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The EcoRift presents a virtual reality experience of being in the desert. EcoRift links together full 360 spherical visual and acoustic recordings using the Oculus head tracking feature to provide synchronized an auditory and visual Point of View (POV) so the user can look around the environment as if truly present.

EcoRift  can be used in exhibitions in the partner communities and in festivals and galleries internationally. Extension to this system will allow individuals to capture their own National Park experience and upload it easily into the system.

Along with the other rich media tools developed by the project, EcoRift directs community awareness to issues of sustainability, environmental engagement, critical enquiry and interpretative discourse around questions of how digital technology and rich media environments can be used to deepen value systems around these precious, yet fragile ecosystems. Given the ongoing need to increase ecological consciousness, the EcoRift is designed to provide new virtual immersive environmental engagement cultivating environmental awareness and community agency.

The EcoRift system was created by Dr. Garth Paine and launched during SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas in 2014. EcoRift experiences have been developed for each of the Listen(n) locations and this project has emerged as a core stream of the overall Listen(n) Project.

Oculus Rift Virtual Landscape Experience

Oculus Rift Virtual Landscape Experience

The EcoRift delivers immersive experiences of being present in highly valued natural environments without needing to travel and without degrading the environments by visitation. The prototype is designed with an explicit accessibility strategy that provides open access to the experience of pristine natural environments across the globe, including for the elderly and people with disabilities who may otherwise not have access.

The prototype has been widely tested throughout 2014 and 2015 with extremely positive feedback from our collaborating communities. This virtual reality system has been developed with two purposes, the first as touring experiences that will promote further engagement in fragile natural environments internationally, and the second as virtual experiences available for download via the internet for those with access to virtual reality headsets. While virtual reality has been an active field for a number of years, it is only now that it is becoming a viable opportunity for humanities and conservation projects to truly explore the possibilities of this technology. Previously it has been cost prohibitive and high latency caused disorientation and nausea if the visuals did not correlate with the user’s head position.

The success of the initial version of the EcoRift experience is largely due to the fact that the PointOfView (POV) of both auditory and visual streams moves without perceptible latency and produces such a tightly correlated experience as to be perceived as an embodied relation to the content. This critical accessibility and embodiment is essential in exploring how digital technology and rich media environments can be used to create experiences of being present in remote environments.

The EcoRift is currently in a final development phase and will launch a series of new experiences throughout 2015 and 2016 with a particular focus on America’s National Parks.