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  • Virtual Reality Can Put Better Context to Museum Displays

    Art aficionados began to see the exciting possibilities of virtual reality when Disney announced that Salvador Dali's 1935 painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's "Angelus" will be brought to life using virtual reality. This hardly comes as a surprise since, as we wrote in a previous article, surrealism and VR blend seamlessly in countless ways.

    But what about the other, non-surreal contexts of museum and gallery displays? For instance, how does one contextualize an ordinary day in the Bronze Age, where no towering, skeletal figures against a backdrop of birdsong, crescent moon, and gloomy skies exist to fire up the imagination? What if museum goers need a real, immersive (and largely unexciting) experience to understand how our ancestors lived, survived, and carved history for themselves and for the rest of civilization?

    Enter the British Museum's 4000-year old roundhouse virtual reality project, which invites visitors to engage in the past in a more intimate way than merely ogling dusty artifacts under glass. The project was launched in the last quarter of 2015, with thousands of young visitors having taken part in the experiment in its first weekend alone. Located at the basement of the museum's Great Court, this first foray into virtual reality and digital interpretation of historical artifacts features three Bronze Age objects that were recently discovered. They are placed within their original context, and augmented with a series of gallery talks to further contextualize their possible purpose and function.

    “The technology is particularly useful for the bronze age, a difficult period for visitors to engage with and imagine museum objects in their original context,” the gallery curator Neil Wilkin said. And while the museum's senior staff admitted that the technology involved (a VR headset and a tablet) took some getting used to, younger staff and students embraced the experience more willingly and with more excitement.

    In the consequent immersions and talks that followed, some very interesting views and theories cropped up: that objects previously judged to be merely ornamental may have more practical functions, and that people did not necessarily "live in filth" 4000 years ago. Given a less "boring" way to look at these artifacts, museum-goers began thinking more critically and looking beyond first impressions, and crafting a more intimate experience of the past in different contexts.

    What was originally seen as something to exclusively augment the gaming technology now has a place in heritage use, thanks to the democratizing effect of Cardboard headsets and its various inceptions. As Salvador Dali once said: "Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision." Virtual reality is finally unshackling the limits of seeing and imagining, and the future is so bright, you gotta wear ---- VR headsets.

  • From Virtual to Reality: The Rise of 3D

    Pacman 3D

    Phones. Computers. Tablets.

    Many fail to realize all the years of innovation and ingenuity that go into everyday items. For instance, have you ever wondered how that little cardboard gizmo you’re holding in your hands came about?

    It has been said that those who know the past have the power to shape the future. By having a thorough grasp of the evolution of things, one gains enough insight to steer ahead. So to fully understand the Virtual Reality that we enjoy today, we need to see its roots. Let’s travel back through time and take look at the many permutations of VR devices through the years.

    VR history 101 is now in session.

    Insurgence and Resurgence

    One common misconception about VR is that it is “new”. While it does seem like a contemporary concept—thanks to innovators over the years—this isn’t exactly the case. In fact, it's been around for decades. Even though the term Virtual Reality was coined back in the 1980’s (By Jaron Lanier) the concept in itself was already around as early as the 1950’s.

    It was, however, unfortunate that much of its potential  when it was first introduced went largely unrealized—in large part due to the lack of technological advancements available. The oftentimes mediocre graphics were too much for users to ignore and to fully buy into a supposed “fully immersive” experience. Like many things in life, it’s all a matter of opportunity and timing. And the timing was just not right so much of the hoopla surrounding virtual reality died down, leaving it relatively out of mainstream culture.

    Thanks to better graphics technology, VR steadily built up steam until it gained enough of momentum akin to a runaway freight train the past few years.

    Evolution and Revolution

    Sensorama (1950s)
    Revolutionary cinematographer Morton Heilig pioneered this console that featured moving chairs, odor emitters, and stereo speakers as well as stereoscopic displays to upgrade the usual viewing experience. It was thus touted the “Cinema of the Future”.

    Headsight (1961)
    Headsight was a helmet that had a video screen and a tracking system and was used by engineers for remote operations in dangerous locations. It operated via a closed camera circuit system.

    Ultimate Display (1965)
    With the Ultimate Display, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland was able to place users in a virtual world. Being that hardware didn’t come in small packages as it does today, the computer connected to the HMD (head-mounted display) looked more like a contraption straight out of a sci-fi flick.

