Museums are great, but when we see dusty old objects in glass cases, can we really be sure that we're fully appreciating what we're looking at? That's the challenge that a new virtual reality experience at the British Museum is attempting to meet when teaching visitors about the Bronze Age.
The Museum has a long-held partnership with Samsung, which opened its "Samsung Digital Discovery Centre" (SDCC) there in 2009. This weekend, the partnership is hosting a "virtual reality weekend", and inviting members of the public to strap on a Samsung Gear VR headset and take themselves back in time to a bronze age roundhouse. Teaching the Bronze Age was added the national curriculum just last year - so now kids can look forward to the confusing experience of something being cool but simultaneously educational.
So what is the VR experience like? Earlier today, I got to give it a try.
After strapping on a headset and you're standing in front of three roundhouses - one of which has an open door. The Gear VR can be controlled using a touchpad on the right-hand side for movement, so it was simply a case of swiping in the direction that I wanted to go and tapping on the touchpad to select objects (based on what I was looking at).
Interactive objects were highlighted in blue - and upon selecting them, your field of view goes black and the object floats in space, with you able to look around it that way. As you watch, a curator narrates details on what it is you're looking at.
It was pretty clever - and does provide another way into understanding what the objects were for. It'd certainly be interesting to see it expanded as this very much felt like a tech demo, with only three objects fully accessible. Though as Lizzie Edwards who co-manages the SDCC pointed out in her opening remarks, this is essentially a test phase, with the results of the "virtual reality weekend" being fed back to the museum and Samsung for future improvements.
If you'd like to give it a go, the BM is testing it all weekend, so head on down to the museum.