The first VR theater for field science experience

University News | July 29, 2022

A student in a virtual mine. (Photo provided by Kawamura lab.)

The Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido University has introduced its first Virtual Reality (VR) theater for field science experience, which began full-scale operation in June. The theater is cylindrical, 8 meters in diameter and 2.4 meters high, with six projectors for 360-degree projection.

Professor Youhei Kawamura of the Faculty of Engineering, who designed the theater, says, “This is the first VR theater in Japan where a group of people can experience field science simultaneously in a 360-degree stereoscopic view.”

With its extensive research forests, experimental farms, and marine stations, Hokkaido University has strengths in field sciences and sustainability research. Until now, head mount displays (HMDs) have been utilized in some classes to provide students with virtual experiences of the field. However, with HMDs, it has been difficult to share a virtual experience with multiple people simultaneously. Professor Kawamura explains, “In a virtual space created by the VR theater, an instructor can demonstrate to a group of students how to work in the field, for example.”

A student exploring a virtual mine. (Photo provided by Kawamura lab.)

Professor Kawamura specializes in mining engineering. He says that there are many challenges in the field of mining, such as improving efficiency and safety, as well as achieving zero emissions. Currently, he uses the VR theater to project “Mineral Awareness”—content developed by the University of New South Wales in Australia for resource education. Students can go inside a realistic 3D model of a mine and explore any location or observe a specific spot. “Importantly, the VR theater allows people who would not normally be able to go to the site to go there, or to do things that cannot be done in the real situation. For example, the VR theater can reproduce a mining accident for a training purpose,” said Kawamura.

Professor Youhei Kawamura, Faculty of Engineering (Photo by Aprilia Agatha Gunawan).

“Many companies in the natural resources and civil engineering as well as researchers in various fields within the university, including medicine and nursing, have shown keen interest in utilizing the VR theater and virtual reality technologies. I want to contribute to the advancement of research and education by bringing in information engineering and visual technology,” said Kawamura.

Professor Kawamura (far right) and the lab members of the Resource Management Laboratory (Photo by Aprilia Agatha Gunawan).

Written by Naoki Namba