The title of our hackathon challenge was ‘Immersive visualisation using the Oculus Rift and Gaming engines’. The idea behind this challenge was to give our developers and scientists a chance to experiment with emerging Virtual Reality (VR) technologies and see whether visualising 3D data could help make our data more accessible, visible and exciting. Ideally we wanted to show how such tools could be used and demonstrated at conferences, BGS open days or even downloaded by users around the world.
For the two-day challenge, our specific goal was to:
“Build an INTERACTIVE, IMMERSIVE model (using a gaming engine) of the BGS geological walkway for players to EXPLORE (wearing the Oculus Rift)”.
We chose to use the BGS geological walk because it was an ideal site to demonstrate the concepts of visualising real-world locations in virtual environments. We could have chosen anywhere in the world but being on-site was the most convenient and familiar.
We also had a lot of data already available that would help us to get on with testing the technology in a time-restricted hack environment, such as a LIDAR point cloud dataset of the concourse captured in 2012:
|Figure 1 LIDAR model of the BGS concourse|
After some hack-team planning we got stuck into the challenge at full speed, fuelled by bags of sweets and drinks provided by Patrick Bell and co.
The majority of our hack challenge tasks revolved around building a virtual world in the Unreal Engine 4 system.
First we used the concourse LIDAR model to use as a blueprint for the model, to make sure that all the buildings, trees, monoliths and paving were positioned correctly in relation to each other. This template allowed us to then start adding in the basic building blocks (cubes for buildings, spheres for the WSB atrium etc) of the built-up environment on and around the geological concourse.
|Figure 2 Basic building-blocks of the concourse being added|
|Figure 3 Creating seamless textures from high-resolution photographs|
|Figure 4 Adding the new building textures onto the building model|
|Figure 5 Showing a fossil and signpost on the Silurian section of the concourse|
Once the concourse had started shape we regularly tested it in the Oculus Rift, which is a 3D stereoscopic headset that tracks the user’s head movement, creating an immersive experience for the user.
|Figure 6 Testing the model while wearing the Oculus Rift|
Viewing the concourse in the Oculus Rift gives the user a sense of scale which is not possible when viewing a 2D screen – especially when we started adding the big dinosaurs into the model!
|Figure 7 Release the dinosaurs!|
Inevitably, we reached lunchtime of the second day with just enough time to whip up a short presentation for the judging panel.
Presenting our work to the rest of the hackathon judges gave us the chance to stop and review how far we had managed to come in such a short space of time. We had set out to produce an interactive, immersive and explorable model of the BGS concourse and in the short time our team had produced a substantial amount of work, with only the ‘interactive’ element of the task falling off the TODO list.
|Figure 8 End-of-hack progress|
|Figure 9 Demonstrating the Oculus Rift to a willing volunteer|
Our team learned a great deal from the #BGSHack in terms of what worked well but also what didn’t. We hope that the Hack gave scientists and other developers an opportunity to see what these technologies can achieve and look forward to seeing where we can take these techniques in the future.
Thanks to the team for their sterling work and efforts over the Hack, and thanks to Patrick and co for all their hard work setting up and running the inaugural #BGSHack!