchas a joystick.
Although virtual reality suffers immenselyfrom media hyperbole and thus has not livedup to its promises, the development of VRsystems is evolving and gaining territory in themuseum world for many of the reasonsmentioned above.
An example case
The Foundation of the Hellenic World(FHW), based in Greece, is a non-profitcultural heritage institution with a mission topreserve and disseminate Hellenic culture,historical memory and tradition through thecreative use of state-of-the-art multimedia andtechnology. Its aim is to promote theunderstanding of the past and to syntheticallyand comprehensively present the history, lifeand values of the Hellenic world in its broadergeographical evolution. The goal of theFoundation is to bring together archaeologists,historians, computer scientists, and artists inorder to visualize their ideas and utilize thehighest level of technology and resources forresearch and education within the context ofHellenic cultural heritage. To this purpose ituses the best of contemporary museum theory,developments in computer science, and the useof audiovisual media and interactive exhibits.The Foundation's Cultural Center stands onthe site of a former industrial area that hasbeen converted into an attractivecontemporary complex of buildings located inAthens. The overall design, architectural,electrical and acoustic plans of the complexmake it one of the most modern and well-designed cultural centers in Europe. Thiscultural center also houses some of the mostadvanced virtual reality exhibits that are opento public worldwide.
The virtual reality activities developed by theFHW serve a central role in the successfulrealization of the Centres overall mission.Virtual reality technology is used to advance
the research and understanding of Hellenicculture. Activities focus both on theestablishment of an infrastructure and thecreation of educational and exhibition content.The goal is to put together innovativeimmersive environments for the display of theFoundation's educational programs and 3Dreconstructions. To this purpose FHW hasestablished two immersive VR systems. Thefirst is an ImmersaDesk (Figure 1) running ona Silicon Graphics Octane visualworkstation with 2 R10000 processors at250Mhz. It consists of a 2m x 2.38m back-projected panel tilted at a 45 angle. Stereoviewing is achieved using lightweight liquidcrystal shutter glasses. The system provideshead and hand tracking, user input through alightweight hand-held device, called a wand,for interaction and audio from loudspeakers.
Figure 1: Children exploring heritage sites on theMagic Screen (ImmersaDesk)
The second system is a ReaCTor(Figure 2) a 3m x 3m x 3m cubic immersiveVR system with four back-projection surfacespowered by a Silicon Graphics Onyx2with eight R12000 processors at 300Mhz andfour InfiniteReality2 visualizationsubsystems. Up to ten people can participatein the experience at the same time wearingspecial lightweight stereo glasses, which allowthem to see both the virtual and the physicalworld unobtrusively. The system structure andthe programs developed are fully interactive,providing individual visitors with completefreedom to control their movements through
the use of the wand, and so develop acompletely unique interactive experience.Audio is enabled through the use ofloudspeakers.
Figure 2: Visitors immersed in the Kivotos system(ReaCTor)
Approximately five hundred students visit theVR exhibits daily in groups of ten or less. Theduration of their experience in the systemsranges from 10 to 20 minutes. The numbersare large considering the experimental natureof the technology, a fact that proves for apromising technology.
At the FHW's cultural park, VR applicationsfunction in two basic ways: as aneducational/entertainment tool and as aninstrument of historic research, simulation, andreconstruction. Our core belief is that the bestexhibits drive visitors to actively participateand truly experience the landscape,architecture, and culture of ancient Greece inan extraordinary new way. Using highlyadvanced 3D technology, the stunning virtualreality installations let visitors take virtual toursthrough detailed reconstruction of heritagesites, enabling viewers to explore them fromunique pints of view. Some of the mainprojects undertaken by the VR team at FHWinclude: the reconstruction and virtual journeythrough the ancient city of Miletus by the coast
Figure 3: A view of the Temple of Zeus at Olympiain virtual reality.
Figure 4: The famous statue of Zeus at Olympia asseen through the doors of the temple.
of Asia Minor, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia,a series of interactive educational environmentsthat bring to life the magical world of Helleniccostume, and more. Other programs includeproductions to complement or highlightimportant events that shape our time, culture,or everyday life as well as experimentalenvironments and innovative collaborationswith scientists, universities, and artists, thatallow to gain insights on the creative use oftechnology.
The premiere program, "A Journey throughAncient Miletus", propels visitors on a