The virtual Scylla reef

Sequences of images of virtual reality simulation of Scylla artificial reef in Devon

Virtual Scylla aimed to show how state-of-the-art developments in VR could deliver an environmental research and awareness tool accessible to a wide range of possible users, from marine biologists and engineers to schoolchildren and members of the general public.

We developed a 3D model of the Scylla, a former Royal Navy frigate that was scuttled off the coast of Deveon to create Europe's first artificial diving reef. The model could be controlled in in real time by piloting a virtual remotely operated vehicle (ROV) using a Microsoft Xbox gamepad or other interactive controller.

To add context to the experience, a geographically accurate model of the Whitsand Bay coastline, from Rame Head to Portwrinkle was also constructed using digital terrain map data and aerial photography.

To endow the subsea wreck model with an educationally-relevant experience, we developed software techniques in artificial life (or alife) – the scientific study and simulation of the behaviour of biological organisms and systems – to investigate and predict how natural environments survive, reproduce, colonise and evolve and may be affected by environmental changes brought about by climate change, extreme weather events or pollution.

Throughout the project, we collaborated with the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth (NMA) and the Marine Biological Association. Further technical support was provided by the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic, Meteorological and Oceanographic Training Group in Devonport.

In 2009, the Virtual Scylla alife and wreck “fly-through” demonstrators were presented to schoolchildren and specialist adult audiences at the NMA.

Projects continue with the NMA partnership and includes the use of AR techniques to replace the life-sized cetacean models within the area currently occupied close to the organisation’s Eddystone Reef Tank with animated virtual creatures. Other research projects include the development of a Virtual Aquarium to evaluate users’ choices of favourite species and density of fish, measuring the impact of their choices on their well-being.

Virtual reality simulation of aquarium

The NMA also supports University of Birmingham final year projects involving ROV technologies and their deployment in Plymouth Sound and nearby.