The Empty Museum is a Virtual Reality concept designed to be used for museums and interpretation centres. It can be described as a virtual reality room, empty of real objects but full of interactive contents floating in the virtual space that surrounds the user. Those contents can only be seen when the visitor wears a backpack and a HMD (Head Mounted Display). Once thus equipped, the visitor to the museum can walk freely in this space, enjoying this fully immersive educational experience.
Virtual Reality in a hybrid space
In traditional virtual reality systems, the user stands still while watching the virtual surroundings. In order to simulate movement, those systems make use of metaphors to transport the user from one place to another by letting him control his own movement with a wand, a joystick or any other similar device as if he were driving a virtual vehicle. The Empty Museum breaks these barriers, allowing the user to physically walk in the virtual space contained in the real space of the room. Thus, this space contains virtual things, but is perceived by the user as real. It is a hybrid space, being virtual and real at the same time and empowering the sensation of presence.
An immersive virtual reality system gives the user the sensation of experiencing the virtual world, feeling surrounded by it in a natural way. Wherever he looks, he sees the virtual things around him. To achieve this in The Empty Museum, great importance is given to the sensations of movement, parallax, reality-related distance perception, in this way seeing virtual space with the same intensity as real space. Along with this, aspects such as localized sound effects or interactions give the user the “feeling of being there”.
In The Empty Museum, the user can relate to his environment and with virtual humans and elements which it contains, in such a way that his actions have consequences in the world he is experiencing. This greatly increases the sensation of presence, as well as a more profound experience of the virtual reality environment.
The virtual environment, like the real environment, can accommodate more than one person at a time, converting individual exploration of virtual space into a social event. To make this possible, each user sees the others integrated into the virtual world by means of avatars that replicate some of their owners’ movements.
In effect, The Empty Museum shows complex virtual worlds, containing 3D models, animations, localized sound effects, multimedia, interaction, can hold several simultaneous users … and lately, also virtual humans, all by means of a laptop in a backpack, a VR helmet, and a tracking system.