XR experiences, how and when?

XR, VR, AR experiences made by Gagarin.

Recently, we’ve created a number of XR experiences in a variety of mediums, such as binoculars - both indoors and out, headsets and mobile phones. Each of these serves different storytelling contexts and benefits both storytelling and the environment. We love to walk you through them!

Let’s first dive into the differences between VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), MR (Mixed Reality), and XR (Extended Reality). Each of these technologies allows a person to see visuals displayed in front of their eyes, whether in the form of an entire virtual world (VR) or anything laid on top of the world that is around you (AR, MR, XR), through a headset, mobile phone or binoculars.

Indoors Binoculars
In a museum context, binoculars can provide storytelling on top of artefacts in three-dimensional space. These spaces often see a large flow of people, and therefore, we like to use binoculars (accessible to a variety of audiences) that are easy to clean and robust. In the Natural History Museum of Oslo, we created an experience whereby many museum visitors can peer into the various systems that make Earth habitable. In the binoculars, these systems are illustrated through vivid graphics.

Earth's systems are brought alive at the National History Museum of Oslo, Norway.

This is situated in the Earth Gallery section of the museum, where the environment is very bright with natural light. By using binoculars, we were able to offer an immersive, high-quality experience without relying on projectors or other screen-based media, which would be affected by the light.

See more about the Natural History Museum Oslo here.

Binoculars at the Heavy Water Cellar of the Rjukan power station provide a glimpse into the past through XR. Here, they provide a historical narrative that unfolded on the slopes of the canyon at the Rjukan Power Plant in 1943. The binoculars allow visitors to see into the past, showing the landscape which stands before them, but as it was in the winter of 1943. Here, they get a glimpse into the heroic journey of ‘Operation Gunnerside’.

See more about Heave Water Cellar here.

The heroic 1943 operation Gunnerside can be followed via XR at the Heavy Water Cellar in Rjukan, Norway.

Outdoors binoculars
Often, historical or interesting sites are outdoors, and it can be difficult to add reliable technology to these places - especially in Iceland, where our studio is! Therefore, we’ve created a series of experiences which can serve people in any weather. Our outdoor binoculars allow viewers to immerse themselves in the landscape, seeing vivid graphics which draw them into the stories without being affected by the weather around them but still experiencing the environment. We do need an electrical infrastructure on site to be able to install these binoculars and to host the required computing power.

An example of outdoor experiences is the archaeological site of Hofsstadir, a Viking settlement, which is squeezed between a church, school and parking lots and has little connection to the historical environment today. Through our outdoor binoculars, visitors can revisit the past, seeing the environment as it was and witness the building of the Viking age structures and how people might have lived during that time.

See more about the Hofsstadir here.

Outdoors, XR binoculars take you to a Viking Longhouse at Hofsstadir, Iceland.

Mobile XR
In an outdoor environment that does not allow for electrical supply infrastructure, we use mobile XR. Here, visitors scan a QR code with their phones to access experiences overlaid on the physical environment they can see on their mobile screens. We have found that QR codes are accessible to many people and are something which they are familiar with scanning to follow a link and open a site. Furthermore, the advantage of using a QR code instead of a downloadable app is a lower threshold to use it and that we are not restricted to a certain type of operating system (Android or IOS) or worrying about internet connectivity and how much data they can download. However, this does mean that we focus on creating engaging experiences which do not require extensive graphics but rather find ways to tell beautiful, vivid stories without heavy graphics.

An example of mobile XR is in the National Park, Thingvellir. Here, several archaeological sites are spread throughout the park, which is in a remote area and where weather conditions can be very rough. Occasional flooding, moving land and harsh winter conditions, including snow, wind, storms, and hail, dictate how experiences can be created and used. Along the path Búðarstígur, visitors can scan a QR code to be transported to the times of the ancient Iceland’s parliament, Althing, during the years of 930 - 1798 and see the life lived there by the people of that time.

See more about Find the past here.

At the National Park of Thingvellir, the ancient Althing can be witnessed via mobile XR.

Most tourists to Iceland have heard of the Gullfoss waterfall, and, as part of the Golden Circle, it is one of the most visited places in Iceland. It might not have been the case if it wasn’t for Sigríður, a woman who fought to save the waterfall from people hoping to turn it into a source of electricity for the country. The XR experience we created at Gullfoss shows the visitor different parts of Sigríður’s story and a glimpse into an alternative reality if she hadn’t protected the waterfall.

See more about The Hero’s journey here (coming soon).

At the famous Gullfoss waterfall, mobile XR shows the story of Sigridur, Iceland.

VR Headsets
When a fully immersive virtual world is required, we use Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. A short introduction is needed for new headsets users, which includes adjusting the lenses and learning to use controllers and navigating the current experiences. After a few minutes, visitors are ready to dive into a fully immersive experience in a virtual world.

An example is at Hardangervidda National Park, where we create a 9-person interactive role-playing experience. Here, visitors begin their journey by watching a 360° video of the Hardangervidda plateau in wintertime and witnessing the majestic landscapes of the area. When the video finishes, they meet scientists in real 3D capture form, who explain the dire situation of Hardangervidda as it faces the challenges of climate change. Afterwards, the visitors take off their headsets and engage in a role-playing game to explore possible futures.

See more about Hardangervidda here (coming soon).

An in-depth experience and roleplaying game at the Hardangervidda Visitor Center in Norway.

Written by Lemke Meijer, concept and interaction designer at Gagarin.