Project Beach presents an example of how virtual reality and 360 video could be used to demonstrate environmental data in tangible, visceral ways. It was originally created for a site-specific art installation at fortyK, a Harvard University gallery. By creating an immersive experience to show rising sea levels in the audience’s present location, we aim to educate people about the local impacts of global climate change. We took the audience on an interactive journey to several locations on Harvard’s campus that were “submerged” according to future water level projections.
We achieved the visualization through a collage of 360 video and 3D elements within Unity. First, we recorded video of real-world environments using six GoPro cameras mounted onto a support, and then stitched the footage into 360-degree video using Autopano Video Pro. This video was projected onto a sphere in Unity. We then overlaid a new water level and 3D animations onto the same scene to make it appear as if the ground level were underwater.
The exhibition lasted for two weeks, and we had over 200 attendees on opening night. We received inquiries about using this system to visualize sea level rise of other cities, which we believe is possible using the same process with footage of the new environment. We believe this visualization methodology can be adopted to depict other environmental issues as well, such as pollution level and deforestation.