Close your eyes for a moment. When you open them, you’ll find yourself in the main square of Fira, on the southern Aegean island of Santorini. Then, as if by magic, you’re flying above the cable car, down to the sea and plunging into the caldera to explore the underwater crater before emerging on Nea Kameni to tour the volcanic islet. This is not my imagination running wild during the lockdown, but the experience of a “real” virtual and augmented reality project that is in the works right now.
Using cutting-edge technology, virtualDIVER is expected to be ready for launch in mid-2021 after more than two years of hard work by a 15-strong team. It’s the brainchild of Athens University geologist Evi Nomikou, who put the university in touch with three companies (Up2metric, Steficon and Tetragon) in order to develop a proposal for an initiative of the General Secretariat for Research and Technology.
Born and raised on Santorini, she saw the island as the perfect subject for developing a comprehensive interactive platform of on-land and undersea experiences that can be used by tourism and cultural agencies.
“Few places can boast the attraction of standing 350 meters above sea level, on the rim of the caldera, knowing that the miracle of the volcano lies 350 meters below the surface of the sea. Santorini is not just interesting from a geological perspective, though. It is full of places on land and underwater that make a virtual journey so fascinating,” says Nomikou.
The academic explains how swath mapping systems, underwater vehicles and drones were used to create a synthetic topographic relief basemap and analyze its particular geomorphological and ecological structures as well as all human interventions, while specially designed tools for multimedia content management – especially green screen photography and 360° video production – allow the design team to write narrative scenarios and produce interactive experiences for VR and AR environments.
With the special goggles and gloves – or even without them, as the platform is also designed to work on a desktop or tablet – users are able to take a tour of the island from the summit of the Oia lighthouse down to the shipwrecks on the seabed.
“The rich material also includes incredible and scientifically precise videos, such as, for example, on the awesome volcanic eruption that reshaped the island,” adds the active academic, who has found a way to showcase the island in such an original manner.