Its been a busy couple of months with our “VR over the Door Step” project. We have been testing out cameras and equipment, making films and and developing virtual reality apps.
We wanted to test what kind of Virtual Reality experiences older people liked and what challenges there were to getting those experiences to them. We thought that something like a “gentle” virtual trip to a birdlife reserve or park might appeal. So Simon Bishopp (lead VR artist on the project) produced a short 360 VR film at the RSPB in Lochwinnoch.
See the film here.
If you view this film using a suitably equipped smart phone, a fast internet connection and the YouTube app and place it into a VR head set (eg: Google Cardboard) then you can look around the film in 360 degrees. You can also view the film in an internet browser and use your mouse to look around the video.
The film was shot in various locations around the RSPB, including: bird hides, next to the pond, in front of the main building. Its a 360 film but it is linear in that runs over a certain time.
Into this film we added a few features: A map which when watching in a headset the viewer can look down and see where they are in the virtual RSPB; embedded video clips that gave close ups of “bird action” that people might see from that location and some text graphics which shows the viewer which bird hide they were in. The sound track was recorded on location.
Testing our film
We took the film to one of the Roar Men’s group sessions and a couple of housebound elderly who use our befriending service.
Here is a film of us testing the film using a headset with the Men’s group.
So … what did we find out?
On the plus side, people enjoyed the experience, they liked the bird sounds, they said it gave them a feeling of being in the space.
And we also learned a lot of lessons.
- Ease people in and out. You need to introduce people into VR, especially the first time, ease them into it and ask them about the experience afterwards.
- A Swivel Chair. Ideally the viewer should be on a swivel chair as it makes it easier to turn around and see behind them. Trouble is people don’t normally sit on swivel chairs at home.
- Heads and hair. A lot of people don’t like putting the head set on. Some people are funny about other people touching their heads but unfortunately the whole experience wasn’t smooth enough for them to do it themselves.
- Lead in. We needed a long lead in on the film so people have enough time to orientate themselves.
- Its was too fiddly. VR delivered this way is fiddly and not a smooth experience especially for a new user, it was stressful for the person setting up the experience. It should look easy and straight forward … and it really wasn’t.
- People don’t look around. Our subjects where all sitting down and while in 360 VR people have the option to look all around them …. but they don’t, especially if they are in a fixed chair and have limited mobility. They might look around at the start but quickly they just look in one direction, usually within 100 – 120 degrees.
- Viewers don’t look down or up. No one noticed our nice map which we put below their feet.
- You can’t tell people what to look at. With a linear video its difficult to direct people to look at specific things at specific points. Very few people noticed the video inserts that we put into the videos. We weren’t using 360 sound so we couldn’t direct people that way.
- Good internet needed. You need very good internet speeds to deliver VR experiences via Youtube, this would be difficult in many older peoples homes were there might be no internet.
- We would limit the action to 180 degrees.
- We would make it a more interactive experience where viewers could trigger objects by looking at them to find out more, see more content, etc.
- We would put things that we want people to interact with in clear view.
- We would deliver it as an app on a phone, that way we did not require internet.
- Try to find a head set that was easy to put on and take off, or one that a viewer could hold to their face.
So Simon has set about creating the RSPB film as VR app. More about this in the next VR over the doorstep post.
Our RSBP film was shot on a first generation Samsung 360 camera (costs around £250). And edited in ADOBE PREMIERE on a PC. Adobe allows you to edit your 360 footage in a 360 viewer. Samsung has a stand alone editor called “Gear 360 Action Director” but its very basic. You are meant to do most of the editing on a high spec Samsung phone. The latest edition of the Samsung gear 360 is also compatible with iPhones, the first generation wasn’t.
The other camera we tried was a RICOH THETA (1st generation). You control the camera through their app. We found the Theta shot clearer stills, while the Gear360 shot clearer video, but those were both first generation cameras.
We were using the most basic of VR viewers and the Youtube app to deliver the film. So we needed to load up the film, put the mobile phone into the viewer, put that on the persons head, put on the head phones and hope that the app didn’t crash. It was very involved.
There are viewer/ mobile combinations which much more interactive for example the Samsung Gear VR and a high specification of mobile phone allow a viewer to select a film through the viewer simply by looking at it on an interactive menu. But these are much more expensive, however if we are wanting to deliver an experience for the housebound elderly (possibly supported by a befriender) then the whole experience needed to be a lot more user friendly.
VR over the Doorstep has been funded by the Paisley 2021 Cultural Fund.
Some Roar users have been working on a Digital Story map that highlights key locations relating to the Stewards, Coats and Clarks families.
A group from Roar and one from the Disability Resource Centre in Paisley have been working with the Social Historian Lil Brookes from GateKeeper Arts at weekly sessions for the past 8 months to research material for this map. They have been visiting lots of local sites including the Renfrewshire’s Heritage Centre, Paisley Abbey, Paisley Museum and many more (see the map under “Our Research” for more details). Getting access to many behind the scenes resources that are normally held in storage.
You can also see our map at: www.paisleyhistory.co.uk
The project was funded by Paisley Townscape Heritage and Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (Paisley TH.CARS2)
The Paisley Story map:
click on the names to see the map details
Paisley is in the final bidding stage to be UK City of Culture in 2021. If successful it will mean that there will be lots more cultural events happening in and around Paisley/Renfrewshire, but sadly most of the house bound elderly will not be able to attend … we want to change that using technology.
VR over the Doorstep introduction video
“VR over the Doorstep” is a pilot project by Roar: Connections for Life. It aims to use use Virtual Reality, 360 filming and video streaming to enable the housebound elderly and other older groups and individuals to engage and connect with cultural events and places. Paisley has many beautiful listed buildings (second only to Edinburgh in terms of numbers), but many of them are inaccessible as they lack lifts, wheelchair access or have steep stairs. Using 360 filming we hope to create immersive experiences which the housebound elderly can get virtual access to some of these locations. Likewise there are many local interesting exhibitions, museums and places of interest. We hope to use live video streaming to enable groups in a sheltered accommodation complexes to be taken round “virtually” and ask questions of curator.
We are currently in the testing phase: shooting films & testing them with user groups; researching equipment; experimenting with methods of delivering. We carried out tests using existing VR & 360 content with elderly people, showing short live-action nature documentary films and using Google street view on VR goggles. We are producing some of our own short films to develop production workflows, and also test if people enjoy and benefit from seeing local places depicted in 360.
One of the test shots we took inside the Coats Observatory in Paisley using a 360 camera. Use your mouse to move around the image.
In the future maybe everything will be recorded in 360 degrees but at the moment VR and 360 filming is still being developed and there are many challenges in using this technology in this way. Some of the issues we will be looking at (and hopefully finding solutions for) include… what do people want to see, how do we develop group virtual experiences for use in places like shelter accommodation, how can we simplify the process of watching VR or streaming video … there is lots to find out and develop.
There has been huge investment in VR/360 technology by the likes of Facebook and Google so it would appear that these will become much more mainstream. By starting now it will enable us to develop local capacity for VR/360 production and delivery long before the Paisley 2021 events start.
VR over the Doorstep has been funded by the Paisley 2021 Cultural Fund.