Virtual Reality Exploration at the Natural History Museum

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas joined the Natural History Museum in launching its first virtual reality adventure – theBlu: An Underwater Virtual Reality Experience.

With a high-tech VR headset, visitors can explore the ocean without ever getting wet. In this six-minute immersive experience, they can wander around a sunken ship as manta rays and a blue whale swim past. Next, they can interact with colorful anemones at the edge of a coral reef while turtles and swarms of jellyfish glide by. The journey ends with a deep dive into an iridescent abyss, where hidden creatures such as angler fish appear with the use of a virtual flashlight.

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Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“The Museum’s mission is to study and teach the relationship between the whole spectrum of the human species and the natural world, and this experience does that and more,” Board Chair Ridley-Thomas said. “Using virtual reality technology in this exhibit makes this learning experience an immersive and interactive one. It makes learning fun.”

“Engaging and inspiring visitors is what we do – and theBlu is beautiful, powerful storytelling,” said the Museum’s director and president, Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga. “It would not surprise me if the next generation of marine biologists and VR developers are inspired by this exhibit.

“Here’s what it’s like, from someone who has done a lot of SCUBA diving: it’s cool to see all those plants and animals and not be underwater and cold – especially the deep sea chapter, where you couldn’t even dive in real life,” added Dr. Chris Thacker, the Museum’s fish curator. “It’s incredible to see all the animals up close, particularly the whale and the turtle, and interact with jellyfish and see how they respond.”

theblu_screen_007“The experience is scientifically accurate and does a good job of replicating what it’s like underwater, but you’re just standing there, warm and dry,” he added.

The virtual reality studio Wevr created theBlu in consultation with scientists from the museum and film director Jake Rowell (Call of Duty, Final Fantasy). It was among the New Frontiers Selection at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

theBlu will be on exhibit from March 6-April 28. Tickets can be purchased the Museum’s website, NHM.org, at a cost of $8 for members and $10 for non-members. Children must be at least 10 years old to participate, due to safety reasons and ability to follow instructions. Guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

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theBlu director Jake Rowell, NHM director and president Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, and Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors