A downloadable virtual reality museum has been developed that allows digital visitors to move around an array of exhibitions just as they would if they were visiting in reality.
Visitors can view the museum, dubbed Computer Love 2.0, on their computer using a keyboard and mouse, or with an Oculus Rift and paired game controller.
Developed by the University of Sheffield, the 3D gallery is stocked with virtual counterparts to real-world artefacts, taken from three of the university’s museums: the National Fairground Archive, the Turner Museum of Glass and the Alfred Denny Museum.
“We have created this gallery to give the rest of the world a digital ‘taster’ of the University’s most important cultural collections,” explained Dr Steve Maddock, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science.
“We wanted to find a way to ensure that they were no longer confined to their physical location – it seemed such a shame that many of our treasures could only be viewed by a few lucky people.”
The prospect of using virtual reality to create museums and galleries is often mentioned when discussing the potential of Oculus Rift and other VR technologies, but this is one of the first times the concept has been put into practice.
The virtual gallery has been highly faithful to a real-world space, with everything from fire alarms and plug sockets to air vents and emergency exits being painstakingly recreated.
However, the virtual environment has enabled the developers to create displays that would have been highly challenging in reality, such as the National Fairground Archive section, which is entered through a huge, gaping mouth, and includes a 19th century ghost train experience.
Other elements of the collection include a digitised version of a mock glass slipper, the giant skull of an extinct form of eagle and a selection of guillemot eggs.
“Hopefully our art gallery – which explores the relationship between science and art by ‘displaying’ things like our half-specimens as artworks – will pique the interest of visitors and encourage them to make the trip to see the full collections in real life,” added Maddock.
Virtual museums are frequently proposed as a way of aiding learning, by giving students access to artefacts that may be thousands of miles away.
As VR becomes more mainstream we could also see major institutions, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or London’s British Museum, creating their own virtual versions, perhaps with exhibitions of items not normally on display.
We may even see virtual-only museums with visitor-submitted artefacts, developed along a similar model to Wikipedia. For now, though, Computer Love 2.0 presents an intriguing first look at the virtual museum.
Computer Love 2.0 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac and Oculus Rift here.
Images and video courtesy of the University of Sheffield.