Experience a World War II Lancaster bomber in stunning VR

9 Aug 2018

Immersive VR Education tries to realistically recreate the sights from a Lancaster bomber during a raid on Berlin in 1943. Image: Immersive VR Education

Waterford firm recreates 1943 Berlin bomber raid in VR for the BBC to mark 100 years of the RAF.

Innovative Waterford start-up Immersive VR Education has teamed up with the BBC to recreate the experience of a World War II bombing raid over Berlin.

The company, a previous Start-up of the Week on Siliconrepublic.com, was commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland’s ‘Rewind’ archive innovation team, in conjunction with the BBC’s central VR team, to develop the experience.

The company previously recreated VR experiences of the Titanic tragedy and the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The latest Lancaster bomber experience was developed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the RAF.

1943: Berlin Blitz puts viewers in the shoes of BBC war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and allows them to retrace his journey on a genuine bombing raid to Berlin at the height of World War II.

The VR creation takes the viewer into the belly of a Lancaster bomber high over Berlin with anti-aircraft shells bursting all around, while Vaughan-Thomas’s dramatic commentary vividly captures both the danger and excitement of a bombing raid.

“The Berlin Blitz was an exciting project for us,” said Sandra Whelan, co-founder of Immersive VR Education, adding that working with the BBC teams was “a fantastic experience”.

“Initiatives like this really allow us to move forward on our primary goal, which is to bring immersive technologies such as AR and VR to distance learning, and to transform the ways in which people all over the world learn about and experience events both past and present.”

A vision for the future of education

Immersive VR was founded by husband and wife team David and Sandra Whelan. The company recently raised £6m in a listing on Dublin’s Enterprise Securities Market and the AIM in London.

A spin-out from Waterford Institute of Technology’s research-based TSSG, Immersive VR Education’s platform provides VR content that can be used in schools, colleges, universities, research centres and corporate training to teach any subject in a virtual environment. Students can fully immerse themselves in the experience, making hard-to-visualise concepts easy to understand.

From inception to creation, the blitz project took six of the company’s 34-person team four months in total to build.

“To create the experience, the team gathered hundreds of photographs of Lancaster bombers and all of the original mission data in order to recreate the historic event,” David Whelan explained.

“We pretty much recreated the mission with everything being historically accurate, right down to the smouldering Berlin landscape below.”

Immersive VR Education used BBC archive material of the original radio broadcast of Vaughan-Thomas’s report which went out over the airwaves on 4 September 1943, just a few hours after the Lancaster bomber plane landed back at RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire.

The Lancaster was the most successful heavy bomber employed by the RAF in World War II and, along with the Spitfire, became something of a British icon in the wake of the war. More than 7,000 of the planes were built, flying upwards of 150,000 sorties.

Sandra Whelan said that the Waterford company is working to a vision whereby VR will become a staple part of education. “It is difficult to describe the VR experience to people and how advanced it is becoming. It would be like describing television to a world that only had radio. However, the interest is there and, as hardware becomes more affordable, the industry will grow exponentially.

“For our part, we are dedicated to transforming how educational content is delivered and consumed globally by providing educators and corporate trainers with the tools they need to create their own content in virtual classrooms or virtual training environments.

“Our vision for the future is to see virtual reality become a staple tool for education and training, and we strive to produce quality experiences that demonstrate this to a broader demographic through our work on showcase experiences.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years