Penzance-based Ocean 3D creates virtual walkthroughs of buildings to reduce uncertainty
Going somewhere new can be stressful. Think about going to an unfamiliar airport. You’re not sure how far it will be to the gate, where you can get a last-minute coffee, where the baby change facilities are. All of these things can add stress to your trip.
Now imagine you’re a person with anxiety, agoraphobia or autism. Those feelings of uncertainty aren’t just stressful – they can be so overwhelming you would rather stay at home. And if you do end up going, the trip can be almost unbearable.
3D interactive tours reduce uncertainty
One thing that can help is being able to look around a building before physically going there. And that’s where Penzance-based Ocean 3D believes it can make a huge difference to people’s lives.
“We make interactive VR tours that don’t need a headset,” explains founder Chris Wood. “We use a 3D camera and infrared technology and we take maybe 100 shots for a typical tour, moving the camera a few feet each time, like stop-motion animation.”
A new kind of accessibility
Wood initially bought the 3D camera technology for his estate agency business. But his partner Ros Osborne, who has a background working with children and young people with special educational needs, immediately saw another use for it.
“I saw it as a way for people with anxiety to explore buildings and environments in a relaxed way,” she says. “Rather than coming in and having a quick look and going away again, they can access the whole building at home whenever they want, with no pressure.”
“I saw it as a way for people with anxiety to explore buildings and environments in a relaxed way”ros osborne, non-executive director, ocean 3d
So in 2018 Chris and Ros set up Ocean 3D, with the idea of making buildings more accessible – not just for people with anxiety, but for anyone who wants to look around before visiting.
“Anyone can access a tour,” says Osborne. “It could be an engineer inspecting the boiler room, a person with disabilities looking for the lifts, or a new hire checking out their new office.”
Lockdown has brought a surge of interest from another source: schools and colleges that are due to welcome new students in September. Planned transition days have had to be scrapped, but online 3D tours mean students can still get to know their new learning environment.
Talking kitchens could help people live independently
One particularly beneficial aspect of Ocean 3D’s tours is their built-in annotations. Visitors can click on points of interest to learn more about a room or feature. They may soon be able to talk to those features, too.
“We have an intern from the University of Plymouth working on integrating chatbot technology,” says Osborne. “For example, a person with autism could access a tour of their own kitchen, and a chatbot could talk them through how to make a coffee.”
“a person with autism could access a tour of their own kitchen, and a chatbot could talk them through how to make a coffee”ros osborne, non-executive director, ocean 3d
With enquiries now coming in from around the world, including museums, colleges and airports, Wood thinks Ocean 3D could soon look to add industry specialists to their team.
“There are so many ways this technology can be used – from virtual training for engineers, to marketing for tourist attractions,” he says. “We’re really excited about the possibilities.”