Mayflower at Worcester

The iconic 7th Century ship that took the Pilgrims from Holland and England across the Atlantic in 1620 was seen on the River Severn and Droitwich Canal recently, welcoming the arrival in Worcester of the National Mayflower Compact Partnership, meeting in the City for the first time.

The ship, which has been “constructed” using 3D computer techniques by researchers at the University of Birmingham, is part of an ambitious project to develop historical and educational experiences based on the Pilgrims’ journey.  This involves the creation of Virtual Reality (VR) reconstructions not only of the Mayflower, but its passengers, crew and cargo as well, and the researchers plan to share of these reconstructions across the UK and with groups in the USA.  The Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team at the University has been working on the Virtual Mayflower for the past two years, involving students at all levels and demonstrating how VR technologies may be capable of supporting the countrywide commemorations planned for the 400th anniversary of the sailing in 2020 and leaving a legacy for education far beyond that date.

Professor Stone explained, “we were able to bring the ship into Worcester and Droitwich using Augmented Reality techniques, similar to, but a little more sophisticated than the recent mobile gaming craze that swept the world, Pokémon Go.  We superimpose a 3D model of the ship onto the scene, which is pretty straightforward, but we have to pay attention to details, such as lighting, reflection, water movement around the hull and so on, otherwise the effect looks very primitive.  Our experiments with the sailing version of the Mayflower, filmed from Plymouth Hoe recently, provided us with a lot of useful tips on what we need to do to make the effects more convincing”.

Mayflower 1

The AR software enables the current 3D model of the ship to appear as if moored alongside the River Severn with the Cathedral in the background.  Historically, ships of this size were thought to have been able to navigate to this point in the River, although the presence of Worcester Bridge would make that impossible today. 

Professor Stone, himself a Droitwich resident, continued, “Bringing the Mayflower to part of the canal in Droitwich required somewhat more of a leap in imagination, but, given the important role played by Edward Winslow in the Pilgrims’ Story, we felt it was important to acknowledge this by capturing the ship in the town in a recognisable location – hence St Augustine’s Church in the background!”.

The University of Birmingham’s HIT Team is one of the leading VR and AR research and development groups in the UK and has an unrivalled portfolio of award-winning projects in defence training, healthcare and heritage.