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ArtScience Museum’s stunning new virtual rainforest exhibit

The ArtScience Museum is known for its jaw-dropping, interactive exhibits that are as much fun for grown-ups as kids. Their latest innovative offering, Into the Wild, is like stepping into a real rainforest – orangutans included! Katie Roberts checked it out…

 Into The Wild is a first-of-its kind immersive virtual adventure that places you in the shoes of a ranger patrolling a pristine Southeast Asian rainforest. Tech giant Google, IT company Lenovo, environmental organisation WWF, Singapore artist Brian Gothong Tan and the Art Science Museum brought their respective strengths to the table with the shared goal of making the world a better place. The permanent exhibition, unveiled on 11 February, is a stunning multimedia experience with a strong environmental message that empowers the visitor to make a real impact in a threatened Sumatran rainforest.

Into The Wild-Art Science Museum
Mousedeer are one of five animals featured in the virtual reality experience // Credit: Google

What is the experience?

The rainforest experience starts once you take possession of the smart phone (it is locked into a bracket attached to a solid hand piece so it is easy to hold), aLenovo Phab 2 Pro. Head to basement two with the device and the entire space is transformed into a virtual rainforest. The effect is as if the museum is painted over in 360 degrees, and the scenery changes with your every step and movement. Look up and you’ll see an orangutan chewing a leaf, walk further and peer behind a bush and catch a tapir grazing.

Information about each animal pops up and headphones provide a soundtrack to complete the experience – especially as danger approaches. From the basement ascend to level four and plant a seed which grows into a lush virtual tree before your eyes. In reality, visitors can contribute to WWF and a real seed will be planted on degraded land within a real rainforest.

A six-minute film and stunning animation projected onto a 20-metre wall concludes the exhibition. It depicts the fragile habitat and the danger faced by the pangolins, mousedeer, orangutan, tiger and tapir and references the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, a British pioneer explorer and naturalist who co-founded the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin.

Lenovo mobile phone becomes a virtual reality experience with Tango software
The Lenovo mobile phone becomes a virtual reality experience with the tap of a button

What is the technology?

Behind the innocuous looking smart phone  is some incredible technology called Tango and Qualcomm Snapdragon 652. These software work in tandem to enable augmented reality experiences, by mapping the physical space of the museum –  over which graphics are laid to fit exactly into every surface

Google’s Greg Jones says phones that use Tango technology, make it possible to track motion, understand distances in the real-world, and recognise locations. “This is what makes it possible to build a virtual world on top of the real one. Into the Wild is only the second virtual and augmented reality museum experience using Tango,” he says.

Virtual reality experience featuring a tapir at Art Science Museum
Tapir at Into The Wild, in immersive virtual adventure / Credit: Google

What’s the environmental impact?

Elaine Tan, the CEO of WWF Singapore says “In a time of rampant deforestation in Southeast Asia, Into The Wild sends a critical conservation call for the growth and renewal of our natural environment. Only with collective action can we effect positive change, restore rainforest biodiversity, protect tiger habitats and transform the loves of communities and millions across West Sumatra and Riau”.

Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve is one of the last pristine Sumatran rainforests, a breeding ground and home to just 25 tigers. Sadly, there are only two rangers patrolling the entire national park which spans thousands of hectares. This is partly due to government budget constraints and priorities, and because it’s a dangerous job. Rangers face threats from poachers and instigators of illegal land encroachment. It’s hoped that this initiative will also benefit the local communities who are subsistence farmers and dependent on the rainforest, but sometimes fall prey to destructive illegal activities.

When visitors plant a seed as part of their Into The Wild experience and pledge $38 to WWF they contribute to a tree regeneration project in Rimbang Baling. Those who contribute receive updates and photographs over two years of the tree planted on your behalf, and even its GPS coordinates! WWF aim to plant over 20,000 trees.

Into The Wild is free for all visitors to the ArtScience Museum, and it’s popular. Plan ahead and reserve a day and time to visit at intothewild.sg/.

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