April 26, 2019

Thanks to VR, it is now possible to “interview” your heroes

By Ellen Daniel

Many may have daydreamed of what they would ask their favourite actors or sport stars given the chance to talk face-to-face, or thought about which historical figures would be invited to a fantasy dinner party. However, thanks for virtual reality, this may soon be a possibility.

The Forever Project, Bright White and Manchester Metropolitan University have collaborated to develop Audience with a Hero, a new way for audiences at cultural, heritage or sporting venues to have conversations with a digital version of another person using VR.

Those involved in the project envision that visitors to a gallery could interact with the artists behind the art on display, or a football fan visiting a stadium could ask questions to their favourite player all through VR headsets.

The use of holograms to recreate famous performances has been around for a few years, with Amy Winehouse, Tupac and Michael Jackson all performing posthumously. However, by merging video, real-time graphics and natural language processing, it is possible to create a person-to-person interactive experience.

Beyond VR celebrity interviews

Audience with a Hero, which is backed by £1m in government funding, builds on The Forever Project, a digital programme produced for the National Holocaust Centre and Museum which worked to preserved the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

This was the first time this type of technology, in which visitors could engage with surviours’ answers to pre-recorded questions, was used in the UK. The next step is to build on these approaches to create immersive cultural experiences that are closer to a conversation with another person.

As well as obvious applications in tourism, heritage and entertainment, there is a use case for the technology in education, with research suggesting that VR can help with retaining information, engaging with a topic and also help in the development of empathy. With the ability to create in-depth question and answer sessions using digital projections of real public figures, this technology could be a valuable educational tool.

Chris Walker, director of Bright White, said:

“Building on what we’ve already achieved, we can now take really important steps towards creating a revolutionary opportunity for audiences everywhere to have meaningful and memorable interactions with heroes.”

Audience with a Hero is supported by The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, part of the government’s £4.7bn increase in research and development over the next four years, a key part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy.