Finalists in an VR challenge in Trinidad and Tobago

Explore Tobago - Underwater.

That’s the whole idea. Last year, marine researchers out of Trinidad and Tobago produced some amazing imagery capturing numerous locations off the coast of Tobago.

A slice of life from the Maritime Ocean Collection

Their project is called the Maritime Ocean Collection and it features many 360-degree images. So with the right device, you could look all around in a given image and get a decent appreciation of a particular spot.

As a scuba diver, I was enrapt. These images came out right after I had really good dive, that I couldn’t properly record. My camera gave out on us and we were super disappointed. They let me re-live those recent experiences, especially as they were still very fresh in my mind. And they showed me how much more there was to go.

Literally a month after I saw the Collection, the The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) announced a VR competition.

My ideas as a developer, experiences as a diver and curiosity about the work of those researchers gave me that push to participate in CARIRI’s competition.

The result was Explore Tobago - Underwater - a prototype that let’s you do just that. It’s web-based, can be used with something as simple as a Google Cardboard and uses images from the Collection. The idea of “walking around” underwater, clicking on an interesting object and learning more and getting even a sense of that world is the core goal.

Explore Tobago - Underwater. Proof of concept

This VR project made it all the way to the finals of the CARIRI competition. The finals. We didn’t win. I was legit sour for a whole minute.

But my team had decided to collaborate with the Collection’s researchers to build this out regardless of the result. The value of the idea as a tool for education, exploration and just a very cool way of seeing our natural resources was much greater than the estimation of a competition’s judges.

As the developers and researchers who met because of the competition started to talk and explore collaboration to make it reality, Microsoft Ignite dropped an amazing bomb.

The Squid, in VR at Microsoft Ignite.

The explanation for that squid starts from about 71 minutes in on the video below. Researchers, Edie Widder & Vincent Pieribone demonstrated mixed reality solutions, focused on underwater exploration.

I mean. My jaw dropped. It was so cool. It was also a great point of validation. Watching them talk about the kind of inspiration, the way VR can be a doorway for education and excitement were the same beats I flowed with when talking about Explore Tobago - Underwater.

There’s something the government representative said in their remarks in the first video above. It was that the VR solutions proposed can stand up with any in the world. As I wrote, we’re exploring how to make the experimental version real. It’s a tough journey, but we can already see that making it, both connects to a global movement and demonstrates to the world the beauty of our home.