One of the fundamental challenges we face in exciting humans about the ocean is that it is difficult for us to visit and see the wonders of the ocean “with our own eyes”. Studies have shown that communicating a message online has significantly higher engagement if you use images instead of text alone; with video the engagement is even higher. GoPro and other “action cam” companies have used this fact to build very interesting products and a whole new way of story telling. It is challenging, however, to give people the experience of diving in a submersible — it is not quite indescribable, but photographs and simple video fall short of the full experience. 2016 was a breakthrough year for a new form of storytelling, using 360° cameras to create content, most notably a number of documentary films. The New York Times took an additional step in using visual story telling by co-developing VR content and mailing their subscribers low-cost Google Cardboard viewers with which to view it.

As part of the Oceans ’16 meeting in MontereyOpen The Oceans organized a panel and workshop on using Virtual Reality technology to create engaging experiences for the marine technology sector.

Steve Silverman and Jim Bellingham chat about the possibilities of using VR to tell ocean stories.

Lightweight goggles can turn any smart phone into a VR headset.

As part of the workshop, participants tried out an Aquarium VR experience on loan from DepthQ. (thanks guys!)

The VR workshop was a blended format of panel discussion and hands-on demonstration. Following a brief panel presentation on a number of different perspectives and technologies, the session broke out into demonstrations of 360° cameras, Cardboard viewers and a high-def experience using an Oculus headset and stereo footage filmed of an aquarium. Feedback from the attendees was strongly positive — matching up the marine technologists at the conference with some of the cutting edge software/hardware folks in the VR space ended up working very well! The take home message was that although these new tools of visualization are transformative, the real work ahead will be to develop content and experiences that truly engage the user beyond a simple viewing experience. The chance to create engagement and empathy in a wide audience for ocean issues, challenges and opportunities is exciting, and we will see what wonders the future brings!