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Educational Virtual Environments for Digital Dome Display Systems with Audience Participation

Authors:
  • Foundation of the Hellenic World

Abstract and Figures

As the interest of the public for new forms of media grows, museums and theme parks select real time Virtual Reality productions as their presentation medium. New interactive and immersive shows are opening all around the world. Based on three-dimensional graphics, interaction, sound, music and intense story telling they mesmerize their audiences. The Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW) having opened so far to the public three different Virtual Reality theatres has great experience in developing productions for this new medium. Since 2006 the FHW is operating a new Dome-shaped Virtual Reality theatre with a capacity of 132 people. This fully interactive theatre will present new experiences in immersion to the visitors. This paper describes the interactive virtual environments developed for learners of all ages for this specific installation and discusses the issues involved in developing educational application for digital Domes.
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Educational Virtual Environments for Digital Dome
Display Systems with Audience Participation
Dimitrios Christopoulos
Department of Virtual
Reality and 3D Graphics
Foundation of the Hellenic
World
38 Poulopoulou Str.,
11851 Athens, Greece
e-mail: christop@fhw.gr
Panagiotis Apostolellis
Internet and Multimedia
Department
Foundation of the Hellenic
World
38 Poulopoulou Str.,
11851 Athens, Greece
e-mail: panaga@fhw.gr
Abraham Onassiadis
Department of Virtual
Reality and 3D Graphics
Foundation of the Hellenic
World
38 Poulopoulou Str.,
11851 Athens, Greece
e-mail: abi@fhw.gr
Abstract
As the interest of the public for new forms of media grows, museums and theme parks select
real time Virtual Reality productions as their presentation medium. New interactive and
immersive shows are opening all around the world. Based on three-dimensional graphics,
interaction, sound, music and intense story telling they mesmerize their audiences. The
Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW) having opened so far to the public three different
Virtual Reality theatres has great experience in developing productions for this new medium.
Since 2006 the FHW is operating a new Dome-shaped Virtual Reality theatre with a capacity
of 132 people. This fully interactive theatre will present new experiences in immersion to the
visitors. This paper describes the interactive virtual environments developed for learners of all
ages for this specific installation and discusses the issues involved in developing educational
application for digital Domes.
Keywords: Virtual Reality, Dome Display Systems, Audience Interactivity, Education
1. Introduction
The Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW), based in Greece, is a non-profit
cultural heritage institution working to preserve and disseminate Hellenic culture,
historical memory and tradition through the creative use of state-of-the-art
multimedia and technology. Its aim is to promote the understanding of the past and to
synthetically and comprehensively present the history, life and values of the Hellenic
world in its broader geographical evolution [Gaitatzes et Al. (2001a)]. The goal of the
Foundation is to create a forum for archaeologists, historians, scientists, and artists to
visualize their ideas and utilize the highest level of technology and resources for
research and education within the context of Hellenic cultural heritage [Gaitatzes et
Al. (2001b)].
To this purpose it uses the best of contemporary museum theory, developments in
computer science, and the use of audiovisual media and interactive exhibits. The
Foundation's Cultural Center stands on the site of a former industrial area that has
been converted into an attractive contemporary complex of buildings located in
Athens. The overall design, architectural, electrical and acoustic plans of the complex
make it one of the most modern and well-designed cultural centers in Europe.
2. Infrastructure
The real-time VR Dome Theater of FHW
utilizes a fully digital projection system,
configurable in a monoscopic, stereoscopic or a
mixed mode of operation 6 pairs of seamlessly
blended SXGA+ projectors will be projecting
the synthesized imagery on a tilted
hemispherical reflective surface of 13m in
diameter (Figure 1) [Christopoulos et Al.
(2006)]. The auditorium is designed to host up to
132 visitors at the same time, who will be
transferred into virtual worlds and enjoy a truly
immersive and interactive experience.
Currently, the VR system is operated by a single
user (guide) via a joystick and manipulator
tracker combination, but special care has been
taken for the integration of a voting system for
the spectators as well as the ability to split the
visitors into groups for multiplayer action
[Gaitatzes et Al. (2006)]. In order to drive a multi-display environment such as a
dome, multiple graphics outputs need to be synchronized at each frame to generate
partial views of the same panorama. One convenient solution, traditionally available
was the purchase of shared memory multiprocessor/multi-pipe systems from custom
vendors. Unfortunately, these solutions are being phased out since the market and
scientific community turned to cluster architecture of individual machines which
provided lower cost of maintenance and upgrade, support for the latest advancements
in hardware and better performance.
