Virtual Reality Aids Conservation Efforts
In The Crystal Reef, a virtual reality experience shows us the effects of carbon emissions on living things in the oceans. A voice muses “What if you had a crystal ball, and that crystal ball showed you exactly what the oceans and the world would look like in a future affected by climate change?” Cody Karutz and some of his colleagues at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction lab are almost certain that more people would care about marine life if they could immerse themselves in the experience themselves and they are creating a system where virtual reality can be used to address the issues abound with conservation. Issues that people are not seeing and therefore are not thinking about.
“Not everybody lives near an ocean,” Karutz tells The Creators Project. “Not everybody gets to scuba dive, but if you can give people access to those experiences, then hopefully that will drastically change their conservation behaviors.” The team has utilized virtual reality to see and quantify the amount of water consumed and paper waste and the numbers indicate that these experiences add a lot and influences the test subjects immensely.
The Crystal Reef debuted at the Tribeca film festival’s Virtual Arcade and it makes use of two mediums that are peculiar to virtual reality: immersive 360-degree video and interactive first person gaming. Long before now Karutz discovered that viewers desired engagement so the lab created dual passive and interactive content and they were pioneers into this field at the Tribeca Festival. In fact, they were the only team to do so. Each of these content takes the viewer to the reefs of Ischia in Italy where as a result of volcanic activities they had major levels of acidity on the sea floor of the oceans. Scientists warn that pollution from human beings can mirror this effect around the world, destroying coral reefs and turning the sea into an “ocean moonscape”.
The passive section of the experience takes the participants on a dive with marine scientist, Dr. Fiorenza Micheli whereas the interactive version allows viewers to interact with the content and become researchers by so doing. They achieve this interaction with the help of handheld controllers which are capable of collecting samples around the digital reef.
Showcasing The Crystal Reef at Tribeca translated to exposure as well as test subjects for the project. The lab was able to gather a lot of research data from festival goers who signed up for answering questions that drive the future conservation efforts. “This is the first time I think anyone’s mass-collected data like this at a film festival,” Karutz says. “We collected 500 or 600 subjects-worth of data, which is huge for us. We would normally get about 100 in a lab.”
In the end, the final goal of this endeavor is to reach as many people as possible with this very important message. “There’s not much being done in virtual reality on the science and conservation side right now, but we’ve been doing VR research for a long time, looking at social behaviors and new interactions that come out of this platform,” Karutz says. “It’s exciting for us, because VR is finally becoming affordable and that really shifts the way we think about using it as a platform. It’s something that could be used in the realm of education, at a museum, or an aquarium.”