Virtual reality science centre exhibits (1994)
AuthorsRalston, Stuart Edwardshow all
Virtual Reality (VR) systems have become widely recognised by the public as a result of media attention, but the cost of the underlying hardware has limited research in the field. Recent improvements in computing power, rendering software, and their availability have started to lower the price of personal VR system components, allowing VR to become an increasingly affordable technology. Science centre exhibits have traditionally been a starting point for high impact science products, presenting them directly to the public. VR technology is currently in a state where its introduction into a science centre is feasible. This thesis describes three computer-based science exhibits that have been designed and introduced to the Science Alive! science centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. The first exhibit, called Juggling In a Virtual Environment (JIVE), teaches the user to juggle virtual objects in VR. The exhibit was constructed using an IBM compatible personal computer, a modified Mattei PowerGlove, a data projector, a 2 metre by 1.5 metre fabric screen, and public domain rendering software. The main advantages of the system are that it is economical and it attempts to teach skills that are otherwise difficult to learn. Overall, the PowerGlove proved to be unreliable due to background noise, a restricted working angle of the ultrasonic tracking, and a high breakage rate of the finger sensors. The second exhibit, called Cybertennis, was constructed using the same hardware as JIVE, except for modifying the breakage-prone PowerGlove into a bat. A new virtual world was designed to allow the user to play a game of tennis with an artificial opponent. The third exhibit, called the Data Digester, is an electronic questionnaire; consisting of a Macintosh personal computer, a touch screen device, and HyperCard developing software. The Data Digester gathers information for market research, demographic investigations, and exhibit evaluation.