Having come to graduate school from an exhibit design background, I was thrilled when Professor Karen Mathews approached our Building Virtual Worlds class at the University of Miami for her latest project. I've been interested in seeing what applications VR/AR can have in the real world beyond gaming and the general novelty. So when she came in and proposed enhancing the museum experience with VR I was right on board.
Her class of Greek and Roman Art is currently in the process of scanning various artifacts at the Lowe Art Museum on campus, with the hopes of creating digital models and then 3D printed replicas of these Roman objects. Her proposal was to find someone who would be interested in working with her class to create a VR experience that would play off these objects and give them historical context within the museum.
Now, with museums and VR there is one thing they have in common. And that is that they lack the ability to touch. And that is the barrier I hope to cross with my proposal for this project. Having had gone through the Pompeii Exhibit curated by the Soprintendenza di Archaeologica Napoli e Pompei, I distinctly remember just wanting to touch all the frescos on the walls. The exhibit was designed to make you feel as if you were walking through the city of Pompeii itself, but you could not quite reach out.
My proposed design for how to showcase all the work is encompassed in creating a small room where the 3D printed objects would be placed. Either on pedestals or tables to mimic where they would be in the 3D scene. The room would then also be adorned with a raining and some columns, everything would have to be extremely secured down to prevent anything from falling if people run into them. This might look a bit strange to someone coming in, until they put on their VR/AR headset and the room suddenly expands into a 20 B.C.E. Roman Villa. Now these headsets would need to be calibrated to match up exactly with the layout of the room, but the idea is that the objects you see in the headset, you would be able to touch in the room. So the sculpture of Eros, or the amphora on the table would no longer be within a glass case, or behind a screen, but right at your fingertips.
The world of the Villa itself could be expanded upon to any amount, there could be animations of people going about their day out in the peristilio, or going in and out of doors. The possibilities are pretty endless. But the caveat would always be that the headset would need to be reset from the same position each time to ensure the user is always seeing what aligns with their physical location in the room. This is of course assuming that a headset of 6DOF can be readily available and the project moves along enough by the end of the semester that such a thing can happen.
My back up plan is to remove that rich element of touch, but still keep the expansion of the room element. For that I would use a headset that only has 3DOF, mark a location on the floor that aligns with the camera placement in the scene and invite users into the virtual version of the scene.