Plunge into Sumatran rainforest via augmented reality in new exhibition

The ArtScience Museum has launched a new augmented reality exhibition called Into The Wild.
The ArtScience Museum has launched a new augmented reality exhibition called Into The Wild.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WWW.MARINABAYSANDS.COM

A new permanent exhibition at the ArtScience Museum will put the reality back into augmented reality.

Starting from Saturday (Feb 11), Into The Wild will have visitors wandering through the basement level of the museum, with a smartphone in hand, as a Sumatran rainforest comes alive on the screen.

Taking on the role of a forest ranger, they complete challenges to be able to plant a virtual seed. It will then grow into a tree on the fourth level of the museum.

To top off the experience, at the end of the exhibition, they can choose to have an actual tree planted in their name in the Sumatran rainforest and even track its growth.

The exhibition is a culmination of almost two years of planning and work by the museum, together with partners Google, Lenovo and WWF.

"I think it's a nice time for this type of experience to land in Singapore because so many people would have experienced augmented reality and virtual reality using Pokemon Go," says Ms Honor Harger, the museum's executive director.

"This is like the next level - it shows what you can do when you're working with incredibly creative teams and location-specific work. It takes it up a notch."

This is the museum's first exhibition utilising augmented reality technology on this scale.

Visitors to the exhibition will be given a Lenovo Phab 2 Pro smartphone and headphones.

The smartphone uses its camera and Google's Tango technology to bring to life in 360 degrees the Sumatran rainforest on its screen. It is also the world's first Tango-enabled smartphone.

Tango technology is similar to GPS, but for indoor spaces. It has area learning, depth sensing and motion-tracking capabilities. For example, it can detect which level of the building visitors are on or if there are walls and furniture around them.

In the 1,000 sq m basement level of the museum, visitors using the headphones provided can get close to five animals that can be found in the Sumatran rainforest - the tapir, Sumatran tiger, pangolin, mousedeer and orangutan - and hear them and other elements of the rainforest, such as birds and waterfalls.

Through simple challenges, such as freeing a trapped mousedeer, they can learn about issues such as which species are endangered and the effects of environmental degradation.

With a pledge amount to WWF starting from $38, visitors can continue their experience by planting a tree in Rimbang Baling, a 439,500ha territory in the Sumatran rainforest.

WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan says she hopes this exhibition can help reforest the area with 20,000 trees.

A team from WWF will be stationed at the museum to give visitors more information about the initiative.

The exhibition experience ends with a six-minute film with similar themes by Singapore artist Brian Gothong Tan, 36, who was inspired by the detailed murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

The film is narrated based on the words of Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist working in the Malay Archipelago in the 19th century.

Projected on an 18m-by-22m sloping wall, it requires the use of "proprietary solutions which include spanning and blending nine projectors to create one seamless image", says Tan.

Through the exhibition, the ArtScience Museum hopes to show how one can not only augment reality, but also "improve technology", says Ms Harger.

WWF Singapore's Ms Tan says that the use of these new technologies helps to bring the message of conservation to Singaporeans in a direct way.

This is especially relevant for Singapore as "we feel the haze, but we don't know the implications of it and the impact on the ground", she says.

"With the advent of technology, a user who is maybe 10,000 miles away from the forest fires can see for himself what it's like. That to us as a conservation organisation is a huge win."

nabilahs@sph.com.sg