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When we think of virtual reality (VR), it’s natural to think of stepping into a future world that’s yet to exist. But what if we used VR to step back in time and experience the past? That’s exactly what Dr Ben Horan, Director of Deakin University’s CADET VR Lab, and Dr Kaja Antlej, Lecturer in Industrial Design, are working to create. Their VR experience will allow people to gain a greater understanding of what life was like in Victoria more than 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In collaboration with Museums Victoria’s Dr Tom Rich, Geelong’s National Wool Museum and palaeontologist Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Dr Horan and Dr Antlej will explore the life of the Leaellynasaura, a small dinosaur that lived in Victoria’s Otways.
When dinosaurs inhabited Victoria, the land was inside the Antarctic Circle, so it was often freezing and during winter there was no daylight for weeks at a time. The small wallaby-like dinosaurs in the area had good eyes, which enabled them to source sustenance in the dark. To contextualise this experience, Dr Horan and Dr Antlej are working with the team to create the VR experience using 360-degree video, illustrating both a present-day scene as well as a view of the past. ‘When the users put on a VR headset, they will be immediately immersed into a dig site. After a while a fern tree forest will appear, together with a 3D model of Leaellynasaura, which will be printed using technology at Deakin. The 3D computer model of the dinosaur will be mapped on the exhibited physical semi-transparent model,’ Dr Horan explains.
'When the users put on a VR headset, they will be immediately immersed into a dig site. After a while a fern tree forest will appear, together with a 3D model of Leaellynasaura, which will be printed using technology at Deakin.'
Dr Ben Horan,
In addition, Dr Horan, Dr Antlej and the team, along with Dr Rich and Prof. Vickers-Rich, will complete a real fossil dig in the Otways as part of the project. According to Dr Rich, what is usually found during a dig is fragments of bones and teeth. ‘When the dig is over, the rocks containing fossils are taken to Museums Victoria. There the fossils are extracted from the rock,’ Dr Rich explains. He adds that specimens are not always worth keeping as many prove to be of little scientific value, but it is an inevitable tedious process of trial and error. However the research is important and helps us to learn about the human ability to adapt to climate change. ‘Studying biotas will give us some kind of indication about the world we’ll be passing on to our grandchildren,’ he says. The discoveries from the dig, as well as the VR experience, will be used to form an exhibition later in the year.
According to Dr Horan, museums and arts spaces will increasingly use VR storytelling techniques in the coming years. He points to the benchmarks that have been set by the Oculus Story Studio, as well as the idea of bringing physical objects into virtual spaces using technology such as Intel’s Project Alloy. ‘In the past when going to a museum, how would one immerse themselves in a dinosaur’s habitat and get a feeling of what it would be like to be one of these creatures? VR can show people elements of a dinosaur’s life, which wasn’t previously possible,’ he concludes.
Interested in immersive technology? Consider studying virtual reality at Deakin University.
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