Figure 1. The FHW Dome
For powering
the FHW Dome spherical display, twelve projectors and cluster PCs
were chosen, each projector being powered by one machine and each pair of
projectors/machines providing the stereo imagery for one of the six tiles on the
surface. We have implemented an asymmetric master/slave cluster configuration,
which provides a highly parallel execution and has almost zero scaling overhead
(frame lag) when adding new node (see taxonomy in [Zuffo et Al. (2002)]). Each node
is a completely self contained VR system, advancing at each frame according to the
user and application dependent variables. However, this set of data is very small and
only consists of the user interaction primitive actions (e.g. button presses, tracker
input, joystick values) and a global application reference clock. The role of the master
is reduced to that of a coordinator of the other nodes (slaves) and only provides
synchronization for the global clock and the user input data. The above functionality,
synchronization and data exchange layer is handled by an application-independent
library we have developed, named EVSSyncer [Papaioannou et Al. (2003)].
3. Interaction Hardware
To increase customer participation every seat has its
own unique controls (Figure 2), which have to be
collected and processed by the applications. Besides
the problem of how to interpret all these data
developing the interaction metaphors there is also
the burden to collect it. Each seat provides a 2-axis
joystick with analog values [0-1] and 4 buttons with
discreet values [0/1]. Usually a dedicated PC handles
the entire input load and communicates its result to
the master. We have implemented the same approach using a custom PC which
interfaces the input hardware and communicates the data over UDP connection to the
master. The VRPN [Russel et Al. (2001)] framework had already this client – server
architecture and software daemons and was adapted to our setup.
Figure 2. The Interaction seats
4. Current Projects
The major projects undertaken by the 3D/VR/Multimedia teams at FHW include the
reconstruction of the Ancient Agora of Athens among with its evolution through time
and the integrated 3D – Interactive programme “Earth is our Home” which deals with
the alarming environmental and the climatic changes.
4.1 Ancient Agora of Athens
The first production unit that is shown at the “Tholos” deals with the Ancient Agora
of Athens and the selection of this subject is in accordance with the Foundation's
mission to deal with issues of Hellenic history and culture. FHW's scientists, experts
in various fields, and external collaborators worked for its implementation. In
addition, the Foundation of the Hellenic World, wishing to present the Ancient Agora
in a complete and scientifically documented way, chose to develop the subject in
three different tours: “Interactive tour in the Ancient Agora of Athens”, “Happening
in the Ancient Agora” and “Athena in the Ancient Agora”.
Figure 3a. (Left) Representation of the Ancient Agora, Figure 3b.(Middle) The
voting procedure, Figure 3c. (Right) The Panathenaea Procession
During the interactive tour the spectators visit the site of the Ancient Agora and,
under the guidance of a special Museum Educator, have the opportunity to choose the
course they will follow themselves. The representation of the Agora in three different
moments in history provides visitors with the opportunity to perceive the
development and the changes in the site's function through time, as it is recorded in its
architectural and city-planning differentiations (Figure 3a). The Classical Agora
(approx. 400 BC) emphasizes the importance of public administrative buildings and
the existence of a large outdoors area for gatherings and athletic activities. During the
Hellenistic Period (approx. 150 BC) the dominant feature is the large commercial
buildings (stoas), while emphasis is placed on the beneficiary activity of the
Hellenistic rulers. Finally, the Roman aspect of the Agora (approx. 150 AD) records
its gradual weakening as an administrative and commercial centre, something that
allowed the development of its religious and cultural character, since new temples
were constructed, the odeum, the library and the nymphaeum.
The visor interaction seats are used to engage the audience at certain moments with
historical facts and questions and allowing them to answer by pushing the buttons in a
certain amount of time. After each question the complete results are told and also
which visitor provided the fastest correct answer. This television show style quiz
game has gained immense popularity by introducing entertaining and socializing
moments into the tour since the visitor who provided the fastest response usually
stands up and is hailed by all others. The interaction buttons are also used to re-enact
various political events such as the voting procedure (Figure 3b), which took place at
the Agora every year. During this procedure an enemy of the state could be banned
for 10 years into exile. The audience is propelled to the time where the last voting
took place and is asked to choose between the actual selections that were available
during that year. Afterwards, the results are compared with the actual results of the
Athenian votes for that year.
