Mote Marine Tests the Virtual Waters with Immotion Collaboration

Science and Nature


Visitors can now swim with humpback whales and dive into the ruins of a sunken shipwreck at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, and all without the bulky oxygen tanks, scuba lessons or even getting their feet wet, thanks to a new collaboration with the virtual reality artists at the UK-based company Immotion. Installing four of Immotion’s virtual reality “pods” in Mote’s Exploration Gallery, guests can now strap in and choose from any of nine virtual reality cinematic experiences, ranging from the ocean-centric and educational to pulse-pounding science fiction adventures.

A full-body sensation, users not only don a virtual reality headset, but enter an open-air pod that looks like a prop from a Men in Black movie and delivers responsive wraparound sound and multi-directional movement, creating as immersive an experience as possible. Each experience runs around five minutes long, but what that experience is will vary; two interested Mote in particular.

Swimming with Humpbacks brings the user from the pod in Mote’s Exploration Gallery to a pod of humpback whales diving and playing in the middle of the ocean, soaring through the water around the viewer. Made completely with live footage captured by the Immotion team and its 360-degree camera equipment, the program stands out as being one of the most educational and realistic available, says Mote’s Stephannie Kettle, and fits perfectly into Mote’s mission to both entertain and inform its visitors. Another VR experience, Legend of Lusca, again takes users into the deep, but this time to a shipwreck reclaimed by the inhabitants of the ocean floor. Explore a real coral reef and swim with sea-life from more actual footage captured by Immotion’s underwater team, but be on the lookout for a little (read: giant) something extra added by Immotion’s digital artists as well, as the Legend of Lusca makes its presence known.

Other experiences range from creepy mini-mysteries like Jinxed to spacefaring thrill rides like Delta Zero, while the kid-focused Dragon Island lets users fly around a fantasy world atop a cartoon dragon. While these more outlandish options are all computer-generated, and lack the aquatic focus of the previously mentioned experiences, they will still be available for Mote visitors to explore.

“With the new aquarium coming, we’re looking at new ways to incorporate VR, augmented reality and interactive experiences,” says Kettle, and these new pods from Immotion can be viewed as something of a pilot program to see what works and what does not. Different audiences look for different means of engagement with the information, Kettle says, and the traditional exhibition may not be the best way to reach the more tech-centric visitors.

Currently installed in the Exploration Gallery at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, each VR experience costs $6 and lasts about five minutes.  And while Mote now offers nine to choose from, Kettle says more will be coming. “We’ve even had beginning talks with Immotion about them filming something with us,” she says, “and related to our research.”

Pictured: A user in the Immotion VR pod experiencing 'Swimming with Humpbacks.'

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