Mak­ing vir­tual re­al­ity a re­al­ity at AGBNHS

ACOA fund­ing, Sydney firm make hy­dro­foil sim­u­la­tion pos­si­ble

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - AN­DREW BROOKS

The year is 1919 and you’re sit­ting in the driver’s seat of the world’s fastest wa­ter­craft – the HD-4 hy­dro­foil. Built by Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell’s boat­yard un­der the su­per­vi­sion of chief en­gi­neer Casey Bald­win, the craft now sits on the Bras d’or Lake, ready for a spin. On Septem­ber 9, Bald­win set a ma­rine record of 70.84 mph while pi­lot­ing the craft. Now it’s your turn to see how you han­dle the wooden framed boat with two air­craft en­gines strapped to the rig be­hind you.

That is the vir­tual re­al­ity that has been made pos­si­ble by At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency (ACOA) fund­ing and the work of the VMP Group, a Sydney-based dig­i­tal agency.

On Septem­ber 8, 2017, ACOA an­nounced $300,000 in fund­ing at the Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell Na­tional His­toric Site (AGBNHS) where two vir­tual re­al­ity mod­ules now re­side next to the full-scale replica and re­mains of the orig­i­nal HD-4 hull. Half of the fund­ing is al­lot­ted for the vir­tual re­al­ity project while the other half has been ear­marked to de­velop an on­line store and im­proved mar­ket­ing for the mu­seum’s gift shop.

“I think he’d be a lit­tle over­whelmed with the level of technology th­ese days, but I’m sure he’d be fas­ci­nated,” said Casey Bald­win’s grand­son, Sean Bald­win, who em­ceed the an­nounce­ment.

MP Mark Eyk­ing was on hand to make the an­nounce­ment on be­half of the Govern­ment of Canada.

“It was a re­ally cool ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially the kids are go­ing to love this sucker. I think that’s a big part of this whole thing is young peo­ple,” said Eyk­ing af­ter try­ing out the new technology

And new technology it is. Though the con­cept of vir­tual re­al­ity has been around for decades, Shawn Green, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the VMP Group, told The Stan­dard it has only been in the past few years that com­puter technology has reached a point where vir­tual has be­come vi­able.

Like Bell and Bald­win, Shawn and his brother Stephen have not been afraid to try and fail on the path to suc­cess. The com­pany’s first project in 1995 was an un­der­ground mine safety and res­cue train­ing sim­u­la­tion. Green says the technology of the day wouldn’t al­low them to de­liver the ex­pe­ri­ence they en­vi­sioned. Con­se­quently, the push to­wards vir­tual re­al­ity was side­lined for them and for many other com­pa­nies.

Three ma­jor ar­eas of im­prove­ment have now made the ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble. Ad­vance­ments in screen res­o­lu­tion and frame rate (num­ber of dif­fer­ent pic­tures seen by the eye per sec­ond) have been key, but Green also em­pha­sized the near elim­i­na­tion of some­thing called la­tency.

“La­tency is the amount of time it takes the sig­nal to go from the com­puter to your eyes. That la­tency was what was mak­ing peo­ple dizzy and nau­seous [at the time]. They've now reached a near in­stan­ta­neous de­liv­ery, so when you move your head around, it tracks as if you were look­ing at some­thing in real life.” Green ex­plained to The Stan­dard.

Also like Bell and his as­so­ci­ates, the Green broth­ers have not been afraid to take risks.

“The technology that you see here to­day was de­vel­oped prior to the fund­ing ac­tu­ally be­ing granted by the govern­ment. So, he [Green] took a big risk in mak­ing sure that the technology was ready for to­day,” stated Matthew Hart, spokesper­son for the Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell Mu­seum As­so­ci­a­tion, dur­ing his re­marks.

Parks Canada has worked with the VMP Group for many years, im­ple­ment­ing their technology at sites across Cape Bre­ton. The hy­dro­foil sim­u­la­tion had been con­sid­ered for sev­eral years but it was only last fall when de­sign con­cepts and build­ing plans started to take shape.

In­di­vid­u­als over 13 can ex­pe­ri­ence the full vir­tual re­al­ity sim­u­la­tion for $7.30 while chil­dren un­der 13 can use the video screen (no head­set) for $4.90. Ad­mis­sion to the site re­mains free for the rest of the year.

Photo by An­drew Brooks / The Vic­to­ria Stan­dard.

Joan Sul­li­van (front) ex­pe­ri­ences what her great-grand­fa­ther Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell never had the chance to do - pi­lot the record-set­ting HD-4 hy­dro­foil across the Bras d'or lake. Look­ing on are Stephen Green, Vice-pres­i­dent of the VMP Group who built the de­vice (left), and Hugh Muller, great-grand­son of Bell.

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