The tour “Athena in the Ancient Agora” allows visitors through the existence of a
dramatized script to participate in the presentation and to assume roles, differentiating
thus the spectacle from one performance to the next. During the Classical Period the
spectator, guided by the goddess Athena, watches the most important Athenian
celebration, the Panathenaea Procession (Figure 3c), talks with those that participate
in the celebration, watches and takes part in the Games. The program starts with the
depictions of the ancient agora in ruins from the Persian invasion. Goddess Athena
helps us reconstruct the whole city and the visitors are called to coordinate themselves
and use the joystick on their seats to complete the restoration of the Stoa Poikile in a
“Tetris” like game where parts of the temple fall from the sky and have to be
positioned at specific places. During the Precession the visitors are also allowed to
take over control of the entire dome navigation and collaboratively steer the camera.
The final version of the agora “Happening in the Ancient Agora” is a complex
theatrical happening, where the Virtual Reality presentation is combined with actors.
The spectator’s participation is necessary for the development of the happening and
transforms the Dome into a theatre stage, which combines live actors with digital
scenery and action. The digital walkthrough was interrupted by theatrical
intermissions which depicted the religious, commercial and state activities that were
carried out in that area of the Agora.
4.2 Earth is our Home
The new production of the Foundation of the Hellenic World “Earth is our home”
which deals with the environment, is an interactive programme presented in the
“Tholos”, the Virtual Reality theatre of Hellenic Cosmos. It includes a 3D graphics
film with useful information about the environment, like the increase of the planet's
temperature, climatic changes, management of waste and recycling, renewed sources
of energy. Furthermore, it presents many everyday routines through which all of us
can contribute to the protection of the environment. Following the film is an
interactive game where the public participates actively and tests its knowledge on
issues related to the environment, which were presented in the 3D movie.
4.2.1 The Movie
The first part of the show consists of a short movie that approaches with
responsibility the extremely important issues of the environment and its protection.
The movie is about 15 minutes long and was solely created using Computer
Generated Images (CGI).
Apart from being the first of its kind for the Foundation, a vast number of issues had
to be addressed while producing such a movie. The dome-master format provided a
180x165 deg. circular frame played at 30 fps, which rendered useless various
common cinematography and rendering techniques, in addition to the large format of
3200x3200 pixels. So extreme growth to rendering time, hard disk space necessity
and processing stress to the editing equipment was presented. Upon completion, the
entire film had to be sliced to six parts for the corresponding projectors used in the
dome theatre.
Figure 4. The main character of the movie a polar bear is used as a guide
The movie consists of two parts and during the first, the main character, a lovable
polar bear (Figure 4), gets involved in some unnatural situations, due to the changing
climate. It all starts with a flight through space to finally arrive above Earth, which is
surrounded by garbage of various types. The visitor is introduced to the effects of
Carbon Monoxide (CO
2
) and Methane (CH
4
) to the planet’s temperature and their
usefulness in specific amounts.
The viewer is then presented to a number of work and domestic scenes where people
usually take bad actions for the environment due to ignorance or carelessness. It goes
on to display how the uncalculated power consumption and uncontrollable garbage
production increases the amount of CO2 and CH4 on Earth’s atmosphere. As the
movie proceeds, the protagonist finds itself in worsening situations caused each time
by nature’s continuously deteriorated conditions. The viewer is informed about the
natural catastrophes caused by pollution such as extreme tornadoes, conflagrations,
drought, melting glaciers and how their increase rate has been documented during the
last decades. At the end of part one the polar bear is found in the middle of a hot
desert with a fish gasping for water.
Part two of the movie is about what the people should do in all the previously
described situations in order to avoid nature's destruction. Each case is studied again
but varying the character’s actions and thus their effects to the environment.
Recycling, well thought use of vehicles and appliances, exploitation of alternative
power resources are suggested as means to heal the planet. Movie finale and the bear
pushes the fish back in the water and slowly disappears in its natural white habitat.
