New virtual reality tool brings Sisters' Islands corals to shore

Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 15 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Marine biology students and conservation volunteers can look forward to exploring coral reefs at Sisters' Islands Marine Park without actually having to go underwater with a new interactive Virtual Reality (VR) underwater simulation.

Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs is a collaboration between local startup Hiverlab, the Info-comm Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s PIXEL Labs and DHI Water and Environment.

In a joint press release on Wednesday (Feb 15), the developers said the training tool will enhance the training of marine biologists and reef monitoring volunteers as they learn methods in the assessment and monitoring of coral reefs, orientate themselves on monitoring protocols and practice their identification skills in a virtual setting before they embark on actual dives.

Currently, the developers added, instructors have to overcome the limited visibility usually experienced in Singapore waters, as well as the limitation of communication to visual cues and hand signals when training large groups of students or volunteers in habitat monitoring of underwater environments.

During the 30-minutes "dive", users will be virtually guided along the reef to identify various marine organisms and can submit their answers using their Samsung VR headsets.

The development of the product took five months to complete and is now in its prototype stage.

Moving forward, Hiverlab said it was looking at creating a collaborative platform where 3D scans and photogrammetry of corals and reefs can be crowdsourced to recreational divers, marine biologists and non-governmental organisations. This will allow it to cover more coral reefs around the world and create educational programs or workshops based on the data, it explained.

A standalone prototype of Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs will be made available to the public at PIXEL Labs at National Design Centre and Jurong Regional Library in March.

- CNA/mz

Dive into marine world - and stay dry
Audrey Tan Straits Times 16 Feb 17;

Reef lovers will be able to explore the corals of Sisters' Islands Marine Park while staying completely dry, thanks to virtual reality (VR).

A new training tool, Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs - which aims to aid in the training of marine biologists and reef-monitoring volunteers - has been created by local start-up Hiverlab, a VR content production company.

Hiverlab worked with environmental consultancy DHI Water and Environment, as well as the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Pixel Labs, to develop the programme, which was unveiled yesterday at the National Design Centre in Bugis.

Still at a prototype stage, it allows users to explore the reefs at Sisters' Islands through VR. During the "dive", participants will be guided in identifying marine organisms along the reef, and respond to quizzes to test their knowledge.

The programme will help students learn scientific methods in the assessment and monitoring of reefs, orientate themselves on monitoring protocols and practise their identification skills in a virtual setting before they go on real dives.

A commonly used method is visual quadrat sampling, which first involves the laying of a line. The researcher or volunteer then places a square, usually made of plastic pipes, at intervals along the line and identifies the biodiversity, or coral cover, within the square.

Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub, a senior marine ecologist at DHI research centre, said: "Some marine biology students may be hesitant the first time they go underwater to conduct scientific surveys of the reef, so with this programme, we can guide the students step-by-step."

Those interested can try out the prototype next month at Pixel Labs, the National Design Centre and at the Jurong Regional Library.

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