Sue Austin

Multimedia, performance & installation artist

Summary with Outcomes

Executive Summary for 360 Degrees - A New Angle on Access

Background

The use of 360 immersive technology presents a major opportunity for arts organisations to reach out to new audiences and enhance the audience experience. In particular, it provides a means by which disabled people who face barriers in terms of leaving the home or travelling to large art venues can access art. However, the delivery of 360 technology in the past has required considerable expense and expertise, which has tended to put it out of reach of most community arts venues. In light of these barriers, the project sought to develop and test affordable recording and display technologies for taking 360 art experiences into both the home and into small arts, community and educational venues.

The Project

The project experimented with the use of two pieces of recording technology: the multi-camera system, which uses eight GoPro cameras fitted to a 3D printed rig, and a more affordable 360 Eyecam, a parabolic mirror system fitted to a single camera. Two artists were commissioned to make artwork, each using both systems.

Three separate delivery mediums for displaying 360 imagery were developed and tested:

1        The single projector pop-up system, an installation specifically designed for showing in small arts, community and educational venues;

2        The Oculus mounted headset, which can be used in both art venues or in the home;

3        The canvas installation, a more expensive installation which requires considerable resources and expertise. This installation already existed but was installed and tested to enable a comparison to be made with the two new systems.

The technology was displayed and tested through three different methods:

  • Three separate exhibitions were organised at venues in Torrington, Salisbury and Plymouth, where members of the general public were invited to view each of the 360 exhibits and provide feedback through interviews;
  • Workshops were organised at each exhibition where art practitioners were able to create 360 imagery themselves and were asked to provide feedback on the two different camera systems;
  • The Oculus was taken into the homes of disabled people who are often ‘housebound’ and who were interviewed to provide feedback.

Results

The project identified how immersive systems could be used to reach out to potential art audiences who may have previously been excluded. It also found an additional range of potential applications for 360 technology, including in the spheres of education, health and tourism. Some of the key findings are as follows:

Accessibility

The home interviews highlighted the barriers disabled people face when trying to access the arts. A majority of the participants (11 out of 14) did not attend arts venues due to limited accessibility. Key barriers included travel limitations, as well as issues which could potentially be addressed by arts venues, such as the limited disability awareness of some staff.

Comparisons Between the Technologies

As expected, exhibition attendees expressed a clear preference for the more expensive canvas installation over the other display mediums, primarily due to the quality of the image and the physical layout. Overall, respondents felt less immersed in the pop-up, although there was an improvement in audience reaction during the final exhibition due to changes that were made to the installation in light of previous feedback.

Using the Headset in the Home

Home interview participants were generally positive about the mounted headset, with a majority preferring this experience to viewing the same artwork on a computer screen. However, while a majority expressed a preference for using the headset on their own, the need for someone to be there to provide assistance was highlighted by both respondents and project team members. 

Comparisons Between Camera Systems

Workshop participants reacted positively to both the multi-camera and 360 Eyecam systems. While they tended to prefer the multi-camera system due to the quality of the image, the 360 Eyecam was often seen as the more feasible option in light of its affordability.

Interest In and Demand for 360 Technology

Both home interviewees and exhibition attendees were interested in seeing immersive art again; participants from both groups suggested ways in which 360 imagery could be displayed or used in the future.  Encouragingly, the majority of workshop participants felt that the forms of art they currently produce were adaptable to immersive technology. However, there were concerns that the resource and expertise required for the canvas installation might make its use prohibitive.

Insights

A number of key insights were drawn from the delivery of the project and the results of the research. Some of the most pertinent included:

  • 360 immersive technology has a wide range of potential applications within the arts sector and beyond. This includes its use for therapeutic, educational and commercial purposes;
  • Further research is required to explore accessibility issues when using the headset to ensure, for example, that participants can use it unaided in the home;
  • Developing technology, which produces high quality art work and is within budget, requires persistence and constant innovation. Working together as a team can help deliver practical solutions.

Future

In seeking to develop a more affordable and accessible means of experiencing 360 immersive art, this Research and Development project has stimulated considerable interest amongst artists and art viewers alike. Feedback from home interviews regarding accessibility issues and the difficulties of finding an appropriate venue for the canvas installation underlie the need for a more accessible and affordable form of 360 technology.

The project highlighted the need for further development of the pop-up installation. Four key areas for further experiment and improvement have been suggested including:

  • altering the placement of the projector;
  • using mapping software to improve the quality of the picture;
  • using different materials for the pop-up screen;
  • using a more powerful projector.

Similarly, further exploration of the mounted headset would be useful to ensure it is both accessible and safe.

Finally, the project generated ideas and stimulated a number of different applications of 360 technology in areas such as education, healthcare and commercial use. Any future project may need to consider how these opportunities can be further explored taking into account some of the existing limitations outlined above.  

For the full report please visit: http://artsdigitalrnd.org.uk/projects/freewheeling/ 

 

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