Immersive installations for virtual time travel, virtual museums and community engagement by Dr Alan Miller

Dr Alan Miller

School of Computer Science, Open Virtual Worlds research group, University of St Andrews, Scotland and the Smart History company

Immersive installations for virtual time travel, virtual museums and community engagement


This presentation will draw upon two major complementary themes: virtual time travel and the use of immersive technologies for museums.

Virtual Time Travel 

In “A View from a Hill”, a ghost story by M. R. James, an archaeologist’s binoculars allows them to see scenes from the past. This project enables visitors and residents of Edinburgh to see the city as it was just prior to the reformation. In the Virtual Time Binoculars (VTB) project we use mobile phones and the Google Day dream platform to deliver an onsite dual reality experience. As visitors explore the sites of Edinburgh, they can see into the past using their digital time travel binoculars. The app is mobile and orientation aware, automatically delivering the correct view. A map interface allows an engaging experience for remote virtual visitors as well. This approach enables the user experience to be optimised for technology that they already have in their pocket. It makes virtual time travel a reality that is available to mass audiences. This provides a new way of interacting with the past that both enriches the visitor experience and provides insights into the past not otherwise readily available.

Position and orientation within the two worlds are synchronised enabling intuitive exploration of both worlds through movement in the real world. We investigated dual reality systems using modified Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard VR headsets.

Observation of users led to a viewpoint oriented approach, using high fidelity 360 photographs of a reconstruction developed in the UNREAL4 Game Engine. This allows the digital content to be hosted and displayed on mobile platforms and does not require the virtual reality viewer to be tethered to a bulky computer.

The Virtual Time Binoculars project is a core component of the Smart History company founded by Dr Katie Stevenson and Dr Alan Miller. The VTB is an Edinburgh Digital Launchpad project, funded by Innovate UK.

Virtual Museums

Virtual Museums research empowers communities to express their heritage with 360 and 3D technologies. “As well as their traditional role of collecting, preserving and sharing rich collections, museums now find that they play an increasing role in supporting the development of communities.” Museums Association of Britain. This improves user experience, enables community participation and widens engagement with cultural heritage.

The Virtual Museum framework mirrors and provides support for the activities of real world museums. The creation of digital exhibits using 3D and 360 media has been used in and developed through the EU-LAC Museums Horizon 2020 project, in which St Andrews is a lead partner. The Virtual Museum is an output of a series of workshops that have been held in community museums across Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. The virtual museum provides support for:

  • Virtual reality immersive tours using Google Cardboard and mobile phones.
  • Creating Galleries of 3D artefacts for embedding in websites, social media and exhibitions.
  • Developing Virtual Tours of museums and their environs, using 360 media.
  • A community facing wiki, which enables interpretation and engagement.
  • Support for upload of media, archiving and creation of meta data.
  • A toolkit to support the creation of 360 and 3D media.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693669.


Alan Miller has been involved in the use of Virtual World technologies for Cultural Heritage for over 10 years. He is a member of the Open Virtual Worlds (OVW) research group at the University of St Andrews and co-CEO of Smart History, a spin out company specialising in the application of emergent technologies to the promotion, interpretation and preservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Prior to that his research was focused around the complementary strands of real-time multimedia operating systems and technology enhanced learning, so the move into Immersive Learning was quite natural. Current projects include “Virtual Binoculars” which support virtual tours of locations remote in time or space and as part of the EU-LAC Museums project the Open Virtual Worlds Group are working with Museums in Latin America and Europe to develop a virtual museum, which integrates the use of 3D environments, spherical and established media to enable the creation of engaging and ground breaking exhibits. The Digi-tourist project of Northern Peripheries and Arctic Programme, OVW are working with museums in Norway, Iceland and Scotland to enable live, remote and interactive virtual reality tours.


Catherine Anne Cassidy

University of St Andrews, UK

Adeola Fabola

University of St Andrews, UK