This is a story about innovation, passion and making big ideas a reality . A few years ago, I was approached by Ass/Prof Kira Westaway to chat about what she could do with 3D technology in her research and teaching. This was not abnormal for me as I often get approached by staff keen to push the boundaries in 3D. I was working in the pop-up incubator that day (which was the precursor space to our current incubator), and I remember the basics of the conversation. Kira already knew about photogrammetry (simply put, a way to make 3d models using a normal camera) and needed just a few slight tips on how to take the photographs and off she went. It was a month or two later and after a trip to China, Kira came back with a bunch of photos which I (relatively) quickly turned into the 3d caves here: (The “redux” versions are all new remastered files just released)

The result was pretty cool as you can see. They were used by Kira for research output and through the utility of Pedestal 3D, published along with the other research data here:

Cross section of Shuangtan cave in Orthomosiac mode. Closer inspection available here.

This happened to coincide with some experimentation in VR I was developing with another incubator member, Matt Cabanag. We were trying to see how we could push the boundaries of VR with full high resolution photogrammetry work in VR for learning. In case you don’t know, VR is used for a LOT of disparate types of content now. At the entry level, it is simple 2D 360 panoramas (static or video based) where the point of view is fixed from where the photo was taken and there is no depth perception. At the next level up, 3D is added to the panoramas for depth perception but the point of view is still fixed where the camera was. This is cool but we didn’t want the students to be passive observers and these modes were not the full immersion we were after where you can move around a space, inspect things and even have virtual hands to interact with the world like VR gaming is currently enabling.

So, one day when Kira was visiting to give me some more photos for processing, I had a surprise for her. Matt had loaded one of the caves onto his development Oculus VR rig and we dropped Kira back into a location in China and she could move around, duck and look under the ledges. Kira liked this. Kira liked this a lot. Being an academic with both a passion for teaching and an insight for technological innovation, she instantly got the utility of this in her classroom. What followed was a good example of grass roots innovation and research-led teaching.

Kira invested in the first REIM rig that Matt had conceptualised and a prototype was built. The dream was to enable this high res full immersion VR anywhere. The challenge was to get such good resolution and responsiveness, a good computer with good graphics card is needed to tether to the headset. Kind of like the old space pen vs. using the pencil story, other institutions solutions to this was to build custom VR rooms where students had to go to to “do VR”. We decided to just put the rig on wheels so you could “do VR” anywhere and everywhere. REIM was born.

The next step was to secure a Learning and Teaching grant to build more. There are now 10 of these “VR on wheels” rigs across campus for all to use. They are fully setup Oculus VR rigs that can run anything from the Oculus store, Unity apps, 360 videos and web based VR easily, all in a trolley like setup to go anywhere you want.

REIM in action inside the Macquarie Lighthouse. Jane Thogersen and Matt Cabanag in shot. Photo: Michael Rampe

The final surprise for Kira was that after a year or so, after learning some new software myself (Reality Capture is amazing once you work it out), I recently went back and reprocessed all of Kira’s original photos into super higher fidelity models and, still working with Matt, we have just released the “Kira’s Caves Redux” VR experience with ALL 17 caves in super amazing “just like you are there” mode. This, along with our Lighthouse experience and some other apps, are preloaded onto all of the REIM rigs.

Now we hand the story over to you; fancy giving your students a truly memorable experience while learning the basic concepts of your discipline? Do not be put off by technology – Kira had no experience of VR before she started – now she is using it regularly in all her pracs (and her students love her for it!). Training is provided and we are always happy to discuss content development ideas. *note Google Earth VR is the cheapest, easiest way of taking your students anywhere in the world – to famous landscapes, famous cities, famous monuments – the world is your oyster!

So, interested for more?:

If you want to use REIM VR in your teaching: contact Kira Westaway (FoSE) or Michael Rampe (Arts)

If you are at an early stage and have some ideas for making VR content like Kira did originally, or have some amazing ideas for 3D scanning, contact Michael Rampe

If you have content or interaction ideas that require a bit of coding or software design, contact Michael Rampe and/or Matt Cabanag for a chat. We can work something out.

You never know where your big/small idea will end up!

Posted by Michael Rampe

Michael has been a Senior Learning Designer at Macquarie for several years working in, around and between many faculties and is now permanently placed in the faculty of Arts. With a career focus on graphic design, video, photography and 3D media, he is a technologist, an innovator, and recently an entrepreneur. He developed the Pedestal 3D platform and commercialised it as a start up company through the Incubator. His current research is focussed on object based learning, 3D digitisation for learning and ways VR can intersect with learning.

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