Virtual Tour to the NUS Laboratory

VR excursion to introduce a user with the most important miracle of nanotechnology - graphene and demonstrate its main features

Task

The Head of the 2D materials department of the National University of Singapore addressed us with the idea to create an application in virtual reality that could tell a wide circle of visitors of the ArtScience Museum of Singapore about nanotechnology on the example of such innovative material as graphene.

Quick facts

Technologies: Unreal Engine 4, 3D Studio Max, Maya, Zbrush, Marvelous Designer
Team: Project Manager, Game Designer, 2 3D Generalists, 3 Animators, Textures Designer, 2 Tech Artists, 2 Developers, 2D Designer, Quality Assurance
Time of development: 1458 hours

Design

The project team started with generating ideas for the creation of a future application script.

The main idea was to place the user in the “body” of a student who is taking an introductory tour in the state-of-the-art NUS laboratory.

Artificial intelligence, which is an essential attribute of a high-tech laboratory, was chosen as a guide that introduces the properties of graphene to the application user.

First of all, as we are not specialists in nanotechnology, we asked the client how he would like to represent the material and work process in the laboratory. We also studied the information, which concerned the main characteristics and the use of graphene. We decided to showcase the properties of graphene, which make it absolutely a revolutionary material, and futuristic devices, which can be created with the help of graphene.

ADD (application design document)

Based on the idea approved by our client, an application design document was created. It contained a detailed description of the future application.

According to the ADD, the app should include several settings or locations, which introduce the visitor to nanotechnology in the context of studying graphene from the atomic level to the finished prototype using this material.

In order to create the most realistic locations, we used Unreal Engine environment, which contributed to the maximum immersion.

For the realization, we chose a professional VR helmet HTC Vive, with compatible PC running the simulation, which allows offering high-quality graphics. The advantage of this hardware is the fact that it can be used with HTC Vive controllers that give the user a possibility to interact with the elements in a virtual environment.

The ADD contains information about objects the user can interact with, a detailed description of the interaction mechanics in a virtual environment and of the trajectory of movement in the locations and voiceover that corresponds to each scene.

VR_Graphene-p-min
Locations of the laboratory:

  • Dressing room. This location highlights the work in the laboratory with nanotechnological material. In fact, it is critical to use the so-called “clean rooms” to work with nanotechnologies.
    Clean rooms are laboratories that scientists should enter wearing only special uniforms that should be changed every time after a working session in the laboratory. This location highlighted the high-tech rooms where scientists work with graphene. From this dressing room our virtual student, accompanied by colleagues, begins the journey.
  • Corridor. The laboratory corridor is an intermediate setting, and its task is to give the user basic skills of moving in virtual reality using mechanics like teleport, and also to teach how to interact with the environment using virtual reality device controllers.
  • Laboratory. The laboratory is a central location in the project. In this location, we do not just create the atmosphere of a nanotechnological laboratory and immerse the user in it. Here, we introduce users to nanotechnology by using the example of graphene with studying its atomic structure, properties, and applicability.

Development

The development of the current project was implemented by using a flexible methodology and took us about three months.

The first stage of development was the creation of 3D assets. Our team developed and created a special constructor of elements, which was used to create locations such as dressing room, corridor and laboratory.

While creating the constructor, we relied on the fact that despite the high-tech laboratory, it should be close to the real one and not fantastic as in the films. On the other hand, a modern laboratory filled with a lot of tools may seem quite dull for a person who is not directly an employee of this laboratory.

Based on this, we have chosen a compromise. We decided to show the real properties of the material, but at the same time, we did not focus on the full reality of the devices in the laboratory.

For example, a subatomic simulator, which allows us to find out what the graphene is at the atom level, was created as a kind of futuristic device. Using this device the user can be reduced to atomic sizes in a few seconds.

The user is allowed to interact with the elements in the laboratory and with the material itself, which gives a possibility to understand better its properties.

For instance, in the subatomic simulator, the user can throw helium atoms on the crystal lattice of graphene, which demonstrates that they can’t pass through it. This playful approach was used to make the process of learning scientific information more accessible, intuitive and exciting.

At the same time, industrial robots, which are widely used and even known to people who have no direct relation to science, were used as the prototype for the zone of manual manipulators, which help to study the properties of graphene.

The user can choose how they want to affect the graphene. Thus, the user can stretch it or try to break, touch with diamond, put on fire and charge graphene with electricity.

To demonstrate different ways of using graphene, we decided to use a prototype of a futuristic graphene-based display, which can take various forms such as a watch, tablet or electronic newspaper. The user can’t interact with these objects, but he can change independently the shape of the display. This example of the implementation of graphene was used to create a wow effect and impress visitors with the scientific achievements and properties of materials, which generate interest to the science.

To make the laboratory more realistic, we filled it with scientists who work on studying the graphene characteristics. The user can mainly observe scientists who are moving along a predetermined trajectory. In some scenes, they can accompany the user in the laboratory and show where the student should go.

Result

We created a script for the virtual reality application based on the client’s idea and used all the advantages of virtual reality technology to resolve the business task of the client.

As the processes and materials that nanotechnologists study are invisible for the human eye, it’s very difficult to explain to the public what they are really doing and demonstrate the results of their work, especially when it concerns such an innovative material as graphene.

VR allows to visualize the abstract notions and improve the retention of information due to the interactions and immersive experience. Moreover, it’s possible to recreate in virtual reality the devices that have not been already developed, but that could be developed in the future using graphene.