The Past through the Future

The Past through the Future

The world of immersive cinema continues to expand beyond the “traditional” fulldome and large-format screens of the world. Recent developments that all of us in the fulldome community should be aware of include the growth of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). I’ve discussed these in prior submissions as such technologies continue to make inroads into our homes and classrooms.

This rise in new technology comes 20 years after the introduction of fulldome technology at the 1996 IPS conference in Japan via the first GOTO Virtuarium and the 1998 conference in London, where Sky-Skan introduced its early fulldome video system. At both, attendees were dazzled with the future of our medium – a future you and I are experiencing now with the expansion of products by Evans & Sutherland, Digitalis Education Solutions, e-Planetarium, Konica-Minolta, Zeiss, the Elumenati, SCISS, RSA Cosmos, Sky-Skan, Spitz, Starlab, and others.

The pace of change continues. As this column is being written, I note the introduction of at least one product that utilizes the smart phone in your hand to give a view of the sky and overlays a “heads-up” display to help you understand what you’re seeing. It’s called Universe2Go and is available now. Chances are more such products will show up in the coming months.

Granted, we’ve had astronomy apps on our phones and iPads and computers for years. I’ve personally worked on one called StarMap (star-map.fr), and there are many others out there. Universe2Go is taking the next step, uniting VR/AR and astronomy. It will be interesting to see where it goes, but these do step squarely into the astronomy-based territory that fulldome theaters and planetarium facilities are used to occupying.

With the rise of astronomy apps and computer programs, the stargazing territory of the planetarium has made the leap to the larger marketplace. Planetariums still offer these same things for group/audience experiences led by live presenters, so I don’t think the addition of VR/AR will affect our domain as much as we might fear.

In addition, most theaters offer pre-rendered content that explores all the nuances of many sciences: astronomy, physics, astrobiology, planetary science, and others. There is also a growing collection of arts-based shows available, which theater operators and audiences are coming to appreciate. You can see a complete listing of shows at The Fulldome Show Compendium as well as at the Fulldome Database to appreciate the great depth and breadth of shows “out there.”

Carolyn Collins Petersen

In addition to her role as CEO of Loch Ness Productions, Carolyn Collins Petersen is a science writer and astronomy researcher. She is acutely interested in the fulldome medium's ability to provide cinematic approaches to storytelling that engages audiences. She has more than three dozen fulldome shows to her credit, and recently narrated several shows for other producers. She has written three astronomy books, numerous online audio and video series about astronomy and space science, and was senior author for major exhibits at Griffith Observatory, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the California Academy of Sciences. She is a contributor in astronomy and space science for Space.About.com (space.about.com).

Carolyn Collins Petersen studied education and astronomy at the University of Colorado, and earned a graduate degree in mass communications (science emphasis, and minor in telecommunications engineering) in 1996 from CU, where she also worked on a Hubble Space Telescope instrument team. She spent several years as an editor and writer at Sky Publishing Corporation before assuming a leadership role at Loch Ness Productions.She currently serves as IMERSA's Communications Coordinator and can be reached at Carolyn@IMERSA.org.

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