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EVERYTHING’S BETTER, DOWN WHERE IT’S WETTER View Gallery

10 March 2017

EVERYTHING’S BETTER, DOWN WHERE IT’S WETTER

Staying dry under the sea at the LA Natural History Museum's theBlu underwater VR experience

If you’ve ever wanted to have a staring contest with a hundred foot whale, now’s your chance.

Wevr – the groundbreaking virtual reality company – is partnering with The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to bring you theBlu: An Underwater VR Experience and it will blow your mind.

Putting on the headset I’m immediately dropped into a blank room remnicent of Star Trek’s holodeck. A few moments later I’m underwater, standing on the deck of a sunken ship, looking into the eye of a massive whale and feeling more emotions than I expected to feel about something that, cognitively, I knew wasn’t actually there.

“It’s important that the whale feels really aware,” says Jake Rowell, director of theBlu. “You get that point of connectivity through its eye that actually looks at you.”

Next, I’m transported to a coral reef where I poke some sea anemones that recoil as I attempt to touch them. According to Jake, building an “AI web that can react to the player” is the hardest, but also most important part of creating an immersive VR experience. “We want to give the player agency… center the world around them.”

Quietly, a bloom of jellyfish (I looked it up) meanders past and I can’t help but push around some of the small invertebrates just to see how they’d react.

Jennifer Morgan – the museum’s Senior Project Manager – is very excited about the educational possibilities provided by burgeoning virtual reality technology. “We can expose people to things that they never knew existed,” she says.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go scuba diving to see all this first hand. Fewer people still have been able to see what lies on the very bottom of the ocean, that alien world that exists miles below the surface. This is the last leg of my undersea odyssey.

I am completely engulfed in darkness. The woman whose job it is to watch people stumble around an empty room while exclaiming “Whoa!” and “Wow!” hands me a plastic stick that can be used as a flashlight.

Finding my bearings, I come to the realization that I’m standing in the giant rib cage of a long dead whale that has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Quietly hoping that’s not the remains of the virtual whale that I became emotionally attached to five minutes earlier, I reflexively strain my eyes to take in as much as I can.

“You’re the only point of light in the darkness,” Jake explains. “It’s natural that animals would be curious about you.” Bioluminescent fish approach me to inspect the strange new creature invading their space. Feeling self-conscious because fictional glowing fish are examining me seemed a bit far fetched just an hour prior. In fact, a lot of this seems pretty unbelievable. This type of immersive virtual reality was science fiction ten years ago, but here it is, available to anyone who wants to give it a shot.

You can experience theBlu: An Underwater VR Experience at The Los Angeles Natural History Museum by buying tickets at www.nhm.org. It is open to the public from March 6th to April 28th.

Written by Gregory McLellan