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Source: Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

30 Jul, 2020

Associate Professor Barbara Bollard in Antarctica

In 2018, Associate Professor Barbara Bollard from AUT DroneLab led a team to Antarctica to collect data for the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut Virtual Reality Experience developed by AUT scientists and digital designers.

Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut was Scott Base’s first building and was conserved by AHT in 2017. The Virtual Reality (VR) experience allows users to tour the five rooms of the building and learn more about how the early explorers lived and worked in Antarctica more than 60 years ago. Learn more about the project here.

Read below for Q&A with Assoc Professor Barbara Bollard about what researching in Antarctica is like.

What is this project about?
This project is about sharing one of New Zealand’s iconic treasures with the global community through immersive experiences.

What did the team do in Antarctica?
My background is in conservation planning. I use remote sensing and imagery to help with large-scale conservation plans. My team and I went down to Antarctica to gather raw data. We did this through LIDAR technology and photos.

Essentially, we photographed all the interiors of Hillary’s Hut and the objects, with specialised sensors. We used drones for the exteriors. Back at AUT, the data was converted so it could be used in virtual reality.

What was Antarctica like?
It’s so cold down in Antarctica (some locations were lower than minus 20 degrees) that none of us knew if the equipment would even work. There were all sorts of challenges. But we’ve been going to Antarctica as a team since 2014 so we are used to the struggles and coming up with new ways of dealing with the conditions. Working in Antarctic is challenging and everything depends on the team of people you have with you. We don’t have the luxury of time or the ability to pop back down if we make a mistake. So it has to be the right people who are highly capable and work quickly, efficiently and with the utmost respect for each other.

Antarctica is such an incredibly special place and so I want some of the amazement to hit through the VR experience we created. I hope the public get lots of fun out of the immersive experience.

How did scientists and designers work together on this project?
It was quite novel to collect all this data for such a large area and put that into VR. AUT DroneLab and XR Lab students worked together to clean up the data and find a process for it. Their different academic backgrounds and skills were integral to bringing everything together. None of them had worked on a project of this scale before so it was exciting for them to see the project transition from raw data to the full VR experience.

The results are just mind-blowing. The work itself is ground-breaking. To me, artists and designers working together to visualise scientific data is the next logical step into the future.

I can’t wait for the public to be able to put on their headsets and walk through Hillary’s Hut for themselves.

What was the highlight of working on the project?

What I loved about this project was the blend of art and science.

My team and I map landscapes using drones and other new technology so the models we get from the data collected is accurate to within a few centimetres. Virtual Reality transforms that data and makes it accessible.

As a scientist, for years, I have gone out and got the data and created 2D maps and put them into plans. But turning it into VR instead makes it more real. It brings the data alive and makes it engaging for different audiences and communities. I hope that it will inspire them to care about the incredibly special place Antarctica is and, hopefully inspire them to get involved.

AUT DroneLab

The AUT team that collected data for this project includes Professor Len Gillman, Ashray Doshi, and Dr Melinda Waterman. The science students that worked on this project are Julia King, Ryan Smith and Rose Nichol-Foster.

How to view the VR experience

  • To view the virtual experience at home on your mobile device visit the app store and download the Antarctic Heritage Trust VR app on Google Play or Apple App Store for free. Best viewed with a cardboard headset.
  • To experience the fully immersive and interactive version, download it for free from Steam and watch it on your HTC Vive headset.
  • Visit Antarctic Heritage Trust’s website to see who is hosting the fully immersive and interactive version around New Zealand: www.nzaht.org

Useful links

AUT scientists and designers create VR Experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut in Antarctica

Associate Professor Barbara Bollard

AUT DroneLab

Q&A with Digital Design PhD student Katarina Markovic – Heritage Preservation through VR storytelling

MIL OSI