Presence and inverse presence: VR tour of Sir Edumund Hillary’s Antarctica base launched by NZ PM

[This story from STUFF describes a new virtual tour that provides the public with a first-person experience of a distant heritage site and it also includes an interesting example of inverse presence, where an experience not mediated by technology is perceived as mediated. See the original story for 7 more images and a 41 second video. For more information, including a different 2:31 minute video, see the Antarctic Heritage Trust website. And for a 1:53 minute news report see 1 News. –Matthew]

[Image: Sir Edmund Hillary’s grandson Alexander Hillary with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Credit: Abigail Dougherty/STUFF]

Hillary’s Hut: Virtual reality tour of explorer’s Antarctica base launched by PM

Kendall Hutt
July 31 2020

Kiwis can now take a step back in time and explore Scott Base’s oldest building in Antarctica thanks to virtual reality.

It is hoped thousands will gain an insight into how the 23 men of Sir Edmund Hillary’s team lived and worked more than 60 years ago by exploring his hut.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched the unique experience at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in south Auckland on Friday, four months after the initial launch was delayed by the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Ardern, who experienced Hillary’s Hut herself in VR, said she did not feel dizzy afterwards or want to vomit, as she normally suffers from motion sickness.

“I can assure you that won’t happen. I’ve tested it and even the most sensitive of constitutions was fine,” she said.

“My hope is that by having this experience we bring you a little bit closer to some of the extraordinary endeavours of people who are just like you and I, and in doing so we bring further proof that you too can do the extraordinary,” she told the students gathered at the launch.

Donning the VR headset, Kiwis can tour the hut’s five rooms, viewing hundreds of artefacts from the early years of the country’s Antarctic programme and learning more about the nation’s first presence on Earth’s southernmost continent.

The hut was built by Hillary and his team in 1957 before he led a historic expedition on Ferguson tractors to the South Pole.

One of Hillary’s grandsons, Alexander Hillary, said it was “really special” to experience the hut in VR as he had not been able to see it in person – yet.

“Although I haven’t been there, it’s pretty cool to experience it in VR and it feels so lifelike, the details are incredible,” he said.

He said it was “quite cool” to be able to go into his grandfather’s room in the hut.

“To stand in that quite small room and there’s a pile of jackets on the wall and stuff. It was nice to kind of think about what it must have been like for him down there, just to see a bit of his history and what he was doing down there with his expedition was really special to me.”

Francesca Eathorne of the Antarctic Heritage Trust said it is hoped thousands will take up the opportunity to explore the hut virtually.

“Hopefully the fascinating stories of what Sir Ed and his team achieved will inspire people to explore.”

She told Stuff she spent two years “fully immersed” in the digital experience of Hillary’s Hut and did not see it in person for the first time until 2019.

“I have to tell you, I got really emotional. I had to pinch myself. I just felt like I was looking at this virtual reality experience,” Eathorne said.

“I knew where everything was and it was a really powerful sense of place.”

Over two years and 4000 hours, the virtual reality experience was developed in partnership with the Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

AUT professor Barbara Bollard, who helped collect the data to create the VR from Antarctica itself, said it was a privilege to be part of bringing the hut to life.

“It’s one thing to read about a place or see photos, but to interactively walk around and experience it as if you are there, really cements the connection,” she said.

“It creates a greater awareness and appreciation of the importance and value of these places.”

Katarina Markovic was among the AUT students who converted the raw data into a 3D model.

“It’s beyond exciting to see it launch, when you’ve seen it for hours and hours and you know every nut and bolt and other people get to experience it is just amazing”.

Kiwis can experience Hillary’s Hut free through the trust’s VR app, or download it free from Steam for the fully immersive and interactive version.

Selected exhibitors will also be hosting the fully immersive and interactive version around the country.

Ryman Healthcare was the principal sponsor, but the experience was also supported by Antarctica New Zealand and Staples VR.

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