Meet Vipin Dhunnoo, a virtual reality developer who is creating immersive experiences to convey the impacts of climate change
Dhunnoo, a developer at immersive entertainment studio Generative Arts, created Aftermath, a virtual reality experience highlighting the impact of climate change in Mauritius that was chosen to be a part of a UN programme promoting sustainability
VRWT: How and why did you get into virtual reality?
Vipin Dhunnoo: As part of my architectural training, I investigated the potential of game engines as tools for visualisation. I started making games to get acquainted with the development system and when virtual reality started becoming mainstream, I thought it was a logical evolution as it utilised similar mechanics but with much better immersion.
As I was undertaking my master’s degree in sustainable environments and planning/project management, I realised that there was a need to better communicate future impacts of climate change on our lives, today. There is so much information, so much research available that it can be a daunting prospect to assimilate it all. Additionally, it is usually specific fields of work, academia for instance, that has more access to this information.
Virtual reality, I found, can be the appropriate medium to spread the word, and the urgency, as it can be deployed regardless of geographical constraints and faces potentially no language barriers.
VRWT: Why is virtual reality such a powerful visualisation tool?
Vipin Dhunnoo: Virtual reality has unique abilities of immersion and interaction. Additionally, you know a technology is special when it brings forth visceral experiences. The ability to simulate simple actions, such as physically picking up virtual objects, is a powerful endeavour indeed.
VRWT: How have you used virtual reality to visualise climate change impact?
Vipin Dhunnoo: The effects of climate change are mostly imperceptible as they take a long time to manifest. What if we could travel in the future to personally experience climate impacts on our environment? This was the premise of the virtual reality project, entitled Aftermath, I have been working on for the past couple of years. It is in fact a time-machine allowing its user to have a personal encounter of an impacted coastal area in Mauritius. The player can discern the before and after scenarios of the affected landscape and navigate through the virtual space.
In addition, they can physically interact with digital objects in the simulated environment and are even able to save animals caught in detritus.
VRWT: Tell us about your work being chosen for the UN programme—what did that entail?
Vipin Dhunnoo: Aftermath was selected to be part of the MY World 360 platform, a collaboration with UN Action Campaign, Digital Promise, Facebook and Oculus, which showcases the use of immersive media to promote the United Nations Sustainable Goals (UN SDGs). The UN SDG Global Festival of Action, a yearly event that took place from 25 to 26 March 2021, aims to “inspire, mobilise and connect people and organisations to take action on the SDGs”.
Works, such as art, photography and use of immersive media were exhibited during the festival, including Aftermath. My work has also presented to a live virtual global audience with the aim of driving discussions around pressing climate issues, but also seeking collaboration.
VRWT: What are you working on during the rest of the year?
Vipin Dhunnoo: One thing I realised is that a simulated virtual reality environment needs to be contextual. My previous project, Aftermath, was based in Mauritius and though people liked the experience, some of the landmarks were unknown to many outside the country. As I am currently in Australia studying, I am adapting the virtual reality climate change project to a local context: a coastal city impacted by climate disaster, which includes flooding and sea level rise.
Additionally, it will also form part of a research project investigating the requirements to trigger climate change awareness in virtual reality.
VRWT: How can anyone who is interested in working with you get in touch?
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Images: Vipin Dhunnoo