4.2.2 The Interactive Game
The second part of the show “Earth is our Home” consists of a quiz game where
visitors are asked to create an environmental-friendly planet Earth, by supplying the
right answers to a series of seven multiple-choice questions. The content of the
questions is mainly comprised of everyday human behaviors that have been exposed
in the 3D movie and have a major impact on our surrounding environment.
Figure 5. The actor - narrator used during the interactive quiz game
Because of the fact that the show is addressed to a versatile audience of different age
and cultural characteristics, some kind of guidance throughout the show is provided
by means of a pre-recorded actor performance (Figure 5). The actor provides the
initial instructions for interaction and explains the goal of the game, which is to
provide the right answer to the questions and consequently construct a better world.
Another objective of the actor is to read the questions and provide a short context for
each question, so that young visitors can better assimilate the implied role [Ritterfeld
et Al. (2004)]. The responses are provided by the visitors using the 4 colored buttons
attached to the right armrest of each seat. The 4 possible answers are highlighted with
the same 4 colors, so there is an obvious visual feedback [Preece et Al. (1994)] as to
which button corresponds to which answer.
Figure 6. The guide announces a positive sum of responses in the Dome
The audience is given a predefined period of time indicated by a big ticking clock,
within which each participant has to make a selection by pressing one of the buttons.
As it is indicated at the beginning of the show, only the first selection is taken into
account which helps avoid misinterpretations by accidental button strokes. The
outcome of the audience’s decision is calculated by comparing the sum of the right
choice against the sum of the remaining 3 choices (voting by majority) (Figure 6). If
the right replies outnumber the wrong ones then a positive outcome of the question
asked is projected on the Dome screen (i.e. a green neighborhood with few cars, as
shown in Figure 7), otherwise a negative outcome is presented to the audience (i.e. a
densely-populated neighborhood with tall buildings and heavy traffic).
During our observations with young visitors of around 8-14 years old, we have
noticed a very high degree of participation and content. Even though this is the first
interactive programme we have developed with minimal to none human intervention,
audience members are promptly involved with the interaction and press the buttons
usually more often than necessary. Like other research in the field has shown [Fisher
et Al. (1997)] audience interactivity is a dynamic medium for imparting knowledge to
a large number of people by addressing the notion of decision-making, choice, and
behavior. Moreover, by combining the short 3D film at the beginning of the show and
the actor in the role of a guide-narrator during the game, we strongly believe we have
exploited the beneficial influence of narration to the learning process [Slater (2002)].
Finally, visual immersion offered by the Dome display is believed to augment the
learning experience and allow for easier assimilation of information [Handron &
Jacobson (2008)].
Figure 7. Panorama of a sequence after the positive outcome of a question
Our ongoing work on the field of audience interactivity involves a show where
visitors are allowed to choose their own route during a virtual guided tour to the
Eleusinian Mysteries. We have preserved the use of an actor-narrator impersonating
an archaeologist who guides the audience through the ancient process of “initiation”,
by putting visitors into the role of a mystic. They can follow the mystic throughout
his steps until the divine service in an arbitrary order, by replying to questions
presented by the guide in significant points of the plot. Due to the complexity offered
by the free navigation option, we have found that the discreet intervention of a human
guide would facilitate interaction and resolve conflicting choices (mainly repetitive
selections and equality in votes). In order to get accurate feedback about our
assumptions, a thorough evaluation with real visitors is necessary.
5. Why Virtual Reality?
We believe that the best exhibits drive visitors to actively participate and truly
experience the essence of their own cultural heritage. At FHW, the landscape,
architecture, and culture of ancient Greece can be experienced in an extraordinary
new way. Using highly advanced 3D technology, the stunning virtual reality
installations let visitors take virtual tours through detailed reconstruction of heritage
sites, enabling viewers to explore them in a way never achieved before. A virtual
exhibit gives us a completely new way of communicating the scientific results of
archaeological investigation within the scientific community, also improving the way
in which these results are communicated to the public [Niccolucci (1999)]. Hence,
hundreds of amazed children and their families engage daily in a journey into history,
kept alive through the creative and innovative use of the state-of-the-art VR
technology. A journey that would have otherwise been impossible as what remains of
these cities today does not do them justice.
