One of the main objectives of the VISAS project concerns the development of virtual reality systems able to provide instructions and information in a playful and educative manner in order to improve the visitor’s experience of underwater archaeological sites by making it more interesting, charming, and effective.
In the Virtual Dive Experience service there are two different possible embodiments for the VR system, each one characterized by the type of devices, the provided levels of immersion, interaction and presence (Figure 3).
The first architecture allows users to perform a semi-immersive visualization by means of a full HD monitorbased on passive 3D technology. The passive technology has been preferred to the active one because active 3D glasses are expensive and need batteries to work. Furthermore, passive 3D glasses are inexpensive and comparatively lighter and more comfortable. Users interact with the system by means of a multi-touch tablet featuring a user-interface that provides all the input functionalities needed to explore the 3D environment and get access to the multimedia data.
The second architecture allows users to perform an immersive experience through the HMD (head mounted display) technology. The HMD isolates the user from the distractions of the actual physical environment and encompasses the entire field of view, including the peripheral space. The navigation in the virtual environment is performed by the user by moving his/her head and interacting with a joystick. Compared to the first architecture which relies on monitors for the visualization, in the immersive environment users receive audio contents instead of visual information when interacting with 3D objects and Points of Interest (POIs).
In particular, two different software interfaces have been implemented for the VR system to be used by tourists or divers.
The first one allows users to live a virtual experience and learn both general information and historical-cultural contents related to the specific archaeological site. Users are able to explore the 3D reconstruction of the underwater site and to receive information and contents about the submerged exhibits and structures of the site. In particular, information is provided on archaeological peculiarities related to materials and construction techniques, but flora and fauna are also described, with a particular attention on their interaction with the submerged artifacts.
The second one allows divers to make a detailed planning of the operations and itinerary that will be later performed in the underwater environment. This is a very effective and innovative reinterpretation of the dive planning stage that precedes each scuba dive session. In fact, the dive planning gives important instructions for technical and safety purposes, but it is often a taught activity that could appear boring and demanding, especially for recreational divers. Furthermore, the dive planning may be complex and in some cases the processes may have to be repeated several times before a satisfactory plan is achieved. The implemented software for the dive planning, performed by means of a VR system, allows for combining the educational purpose with playful activities that are able to involve psychologically and emotionally any kind of users.