VirtualDIVER: A virtual reality underwater experience in Santorini

VirtualDIVER Santorini

VirtualDIVER: A virtual reality underwater experience in Santorini 9

VirtualDIVER for Santorini is the first real-life integrated and interactive virtual experience platform in the world, that takes tourists on a tour in Santorini, both above and below the sea.

Through VirtualDIVER, users who own 3D special glasses or other devices with virtual reality or augmented reality capabilities, will have the opportunity to “travel” in the terrestrial and underwater environment of the island of Santorini, from the comfort of their home.

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The virtual trip starts from the central square of Fira, the capital of Santorini, where users are able to stroll around the island and interact with the platform by doing various activities.

Then, they can descend from the mountains of Santorini by using the island’s cable cars – just like they would do in real life – and prepare for an unprecedented diving experience.

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With the ability to choose from a number of diving locations, such as Caldera and Nea Kameni, virtual divers will be able to explore the real-life treasures that are hidden below Santorini’s waters, such as craters, shipwrecks, volcanos and colourful marine life.

Additionally, the platform includes numerous touristic points within its virtual map, where users can pause their tour, click on various objects, buildings and locations and find out more information about the history of the island.

Even though in 2020, numerous online platforms for virtual reality tours emerged, VirtualDIVER is a project that has already been under development for the past two years.

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The 15-member team of creators of VirtualDIVER includes scientists, geologists, geographers, computer engineers and programmers from the Department of Geology and Geo-environment of the University of Athens, the National Technical University of Athens (Remote Sensing Laboratory), as well as the companies TETRAGON (from Thessaloniki), STEFICON and up2metric (from Athens).

The idea of creating this digital platform was firstly conceived by Evi Nomikos, a Santorini geologist and associate professor of Physical Geography and Oceanography at the University of Athens, who saw a huge opportunity in creating a virtual underwater tour, in an open-world realistic environment, where users could be the deciders of their own personal diving journey.

The virtual map on the platform, both on the island and below the sea, is an exact adaption of reality, with even the smallest details being loyal to the island’s architecture and scenery.

Ms. Nomikos brought the University of Athens in contact with the three Greek companies, that specialize in computer programming, engineering and design, and sent them an open invitation to create the platform, as part of the university’s Research and Innovate Program.

“I was born and raised in Thira, Santorini, and so I thought that the island would be the best choice, as a VR object, for the development of an integrated interactive platform, with terrestrial and underwater experiences for tourist and cultural institutions,” Ms. Nomikos explained.

“Hardly any other place in the world can offer you the charm of standing 350 meters above the water, at the edge of a volcano, and knowing that at another 350 meters below the water is the miracle creation of that volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. Santorini is not only of geological interest, but it is also full of magical places, both on land and at sea, that make digital travel fascinating,” she added.

At the conference of the International Geosciences Association (EGU) in Vienna, Austria, which was held in April 2019, Ms. Nomikos and her team, presented for the first time the idea and first blueprints of VirtualDIVER to a large audience. The state-of-art technology of the project, which largely gathered the admiration and interest of fellow geologists and international investors, received overwhelming response and feedback.

“Our goal was to develop a comprehensive interactive platform, in order to enrich the travel experience for those who are unable to visit the island, and promote special forms of tourism for our country,” Ms. Nomikos described.

“VirtualDIVER allows the user to move in a physical environment, with augmented and virtual reality techniques, and walk around areas of tourist and environmental interest.

“The platform moreover includes everything you would normally see in Santorini, such points with unique geomorphological structures, shipwrecks, sunken ports, water parks and NATURA areas.”

“The detailed mapping of the marine and terrestrial relief in high resolution was carried out with multi-link mapping systems, underwater vehicles and drones, in order to create a single topographic relief and to analyse all its special morphological and ecological structures, as well as its human structures and creations,” the VirtualDIVER team noted.

Besides the entertainment factor of the VR experience, the platform includes numerous interactive videos, where users can see digital representations of events that occurred in the island many centuries ago, such as the terrible eruption of the volcano, which changed the shape of the entire island and created a large tsunami that even reached the island of Crete.

The research project of VirtualDIVER was funded with 730,000€ by EPANEK – ESPA (Operational Program of Competitiveness, Entrepreneurship and Innovation of Greece) and it is projected to be ready in October 2021.

For more info visit: VirtualDiver

All photos from: www.virtualdiver.gr/media

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