Aufbruch in neue Welten: Hamburg auf VR-Kurs © Yvonne Scheller

Hamburg to become "gate to virtual worlds"

Hamburg funding forward-looking virtual, augmented and mixed reality sector

Dr. Carsten Brosda, Senator for Culture and Media, ventured into unknown territory in mid December when he had to open a virtual oven door, grab a shovel of coal and throw it into a fire at “Speicherstadt digital”. Brosda remarked: “Putting the full load of coal into the oven was not easy. And 19th century workers in Speicherstadt could never have dreamed that we would relive their lives and work in a virtual world 100 years later. But that is exactly what we are doing.”

Reliving the past with augmented reality

The free “Speicherstadt digital” app project provides historic photos, background information, audio plays, augmented reality and virtual reality experiences of Hamburg’s UNESCO World Heritage site. An additional platform on Google Arts & Culture offers new insight into the Speicherstadt’s history and is part of the overall Urban Digitalisation Strategy. The app is available for Android and iOS operating systems. Many of the photographs stem from the archives of the Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg, Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) and the state archives. Explanatory texts and reports by contemporaries give insight into the origins of the Speicherstadt and everyday life there. A map enables users to get their bearings quickly. People can watch 360-degree views of the historic warehouse, cross streets and bridges and even go on a virtual canal boat tour.

Spherie drone

Virtual reality elements developed by the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg are bringing history alive in Speicherstadt Digital until March 2018 (Dialoghaus, Alter Wandrahm 4). Visitors can play games on monitors in the so-called “dialogue house” to learn more about work in the Speicherstadt 100 years ago. Virtual reality headsets and controllers are also available for 3D views of workers shovelling coal in the boiler room, for instance, in the warehouse.

Another exciting project is helping to solidify the Speicherstadt’s importance as Hamburg’s virtual reality hotspot. Soon artists and creative people will be able to move into affordable workspace in the 10,000 square metre M28-Speicher spread over eight floors – a mere 10-minute walk from the Elbphilharmonie. A virtual reality headquarters i.e. joint working area in the Speicherblock caters especially to VR start-ups. Initiated by Hamburg’s pioneering Spice VR, Spherie, Noys VR and the VR Nerds, the M28-Speicher is due to open in spring.

Not far off, SpiceVR is developing virtual reality and 360-degree drone experiences. The start-up and Jonathan Hesselbarth have developed a drone called Spherie, which is capable of delivering 3D data and 360-degree film footage, and create unseen VR experiences. Neither the film crew nor the drone are visible on screen.

Boundless possibilities for VR in film, marketing and urban development

SpiceVR took part in the 6th Dubai Hamburg Business Forum in late November 2017 where visitors from the United Arab Emirates showed keen interest in the “Spherie” drone. Nicolas Chibac, CEO of SpiceVR, said: “We have been invited to present our technology in Dubai again in 2018. Virtual reality and drones are big issues in Dubai. Plans for manned drone traffic or flying taxis are being mulled at present there.“ In Hamburg, the emphasis is on perfecting the drone, which is steered manually at the moment. In future, the drone will look for the ideal route itself and draw up a 3D model and a photo realistic texture will be added later. Chibac and his team have stressed the potential of virtual reality technology to create such worlds and its use in e.g. the movies, the property sector, tourism, marketing and urban planning.

New Masters course in “Digital Reality“

Another step towards making Hamburg a “gate to virtual worlds” has been taken with the creation of nextReality.Hamburg e.V. – a joint initiative for the media and digital industry. Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft, a municipal institution that promotes creative industries, has become the new administrator of nextMedia.Hamburg and will cater to the needs of the media industry as one. On January 1, 2018, Hamburg Invest became the main point of contact for knowledge and technology-based start-ups in Hamburg. Hopes are high that the interaction between commerce, science will make Hamburg a hotspot of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality und 360° degree videos. To this end, the University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) is offering a new Masters course in “Digital Reality” from March 2018 to meet demands for skilled workers and experts in the sector. Students will attend courses in computer sciences, programming, network technology, mathematics, the Internet of Things, Human Computer Interaction and games engines for creating 3D worlds over four terms.

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