While the concept of virtual reality (VR) has been around for a long time, its application in museums, historical websites and heritage sites have yet to be fully explored. Since 2013 in particular, VR solutions have become much more affordable to the average consumer. Oculus and Google Cardboard, along with accessible technologies, software and hardware like Jump, Giroptic and the Cardboard Camera app, offer the potential to fully realise the potential of VR in the way that smartphones revolutionised the way we use photos and video.
But this is only beginning to be explored. There is a real opportunity for VR to enhance our experience of museums, galleries, visitor centres and historical sites. From encouraging more active engagement and learning to enhancing existing interpretive content, VR can enable visitors to discover sites closed to the public like, for example, the cave paintings of Altamira or the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in Egypt. A little girl looking at the fossilised remains of a pterodactyl could be transported back into the late Jurassic period and see those remains come to life. An astronomy student could learn about the solar system and how it works through physical engagement: moving planets, seeing around stars and tracking the progress of a comet.
Experience of historical events like 1916 through VR has the potential to provide a more explicitly spatial perspective not just for the visitor, but for a historian analysing and interpreting the event: how the narrow confines of a set of streets may have influenced battle tactics, or how visualising the angle with which a bullet ricocheted off a wall can help re-evaluate the motives of a shooter.
The centenary programme provides the impetus to test, innovate and develop new technologies and new approaches to history, commemoration and education. The first four years of this decade of centenaries has seen remarkable developments, of which The City and The Rising developed by NOHO Ltd for Dublin City Council is a prime example.