In addition to the photorealistic representation of places, people, and sites that do not
exist, never existed, or may not be easily experienced, there are two basic advantages
offered by the virtual reality walkthroughs; the immersive experience and interactive
capabilities that characterize this medium. Immersion is the illusion of being in the
projected world, being surrounded by the image and sound in a way which makes you
believe that you are really there. It offers a “better than real life” or “better than being
there” experience. Interaction refers to the fact that members of the audience are not
merely a viewer of the realistic scenery, but can actively participate in the program
and determine what their experience will be.
6. Conclusion
We are still at the early stages of using immersive virtual reality systems for
experiencing Hellenic cultural heritage. Virtual environments, such as the ones we
aim at developing, can provide rewarding aesthetic and learning experiences that
would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Despite the high cost and restrictive format of
these installations – a typical experience may end up being controlled, structured and
brief – we believe that it is well worth investigating the added value and potential that
virtual reality can bring in the public domain. Moreover, we aim at experimenting
with novel, more complex techniques of audience interactivity for educational
purposes in Dome theatres, which is a relatively unexplored research field. Future
productions will exploit the use of unique interaction devices facilitating audience
collaboration and competition, through the use of properly constructed educational
scenarios. Encouraged from what our visitors have to say, we are working towards
further development of cultural and educational experiences.
7. References
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time Playback System for a Dome Theater. Proceedings of Eu
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Heritage (VAST).
Fisher R., Vanouse P., Dannenberg R., Christensen J. (1997). Audience Interactivity:
A Case Study in Three Perspectives Including Remarks about a Future Production.
Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium for Arts and Technology. New
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Gaitatzes, A.G., Christopoulos D., Roussou M. (2001a). Virtual Reality Interfaces for
the Broad Public, Proceedings of Human Computer Interaction 2001, Panhellenic
Conference with International Participation, Patras, Greece.
Gaitatzes, A.G., Christopoulos D., Roussou M. (2001b). Reviving the past: Cultural
Heritage meets Virtual Reality. Proceedings of Virtual Reality, Archaeology and
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Gaitatzes A., Papaioannou G., Christopoulos D. (2006). Media Productions for a
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Niccolucci F. (1999). Virtual Reality in Archaeology: a useful tool or a dreadful toy?
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The Virtual-Reality Peripheral Network (VRPN) system provides a device-independent and network-transparent interface to virtual-reality peripherals. VRPN's extended methods for factoring devices by function are novel and powerful. VRPN also integrates a wide range of known advanced techniques into a publicly-available system. These techniques benefit both direct VRPN users and those who implement other applications that make use of VR peripherals. CR Descriptors: C.3 [Special-Purpose and ApplicationBased Systems]: Real-time systems; I.3.7 [Computer Graphics]: Three-Dimensional Graphics and Realism -- Virtual Reality; I.6.8 [Simulation and Modeling]: Types of Simulation -- Distributed. Additional Keywords: interactive graphics, virtual environment, virtual world, input devices. 1.
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In February 2003, the JASON Foundation for Education supported an interactive show, the Immersion Institutes Exploration: Sea Lions, intended to enhance children’s understanding of science; it played at three different theaters throughout the US. The production, provided by Immersion Studios Inc., involved about 2000 students, mostly from ages 9 to 14. During the two-week event, a random sample of students and their teachers participated in an assessment of the show, including aspects of usability, entertainment experience, and impact on learning. About a month later, a follow-up was undertaken to complete the evaluation. Results demonstrate that the show was highly appreciated by both the participating students and teachers: The usability aspect of the show was satisfying; the technology was found to be suitable for all age groups involved, and the entertainment experience was clearly intense. Students reported a high learning impact; this opinion was reinforced by the teachers. The follow-up results, however, did not provide proof of long-lasting recall of facts embedded in the show. But it did provide some surprising evidence that students gained detailed knowledge about show-related facts, raising the question whether such a show can be used to make students become more interested in a topic.
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this paper and of the show suggest, embarking on research in the area of interactivity is serious technical and conceptual business. Adding to the mix the desire to communicate scientific information and making the final production entertaining as well would seemingly impose so many restrictions and parameters that one would have to think twice about trying to create art out of this stew. In fact, as our clear enthusiasm and motivation indicates, all of us who worked on "Journey..." can hardly wait to begin the R & D for the Brain Project, so fertile does this groundbreaking work appear. For what we are doing is producing a new artistic medium, with full knowledge that we have stepped into virtually unexplored territory, and that we are defining a new state of art/science in the process.