31 March, 2017   By: Rebecca Martin

WA landmarks are coming to life with cutting edge virtual reality technology.

Standing with the boardwalk in front of you, the sound of bush in this ancient Pemberton forest is as loud as any city.
 
Craning your head back to take in the full magnificent height of the towering Karri tree, you have to concentrate to keep your balance.

It’s spectacular. Except you’re not really there. While you can hear and see the views around you, you can’t smell or touch the bush. Virtual reality is good, but not good enough to work on all the senses just yet.

However, the theory is that being able to have a taste of what that experience is like will be enough for you to make the booking and go see Pemberton for real.

Nearly two years ago, it was a theory that the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) were willing to test.

Leaping very early into the technology with its Discovr WA app, DPAW made Western Australia one of the earliest tourism ‘destinations’ that can be downloaded and experienced through virtual reality stores.

The Gap location on the Discovr VR app
The Gap is one of the locations you can see on the Discovr app

“We were watching the VR trend become more mainstream,” says Rod Annear, Assistant Director of Visitor Services for DPAW. “When the handsets became more readily available, particularly with Samsung giving away Gear VR headsets by Oculus with their new phones we knew the time had come.

“At about the same time we were thinking about how we could use virtual reality, a Perth VR company Viewport

got in touch with an idea and we decided to go with it."

Virtual WA

DPAW wanted their VR app to be an all-encompassing experience to motivate viewers to take a real trip following their VR ‘journey’.
Given how new the technology is in the space, it was cutting edge stuff.

“Most other VR tourism things are for specific places, like a castle or historic site. However we don’t really know too many others that have tried to do a whole geographic area,” he says.

“The other big difference is that around 90 per cent of the VR you see is two dimensional, so you get a 360 degree view but you get no depth. We’re using stereoscopic so you feel like you have depth and distance.

“That technology is still relatively challenging to do in terms of the process. You have to get good quality shots and take a lot of images and stitch them together to get the stereoscopic feel.”

WA virtual reality app
Getting in early

Annear and the team were also cognisant of the advantages of being first to market.

“We wanted to get into it early and be one of the early tourism products in the VR store,” he says.

Launched 12 months ago, the Discovr WA virtual reality app brings to virtual life 35 different DPAW locations in Perth and the South West, including Lane Poole Reserve, Pemberton Parks and even ‘glamping’ sites in the South West.

As well as being able to look around the location, you can hear the real sounds of each location and click through for more information when you want it.

Perth VR industry specialist Adam Geoghegan says VR is increasingly being embraced by the tourism industry because it allows consumers to try before they buy — an attractive prospect when considering a high-end holiday to a place you’ve never been before.

“Tourism operators are able to give customers a close-to-reality ‘experience’ of the destination they’d like to visit before making an actual commitment to purchase it,” Geoghegan says.

Discover WA VR app
“Recently it’s become a feasible way for tourism marketers to demonstrate the key features of their product due to the affordability of the headsets.”

For DAPW the virtual reality test-drive has so far been a success, with more than 25,000 downloads of the app so far.

“We’ve had a lot of international interest where VR tech is a bit more common and we expect that to keep growing,” says Annear.

“We’re also looking at adding another 50 destinations, including the Pinnacles and more of Perth. In time we want to add places in the Gascoyne and Kimberly too.

“We might also add in a slideshare so you can just take a look at the highlights instead of navigating around.

“It’s still pretty early for virtual reality and using it for tourism. We’re really happy to be a part of it at such an early stage and to see how it goes.”

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