A virtual Dive in Oceanopolis

mhervieux
From July 3 to 13, 2017, b<>com invited the visitors of Océanopolis Brest to test out a new experience, "The Virtual Arctic Expedition." Equipped with virtual reality headsets and headphones, the volunteers, in groups of four, are submerged 20m deep, in a hyperrealistic, virtual marine environment.

The experiment "The Virtual Arctic Expedition" drew upon many skills in order to achieve a more realistic experience:

  • Natural interactions with virtual entities thanks to artificial intelligence. For example, although fish will approach a calm human with curiosity but cautiously, they might swim away if you make sudden movements! 
  • A collaborative experience that allows the divers to see each other and interact while immersed
  • A one-to-one scale: Every meter traveled in the experiment room corresponds to a meter in virtual reality content
  • An audio soundtrack using spatialized audio

Besides the public's appetite for virtual reality experiences, the experiment also makes it possible to test physiological and psychological acceptance by the participants. Virtual reality experiences may cause motion sickness in some people (not too different from seasickness!) due to a conflict between motion information perceived by the brain and information picked up by the other senses.  To avoid any discomfort, the b<>com teams worked, both on the technical level and on the staging, to ensure an optimal result in terms of the fluidity and responsiveness of the technical systems. Additionally, during the experiment, participants are equipped with a sensor (in the form of a wristwatch) that measures their physiological reactions: Heart rate, electrodermal conductivity, etc.

At the end of the experiment, the participants were invited to fill out a questionnaire to assess how they felt. This user data allow b<>com's teams to confirm and adjust the technology and content. This data also give b<>com and its partners guidance on how to consider the business model of virtual reality.

"The Virtual Arctic Expedition" is the product of work carried out jointly by b<>com, Océanopolis, the ENIB, the CERV, the IMT Atlantique, and the ESC Rennes. The final version of the attraction will open its doors in Océanopolis in 2018.