Virtual Tourist is a VR application that I developed for my Night at the Museum project as part of Term 2 of the Udacity VR Nanodegree program. The software enables you to learn about any of the 6 featured destinations and even visit them in virtual reality. These destinations are: Paris, London, San Francisco, Rome, Las Vegas, and New York. I picked these places from a list of the most popular vacation spots that I found via a Google search. I created the app using the Unity game engine, and it requires the user to wear a Google Cardboard on their head. The controls are simple: turn your head to look at any one of the pads on the ground, and click to teleport there. From here, users will hear a voice telling them information displayed in front of them about the place they are currently viewing. They can also visit the place by looking at the rotating sphere and pressing the button on their headset. This will immerse them in a 360 degree panorama of a popular landmark within that place.
For the user interface, I decided to go with a futuristic feel to make the application feel more unique. To accomplish this, I chose to use panels that float up and down, and photospheres that rotate in midair. The purpose of the panels is to display valuable information about the place, such as its population, size, etc. The photospheres provide a way for the user to visit the place they are looking at. Using 360 degree equirectangular images found on Flickr, I was able to make these photospheres a reality. The idea was that the user would look at the sphere, and click the button to enter it. Well, I ended up keeping that idea and I’m glad I did because it works great. The pads were also a futuristic feature, and they provided an intuitive way to navigate around the experience. The user interface didn’t actually end up changing too much from my sketches. The only thing that changed was that I decided to add particles on the pads to make them stand out to the user more so that they know where to go.
Due to the futuristic theme of the UI, I decided to go with a sci-fi corridor for the environment. I also added a really cool space skybox that can be seen from within the corridor. In order to display it, I decided to make the corridor fully transparent. Initially, I was planning on adding realistic stars, but decided against it as it reduced performance and didn’t add too much to the experience in my opinion. Overall, the environment turned out to look really good and the performance is decent as well.
· Loved the high resolution images
· Liked the teleportation function
· Thought I should add more information to panels
· Liked graphics of room
· Liked environment outside of room
· Confused on where to look
· Felt very immersed
· Easy to navigate
After receiving some user feedback, I decided to add more information to the panels that I found when I searched the place in Google. I also added audio that guides you through the experience. This was done using a combination of Windows Text to Speech and a program called Audacity.
There is no doubt that virtual reality is going to transform the tourism industry forever. Being able to strap a headset onto your face and instantly be anywhere in the world is promising, and changes the game completely. Travel agents could put their clients in a VR experience such as this, allowing them to truly get a feel for where they want to go and how they want to get there. 360 degree photos and videos are going to be huge for this industry. Photogrammetry is also going to impact the future of virtual reality, specifically tourism. This technique allows for a series of photos to be converted into a 3D model, thus providing a 3D representation of the real world and allowing people to truly feel as if they are actually there.
This application proved to me that virtual tourism is definitely a promising future use for virtual reality technology. While the Google Cardboard provides a decent experience for first-time users, the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream headsets would be more fitting for this type of demo. A higher field of view is crucial to providing users with the most realistic and immersive travel experience possible. I would love to see the tourism industry as a whole adopt VR and use it to allow people to experience the world around us in a unique way, without ever leaving the home. I can’t wait to see what happens in this space going forward. :)