With almost the whole world under lockdown, people have been coming up with new and innovative new ways to keep themselves occupied and entertained whilst shut in at home. Online drinking parties, TikTok videos, and VR tours of some of our favourite locations are just a handful of things that have all of a sudden taken over the internet.

Although VR tours aren’t really anything new in the digital age, a particular museum in Tokyo has teamed up with one of the best in the business of Virtual Reality to produce footage for a “tour from home”. The results from the VR project collaborated by the two organizations is so good that it really feels like you’re actually walking around in the museum.

Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science and the Virtual Reality Innovation Organization have come together to bring the museum’s permanent displays to your computer screen at home.

Using special high tech cameras that take 360-degree footage, staff at the two companies have pieced together the faultless VR tour which is available for free on the museums official website.

Upon entering the website, viewers are greeted with a message from the museum explaining the closure of the venue and then goes on to introduce the VR tour that is available in place of entrance tickets. Viewers must then choose which section of the museum they want to explore first; the Japanese Pavilion, a four-storey area centered around the natural history and fauna of Japan, or the Global Pavilion, which takes up eleven floors and focuses on life, science and history from around the world.

By choosing the Japanese Pavilion, the tour will place the viewer inside of a room exhibiting dinosaur fossils of Japan, and if the viewer chooses the Global Pavilion, the tour starts inside of a room filled with stuffed animals. Whichever area viewers choose to start with, they are then able to “walk” throughout the exhibits – even through the museum hallways – to explore freely.

Viewers can easily access different floors and have the options of viewing the museum in “dollhouse” view or as a floor plan view from the dials in the lower left-hand corner. The dial in the lower right-hand corner of the screen gives access to entering the full screen and the full VR experience (provided the viewer has special VR glasses or goggles).

As stated by the Mainichi Newspaper, even though the tour is available for everyone, the imagery is set up to mimic what a child would see if he or she visited the museum, with the cameras being set up to take images at a height of 120cm. This angle not only replicates a child’s point of view but also makes reading some of the exhibition signs easier, as the majority of them are placed at a lower height.

In the Japan Pavilion, visitors have the opportunity to place their eyes on the real canine hero: Hachiko. | Screengrab from National Museum of Nature and Science VR tour

If you thought a company bringing VR to the world of Museums was already too far fetched to belong in our world, then you’ll be taken aback to learn that the Virtual Reality Innovation Organization also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to produce the videos.

The AI are used to put together and edit the footage taken on the 360-degree cameras at some 1,500 different points across the permanent exhibition rooms at the museum.

In addition to being amazed by the effort that has been put in to show you every angle of the museum from home, you can also get your “study on” by heading over to their official YouTube Channel, where the venue is posting regular content to keep every bright mind satisfied.

The results of the VR project are incredibly satisfying to look through (as someone who occasionally delves into landscape photography, I can say the quality of these images put some of my snaps to shame), with top quality imagery and the possibility to explore almost every area of the museum, you could spend hours walking through the venue at home.

The only things which remind you that you aren’t really standing inside the museum hall are the lack of that “old” smell that so often permeates inside museums and the fact that you are actually viewing the tour from your sofa whilst nibbling on popcorn.

*There is no need for special glasses or goggles to enjoy the images from a PC or Smartphone screen, but the full VR experience can definitely be enhanced by viewing the tour using VR glasses.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.