WebXR, 360° Panoramic Imaging, and Cultural Heritage

Screenshot in Google Cardboard mode from the Sacred Spaces of New England project showing the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

WebXR is an API (Application Programing Interface) that enables virtual reality, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies to be delivered through a web browser. This technology has the potential to make immersive experiences of our world’s cultural heritage more accessible—from the Parthenon in Athens to a modest sacred space in a local community.

360° panoramic imaging is the science, art and practice of creating interactive and navigable immersive 360° screen-based images, which usually depict a place and/or event. A 360° panoramic image not only has the ability to act as an object, whether stand-alone or within a larger project, but it can also serve as an interface. 360° panoramic imaging has the following distinct attributes:

  • Immersive: provides an experience or suggestion of being in a simulated three-dimensional environment;
  • Integrative: allows image, sound, and text to be combined into a dynamic 360° panoramic form;
  • Interactive: permits users to affect and control their experience with the panorama, and potentially engage with others through its interface; and
  • Hypermedia: has the potential to link separate media objects (text, image, sound, video, other panoramas) to one another when the VR panoramic image is used as an interface.

With such head-mounted display (HMD) devices as Google Cardboard and Oculus Quest, 360° panoramic images can now be viewed within a completely immersive environment using accessible technologies that many already own such as your smart phone in conjunction with Google Cardboard. As the WebXR API develops and by using 360° panoramic imaging as a tool for documenting cultural heritage sites and related events, one may:

  1. Incorporate hypermedia elements (e.g. text, image, video, sound) to provide additional and/or more in-depth information for further learning;
  2. Encourage input from users along with the possibility of the exchange of ideas between users using interactivity; and
  3. Facilitate dialogue with the history of the site and/or event, which can foster increased levels of engagement with cultural heritage.

Sacred Spaces of New England is a project that I am working on that simultaneously experiments with the capabilities of WebXR and other immersive technologies while also endeavoring to document and digitally preserve sacred spaces of New England.

Suggestions on places to document and other constructive feedback for developing Sacred Spaces of New England are welcome in the comments section or by contacting me directly.

Below are some great resources to learn more about WebXR and immersive imaging experiences via the World Wide Web:

State of the WebXR API with Brandon Jones

Google AR & VR Virtual Reality

Mozilla Mixed Reality Blog

F8 2019: Unlocking the Future of WebXR at Facebook

3D, VR and AR on the web (Chrome Dev Summit 2019)

WebXR Device API

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