National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

NAOJ’s VR Demonstration at SCWS2017

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Figure 1: This is the NAOJ booth at SCWS2017. Dr. Tsunehiko Kato (a research expert, left), Ms. Hiroko Tsuzuki (a specially appointed senior specialist, middle), and Dr. Hirotaka Nakayama (a research expert, right) explained about NAOJ and demonstrated “Mitaka VR” and “NAOJ at Home” (which Hiroko is holding).

NAOJ presented the virtual universe and the virtual NAOJ at the Science Centre World Summit 2017 (SCWS2017), a global meeting of professionals from science museums around the world. SCWS2017 took place at Miraikan in Tokyo during November 15-17, 2017. The meeting was a great opportunity to inform the attendees about our organization. We demonstrated our virtual reality (VR) goods, “Mitaka VR” and “NAOJ at Home” in our booth. Many representatives from science museums and companies, and researchers from around the world enjoyed the latest depictions of the Universe and NAOJ’s facilities through virtual reality.

At the NAOJ booth, in addition to introducing NAOJ’s research and observatories, we also demonstrated two VR systems that attendees could actually experience. One was “Mitaka VR” is an astronomical software program developed by the NAOJ Four-Dimensional Digital Universe (4D2U) Project. Mitaka VR allows you to see a virtual Universe based on the latest observational data and theoretical models. By putting on the VR headset, you feel like you are out in space and actually walking around the Universe. Many people who experienced Mitaka VR were moved by the sensory immersion and enjoyed space travel in the virtual space. When we explained that anyone can download Mitaka for free, many attendees said to us that, “I will definitely download it to my computer and play with it.”

The other VR system was “NAOJ at Home.” This is very simple VR goggles made from a cardboard box and a lens. By putting your smartphone in this box, you can experience NAOJ’s facilities. We received many comments, such as “What is this made of? Only a cardboard box, a lens, and a cell phone? But, this looks so real!” and “Wow, I feel like I am in front of the Subaru Telescope!”

Figure 2
Dr. Tsunehiko Kato, the research expert who made Mitaka, demonstrates Mitaka VR and explains about our Universe to the attendee wearing the black VR headset. The other participant was curious about this demonstration and stopped to take a look.

On the other hand, we had chances to interact with other booths too. We talked with a company exhibiting a mobile mini-dome and suggested a collaboration using the Mitaka software. They actually downloaded the Mitaka software and projected to the dome on site. They confirmed the system compatibility.

Figure 3
We created improvisational collaboration during the meeting. The representative for the dome company installed the Mitaka software and projected the Universe to the dome.

Finally, by participating in this summit we had exchanges with science museum officials from various countries and corporate personnel from related fields. We received a lot of interest and suggestions from participants who experienced the VR goods, such as “We would like to use Mitaka VR and NAOJ at Home at our science museum.” or “Let’s collaborate and develop Mitaka software together!” Using the relationships we cultivated at this summit, NAOJ would like to contribute to astronomy related outreach through science museums all over the world.

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