Be Like a Tree

Quick snapshot of an interesting immersive technology project Tree from MIT Media Lab,  which blends technology and nature to provide a unique experience:

“Tree is a virtual experience that transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as branches and body as the trunk, you experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand. … With precisely controlled physical elements including vibration, heat, fan, and body haptics, the team created a fully immersive virtual reality storytelling tool, where the audience no longer watches but is transformed into a new identity, a giant tree in the Peruvian rainforest. “

The technology blurs the line between visualization and VR, with an interesting concept of haptic response driven through a variety of technologies.  As mentioned on the site, “The body experience is crucial for establishing a body ownership illusion instead of restricting the experience to the visual world. We aim to have the audience not just see, but feel and believe “being” a tree.”

It’s fascinating to see the various components that create this experience.  A breakdown below (I added links so you can link to some of the technology):  “Our hyper-realistic whole body haptic experience used Subpac, a pair of customized vibration oversleeves with six local points and a vibrating floor powered by four based transducers. Technicolor’s Scott Gershin designed multi-track bass audio for each part of the body, so that the audience could feel the disturbance of a forest fire as well as a bird landing on a branch. There are also additional physical elements, including an air mover for a breath of wind and heaters as the final fire threat. The whole tactile experience is controlled by Max/MSP and Arduino, while communicating with the Unreal Engine through OSC. The physical experience was precisely synced with the visual experience inside the Oculus. We went through various iterations to match the virtual visual details with the intensity, texture, and timing of physical experience.”

The specialized technology means that it isn’t broadly available, but requires a specialized environment, so you need to be in place to get the full expeirence.   The initial launch was done “In collaboration with The Rainforest Alliance, during the Sundance Film Festival, we gave each audience member a seed inside an envelop with a number on it. They can use their emails and that number to log in to the “participants” section of the Tree website to stay updated on the project. The team utilizes virtual, mixed, and actual reality to tap into positive social change and explore the human experience.”

For a less immersive taste, check out this video for some visuals of the project and process – Tree from Fluid Interfaces on Vimeo.

The installation Tree is currently available as part of the Virtual Arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Images via MIT Media Lab, where you can also see the contributors to the project.

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