The Cape Town-based design company, Formula D Interactive, has beaten thousands of entries from 46 nations to win a prestigious Red Dot Award in the category Interface Design. The accolade was awarded to them for showing "uncompromising competency and considerable courage" in the development of the world's first Virtual Reality (VR) shark senses exhibit.
Marco Rosa, MD of Formula D interactive, says the company was approached by the Save our Seas Shark Education Centre, in Kalk Bay Cape Town, and Sunfish Consulting to develop the experiential exhibit which it completed earlier this year.
“Our goal was to help visitors to the centre better understand sharks’ formidable senses of smell, hearing, sight and touch and, in turn, encourage them to support conservation projects. VR is becoming a powerful tool to explain new concepts and complex theories – scientific or otherwise - to people of all ages.”
Creating demand for South African design
Rosa adds that he believes that winning the sought after Red Dot Design Award 2016 not only adds to Formula D interactive’s reputation, but also raises South Africa’s profile as a country that delivers creative and technically outstanding products that exceed international standards.
“I believe the South African design industry has everything it takes to export to international markets. The Red Dot Award reinforces the fact that we not only meet international standards, but we often surpass them. The added bonus for international clients is that they can obtain South African design services at an attractive price, due to the favourable exchange rate, making them excellent value for money.”
Being a shark
The custom-built Shark Senses exhibit features a VR helmet in the shape of a shark’s head that is mounted on a handle bar, which allows for a 120-degree rotation of the visor. Physical feedback mechanisms such as vibration motors (for the touch sense) and fans (to simulate the smell sense) were also incorporated into the exhibit. Focusing on the incredible long distance ranges of hearing, scent and vision of sharks, users are challenged to hunt for prey in a 3D underwater setting using the right shark senses at the right time.
Initially, users are asked to practice swimming through a narrow tunnel. To move forward, they need to press a red button on the handle bar. Following voice-over prompts, they navigate their virtual shark avatar by moving the head to the left or the right. Meanwhile the virtual prey, a tuna, tries to escape. After the introduction, the VR hunt begins and users are challenged to determine the right direction by listening to their prey. If they complete the “hunt” successfully, the user’s virtual shark opens its jaws and eats the prey. Mission accomplished!