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Holographic lava-bombs: an exploration into Mixed Reality education

Holographic lava-bombs: an exploration into Mixed Reality education

17 May 2017

Auckland Museum is currently piloting a Mixed Reality (MR) educational experience that will allow students to peer into an active volcano that is controlled by museum educators who can dial down or fire up the levels of gas and lava. The volcanic simulation or HoloCano, as it has been dubbed, aims to use Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to extend the Museum’s educational offer: just pop on your holographic goggles, ogle a seemingly empty table in front of you and marvel at a volcano appearing in front of your eyes.

A demonstration of the HoloLens technology to Auckland Museum staff.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

The opportunity to work with the HoloLens came about when our development partner Datacom approached the Digital Experience Team looking for content to trial this new technology and develop a concept through to a finished product. The Museum provides an amazing testing ground for developing new and innovative experiences due to its diverse audience and richness of stories. Up until now our educators were using exciting yet lo-fi means to re-create the natural marvel of an exploding volcano (read: paper mâché models, vinegar, baking soda and food-colouring).

These paper mâché models have their shortcomings though. Aside from not being very realistic, the physical model falls short when it comes to reflecting the different types of volcanoes, their appearance and behaviour. Lava viscosity, pressure and geological substrate all play a part in the determining the shape and type of volcano formed, and how it will erupt. By utilising the networked HoloCano app, educators can control these parameters to create a number of different scenarios in a collaborative multi-user lesson.  In any one scenario, the volcano can spew great ash-clouds or throw lava bombs into the air. 

Blending reality with virtual reality 

Digital Experience Producer, Holly Grover, trials the new technology.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

As one of New Zealand’s volcanic hotspots, Tāmaki Makarau is home to a number of volcanic curiosities and as a Museum we have a strong mandate to help Aucklanders understand more about the bubbling earth beneath them and make connections to the geological vestiges that dot our landscape.  So, during the experience, educators will pass around fist-sized lava bombs from our handling collection that once were once sizzling hot balls of lava thrown from local volcanos. And these lava bombs will then be identifiable in the holographic experience to help provide a little context around the origin and formation of these strange globular pieces found around the Auckland isthmus.

Making the Holocano

To realise the project, staff have been working with a brilliant team of student programmers, coders, UX specialists and 3D modellers partaking in this year’s Microsoft’s Student Accelerator programme.  It is these gun students who have brought this project to life from the engine room of Auckland’s AR/VR Garage. As a result of a number of Design Sprints over the course of the three-month project, they have designed, tested and developed the experience in conjunction with Museum staff and under mentorship of the Datacom Mobile Innovation team.

Brave new realities

There are firm predictions that Mixed Reality will become a growing part of modern life within the next 5 – 10 years. Already Pokemon Go, Snapchat and other Augmented Reality (AR) products have shown there is an increasing appetite for these kinds of Mixed Reality experiences. And who would be better equipped to serve this emerging need for meaningful content and stories that will follow in the wake of this emerging mega-trend than museums?

For museums, and Auckland Museum in particular, Mixed Reality presents a number of amazing opportunities to reach out to new audiences, create new meaningful connections and enrich our collections. So as we ride this new technological bow-wave, we’ll keep you posted on our journey!

  • Post by: Nils Pokel

    Nils is the Digital Experience Manager and ‘resident futurist’ at Auckland Museum, working across teams to enable innovative new experiences with a digital twist