Virtual Reality and GIS by Layla Gordon


Due to its closeness to a real life experience, virtual reality can be a very powerful medium for simulation and education.

Research has proved that VR certainly enhances learning. The brain absorbs information 33 per cent more effectively when in the immersive environments of AR and VR, according to Stansford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab researcher Jeremy Bailenson.


OS Virtual Map Room

This Oculus Rift app has been developed with purely education in mind. The idea is based around gamifying a GIS task of interacting with geospatial data in an escape room scenario. The app was demoed to visiting school students on a GIS education day, where they were required to collaboratively solve a GIS task and find the key to exit the map room. The maps themselves are two-dimensional raster Ordnance Survey maps and points of interests and polygons are overlaid on the virtual tabletop.

Figure 1: Snapshot of OS Virtual Map Room app on Oculus Rift.

We continue to collect feedback from students to assess how they find the VR map interaction versus non-VR. Certainly, the level of engagement and participation of students has been witnessed to have been higher compared to previous years where VR was not used.


Virtual Explorer House

In this example, the team created a virtual reality app that populates the assets dynamically at run time by connecting to a live data set of in this case desk locations held by utilities at Ordnance Survey and places the virtual desk the locations they really are in the building and with the information about the desk number viewable in virtual reality. The aim of this demonstrator was to asses the methods in which geospatial data in this case desk with locations can be obtained from external sources and with unity creating assets in real time and placing them in a correct location. This is the basis for a dynamic virtual reality experience as opposed to fixed data. With a future in 5G networks becoming mainstream, the concept of untethered dynamic VR would be more than achievable.

Figure 2: Virtual Explorer House snapshot.
Figure 3: Virtual tabletop experience featuring 3D mode of the Ordnance Survey headquarters.


Digital Twins: Bournemouth VR for 5G planning

The aim of this demo was to use virtual reality for remote asset management and planning of a 5G network visualising the street assets and locations of the building. The powerful medium of immersive placement in a remote location adds an enhanced information retention, situational awareness and also a greater data consumption from peripheral vision. Overall the experience should be as if the user was directly flown in real life atop the city of Bournemouth to plan the network. Of course, virtual reality provides a more convenient, cheaper and repeatable alternative to a flight. It is also weather independent as aerial flights sometimes need to be cancelled due to poor visibility. The education angle could be that the task of planning the 5G network can be turned into a set of steps in a VR environment and trainee GIS analysts can use it as a learning tool and improve their skills.

In order to add a fun element to learning and also to showcase the detailed elevation model, OS branded beachballs are featured in the app where the user can pick up and throw them into the city. The app has been part of the VIP visits by ministers and geospatial commission to the building and received many good feedback for an interactive environment and the quality of the automatically generated 3D model just using oblique standard aerial imagery.

Figure 4: Snapshot of Bournemouth VR playing on Oculus Rift.

This type of scenario assesses the role VR can play in immersive 360 visualisation of digital twins of cities for urban incident management, urban planning and also remote asset planing and management.


Sourced from iLRN 2019 London Workshop, Long and Short Paper, Poster, Demos, and SSRiP Proceedings from the Fifth Immersive Learning Research Network Conference (e-book).