    Tron (1982)
    1982 was the year VR went to Hollywood. Though it didn’t make VR available to the public, it gave viewers a good view of things to come.

    Virtuality Group (1991)
    Virtuality Group brought virtual reality to a new generation in the form of special arcade machines. It took VR to a whole new level with upgraded graphics and 3D versions of classic games such as Pac-Man.

    Sega VR (1993)
    Major video game console maker Sega unveiled its VR wrap-around glasses at the Consumer Electronics Show. Strangely enough, it never hit the shelves. In a few years, however, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy did break through to the market but eventually crashed and burned due to lackluster reception.

    Project Morpheus (2014)
    With better graphics available, virtual reality received a new lease on life. Even the giants at Sony hopped on the VR bandwagon with their own VR headset for their PlayStation gaming console.

    Google Cardboard (2014)
    With other VR devices in the market wearing price tags that are a little too out of reach, the wonderful folks at Google took a radically simplistic approach and brought VR technology to the masses.

    Being one of the more accessible (and very much affordable) VR gadgets in the market, we can see why Google Cardboard has risen to prominence to become one of the top figures in the Virtual Reality game. And with I Am Cardboard, you need not worry about getting left behind in the VR revolution. By simply donning a visor, you can plunge deep and realize practically any alternative reality.

  • Cardboard Cousins (5 useful cardboard objects of the past)

    It's basic but it doesn't have to be boring. In the not-so-distant past, a piece of cardboard provided us loads of practicality and entertainment.

    With all the possibilities offered by Google Cardboard, we'd be hard-pressed to see the lowly cardboard as only good for carrying pizza (which isn't a shabby purpose at all!). Let's take a closer look at five of the Cardboard kit's ancestors to know how they were made into handy gadgets and other fun stuff.

    1. Pinhole camera

    Basically, cameras are just closed containers with a small hole that create images based on light. No wonder a small cardboard box made for a nifty pinhole camera for many a crafty kid (and adult!). Building this basic camera from scratch and taking pictures with it is an undeniably fulfilling experience.

    Your Cardboard kit is made from the same humble material and offers the same kind of fulfillment, but with more possibilities. For instance, apps like the 3D Camera for Google Cardboard allow you to capture images in 3D with just a simple tap of the screen.

    2. Binoculars and 3D glasses

    I can see you                                                      Photo: Rob via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

    Homemade paper or cardboard binoculars are typical adventure instruments for kids. All it takes are two cardboard toilet paper tubes, string, markers, and other basic tools. And when it comes to a solar eclipse and 3D films, there's nothing like a piece of flat cardboard and some red and blue cellophane to really help you see the majesty! This particular technology, also known as anaglyph glasses, was really the first to utilize 3D imagery.

    Today, your Cardboard kit and your smartphone are the very tools that enable you to experience virtual reality. The lenses are similar to a binoculars', but the possibilities of virtual reality? Well, let's just say they go beyond viewing solar eclipses and seeing images pop.

    3. Music media dock

    Cardboard boxes have long been seen as temporary solutions for storage, insulation, padding, and protection. Even before someone actually designed a cardboard dock for small gadgets like MP3 players and smartphones, the humble cardboard has been used countless times as makeshift holders for cassette tapes, records, CDs, and other musical media.

    Today, your Cardboard kit enables you to try musical apps like the Paul McCartney and Jack White virtual reality videos, and fully enjoy their music as you would in a concert. We're looking forward to more music-based Cardboard apps very soon!

    4. File box

    At some point in our lives, we've used a cardboard box to store our files. It's a reliable catchall for school papers, instruction manuals, receipts, and other important papers we need to keep track of. Now, with apps like Google Street View, you no longer need bulky paper maps to make your way around places. We're predicting more storage apps that keep our files safe, provide hands-free instructions, help with research, and basically make life hassle-free will be available in the coming months.

    5. Adventure vessel

    As a throwback to a more imaginative, innovative time for kids, flattened pieces of cardboard boxes were often used as sleds, and bigger ones as cars and trucks. Add a few marker drawings to depict windows, doors, and tires, and you're ready to roll! With your Cardboard kit ready and a few select apps like the Volvo Reality and the Roller Coaster VR, you can let your imagination run full throttle with a virtual reality test drive or a heart-stopping ride.

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