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Japan VR group takes net users inside shuttered museums, facilities with video project

Employees of the Virtual Reality Innovation Organization use a 360-degree camera to film inside the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo's Taito Ward on April 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- A project to capture 360-degree camera footage of the interior of cultural and other facilities across Japan that have been closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus, and post it online for everyone to see, has been launched.

The project was organized by Virtual Reality Innovation Organization, a general incorporated association in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, which makes 3D and virtual reality (VR) images.

The footage makes it appear as if viewers are actually strolling around inside the buildings. A project representative told the Mainichi Shimbun that they hope the videos will also be used for academic purposes.

The National Museum of Nature and Science in the capital's Taito Ward, has been closed since the end of February. A box-shaped 360-degree camera, measuring 25 centimeters on each side, was used in the project to film an empty exhibition room displaying rows of reconstructed skeletons belonging to large animals and other creatures.

Footage was taken from some 1,500 points at permanent exhibition rooms, hallways and elsewhere and edited by artificial intelligence (AI), allowing users to freely look around the facility online without having to download a special application.

The images are shot from cameras elevated about 120 centimeters, to replicate a child's point of view, and viewers can read some of the explanations that accompany the exhibits. Shigeru Yokomatsu, representative director of Virtual Reality Innovation Organization, commented, "Museums offer perfect settings for learning. We would like children who are staying at home and teachers who are organizing teaching materials to make use of this."

The VR footage of the National Museum of Nature and Science can be seen on its website at https://www.kahaku.go.jp/VR/ (in Japanese). Institutions that would like similar footage to be taken can apply through the organization's official website at https://vrio.jp/ (in English and Japanese).

(Japanese original by Masahiro Ogawa, Photo Group)

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