Virtual reality museum brings art and artefacts to the world

A downloadable virtual reality museum has been developed that allows digital visitors to move around an array of exhibitions just as they would if they were visiting in reality.

Visitors can view the museum, dubbed Computer Love 2.0, on their computer using a keyboard and mouse, or with an Oculus Rift and paired game controller.

Developed by the University of Sheffield, the 3D gallery is stocked with virtual counterparts to real-world artefacts, taken from three of the university’s museums: the National Fairground Archive, the Turner Museum of Glass and the Alfred Denny Museum.

“We have created this gallery to give the rest of the world a digital ‘taster’ of the University’s most important cultural collections,” explained Dr Steve Maddock, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science.

“We wanted to find a way to ensure that they were no longer confined to their physical location – it seemed such a shame that many of our treasures could only be viewed by a few lucky people.”

The prospect of using virtual reality to create museums and galleries is often mentioned when discussing the potential of Oculus Rift and other VR technologies, but this is one of the first times the concept has been put into practice.

The virtual gallery has been highly faithful to a real-world space, with everything from fire alarms and plug sockets to air vents and emergency exits being painstakingly recreated.

However, the virtual environment has enabled the developers to create displays that would have been highly challenging in reality, such as the National Fairground Archive section, which is entered through a huge, gaping mouth, and includes a 19th century ghost train experience.

Other elements of the collection include a digitised version of a mock glass slipper, the giant skull of an extinct form of eagle and a selection of guillemot eggs.

vr-museum-1

“Hopefully our art gallery – which explores the relationship between science and art by ‘displaying’ things like our half-specimens as artworks – will pique the interest of visitors and encourage them to make the trip to see the full collections in real life,” added Maddock.

Virtual museums are frequently proposed as a way of aiding learning, by giving students access to artefacts that may be thousands of miles away.

As VR becomes more mainstream we could also see major institutions, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or London’s British Museum, creating their own virtual versions, perhaps with exhibitions of items not normally on display.

We may even see virtual-only museums with visitor-submitted artefacts, developed along a similar model to Wikipedia. For now, though, Computer Love 2.0 presents an intriguing first look at the virtual museum.

Computer Love 2.0 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac and Oculus Rift here.


Images and video courtesy of the University of Sheffield.


Tactile touchless feedback will let you reach out and feel virtual worlds

The ability to reach out and touch an object in virtual reality, feeling its texture as you run your hand across its virtual surface, could soon be a reality with the development of tactile feedback for touchless interactions.

The technology, known as UltraHaptics, is a haptic feedback system using ultrasound that provides users with a buzz-like feeling of pressure on their hand.

It was initially designed as a way to indicate that a touchless gesture had been performed successfully – something that is not always clear – and has potential uses in everything from surgery environments to gaming.

However, the technology can do more than just provide a feeling of pressure; by changing the frequency the ultrasound wave is emitted at, the designers have discovered that they can mimic different textures, giving the user the sensation of touching everything from fabric to a hard surface.

The technology consists of a grid of ultrasound wave emitters, which together combine to provide a feeling of pressure on the skin.

At present it can provide haptic feedback precisely targeted at a point 8.5mm in diameter from a distance of anything between 4cm and 2m.

Its designers, from the UK’s Bristol University, are confident that this precision can be increased; the ultrasound technology used was developed in the 1990s and has significant further miniaturisation potential.

Initially the technology was tried using a constant wave of 40khz ultrasound, however the human hand could not easily discern this, so the researchers switched to an intermittent wave that turns on and off in very quick succession.

touch-hologram

The technology does not just provide the sensation of flat surfaces, but can also be used to create the feel of 3D objects.

While this clearly gives it significant potential in virtual reality technology, perhaps in partnership with an Oculus Rift, it also gives the technology several other potential applications.

Hologram projections could be given a texture, with museum visitors, for example, able to feel the armour of a famous king projected in a display.

Sculptors could also use the technology to shape virtual objects using just their hands, with the technology providing tactile feedback as they work.

The technology has huge potential in many fields – it could be used to indicate to drivers when a car is in their blind spot by providing a buzzing sensation on their neck, or developed as a wearable for blind people to indicate the presence of a road or obstacle.

However, consumer fields are likely to be most interested due to the technology’s ability to augment existing entertainment systems.

Speaking at last week’s Re.Work Technology Summit in London, Sriram Subramanian, co-founder of UltraHaptics and professor of human computer interface at Bristol University, said: “We’ve had lots of interest from the consumer home appliances, business and consumer electronics sectors.”

While it’s early days, it looks like this technology could be a key component of the entertainment of the future.