Realcast plunges visitors to museums and cultural sites into an unforgettable immersive experience
Founded by two Ubisoft alumni, Realcast combines digital, educational and fun to create mixed reality experiences that take place in historical or cultural sites. With several public and critical successes, they continue to develop new projects using Microsoft's HoloLens headsets.
Close your eyes and imagine.
You are at the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, in Paris.
You have just visited the exhibition "Hell and Ghosts of Asia", the cultural success of the summer, and are now slowly strolling through the quiet corridors of the museum's media library. Suddenly, around a shelf, you startled: a spectral entity quickly appeared in front of you, giggling and grinning. You reach out your hand; you could touch it if it wasn't immaterial. How can we drive this ghost out of the world of the living and send it back to the world of the dead?
In this mixed-reality system developed by the French start-up Realcast, the majority of interactions with sets, characters and objects are done through the eyes: all you have to do is stare at an element for a few seconds to "catch it" and then look at the place where you want to place it. A simple use that delights young and old who come with their families to participate in this immersive adventure, never before seen in a museum.
Simplify access to knowledge and culture
This success illustrates the enthusiasm not only of the public, but also of institutions, for gamification, a process that aims to improve a service by adding a playful dimension to it in order to engage the " user " in the experience and make him or her act.
In the world of education, in particular, examples of gamification of learning are multiplying: in primary school, Skype Mystère uses riddles to bring students closer to other classes around the world; in secondary school, the Minecraft Education construction game facilitates learning about technology and science; and in higher education, universities are introducing role-playing games into students' curricula.
Beyond learning, gamification now shows that it can also facilitate access to culture. "Visiting a museum can no longer be reduced to a passive journey but must become an experience during which the visitor becomes an actor, interacts with the place, its collections, its exhibitions and other visitors", underlined already, in 2014, a report from the Club Innovation & Culture France (Clic France). It could not be better said.
From Raving Rabbids to the Louvre
The two co-founders of Realcast know about games: they met at Ubisoft, the French video game champion. Nino Sapina worked there for seven years as executive producer; he notably worked on "Raving Rabbids" and "Just Dance" - two of the publisher's biggest franchises. Diego Fernandez Bravo was Senior Programmer, then Producer.
The two friends then met at Softbank Robotics (ex-Aldebaran), the French designer of the famous Pepper robot, seen in Renault advertising. Before deciding to start and found their own company, dedicated to mixed reality.
Their first project, which will also become their business card, takes the visitor from the Saint-Louis hall of the Louvre Museum to the 15th century. In the role of a knight in shining armour, he must find (virtual) objects hidden in the (real) room and use them to progress in the scenario.
Why this choice of culture? "Our DNA, both Diego's and mine, is general public," says Nino Sapina. The universal aspect of mixed reality seemed to us to be culturally appropriate. We want to put this experience at the service of heritage so that, with the help of a headset, we can bring two worlds together. The visitor remains in the reality of the monument or room he is visiting, but he can interact with what he sees appear before his eyes - grasping a torch, for example. The desire is not to replace the real but to bring something extra to it with the help of a scenario-based story. We are convinced that mixed reality can democratise access to culture but also, conversely, that culture can democratise access to mixed reality".
Rise in power
Impressed by the experience of the Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac Museum, Château de Chamarande, built in 1603 and now owned by the Essonne Departmental Council, asks Realcast to design an immersive experience for its visitors.
"We have imagined a virtual guide that accompanies visitors," says Nino Sapina. He introduces them to all the key figures and events in the history of the castle over the centuries. And we have also added a collaborative mode that allows visitors, who often come to this type of place with their families, to interact with each other.
Available from September to November 2018, the virtual visit to Chamarande is a real success: the satisfaction questionnaire completed by more than 1,000 visitors has received nearly 90% positive opinions.
Since then, projects have followed one another for Realcast. The City of Boulogne-Billancourt, in the Hauts-de-Seine, is calling on the start-up to mark its 700th anniversary. Realcast chose to tell the story of the city through its church, which was completely reconstructed in 3D for the occasion. Here again, interactivity and collaboration encourage visitor immersion.
The latest project in progress is still top secret. We just know that the sponsor is the very young Musée de la Libération in Paris, and that its premises at Place Denfert-Rochereau, a few steps from the Parisian catacombs, will be the scene of the scenario designed by Realcast's teams. And that, unlike previous ephemeral experiences, this one will be permanent.
HoloLens, the key to success
Since its creation, Realcast has chosen to make the universes it imagines a reality with Microsoft's HoloLens mixed reality headset. "It is simply the most technically advanced solution, both in terms of tracking - to place holograms, follow the user's eyes, etc. - that in terms of accessibility and setup," says Nino Sapina. And we also have excellent feedback from users about HoloLens' ergonomics, which is still quite light to wear and offers the best audio quality on the market" - a decisive asset in helping the user to immerse himself in the virtual world.
Another essential criteria is the ease of implementation of the tool. One of the least visible aspects of Realcast's business is to make mixed reality available in the places it invests. "This means deploying a dedicated Wi-Fi network, installing a central server, providing HoloLens headsets for the duration of the experience... We take care of everything, but our relationship with Microsoft is essential to the success of each project." says Nino Sapina.
Same enthusiasm for the development aspect. "Microsoft Mixed Reality Toolkit has been allowing developers to develop applications made specifically for Mixed Reality (MR) for more than two years." explains Diego Fernandez Bravo. This SDK covers all the specific needs of this new media, from the management of spatial anchors, user interfaces that work with gaze, gestures or 6-DOF devices, to the sharing of spatial data between MR devices to enable multiplayer modes while being multi-platform by nature and extensible by the developers themselves.
We can't wait for HoloLens 2!
Always on the lookout for new developments in the sector, Nino Sapina went to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in early 2019. He was able to discover HoloLens 2, which Microsoft presented in a world exclusive at this exhibition. He came back very enthusiastic: "Microsoft listened to the feedback from developers and users and made a lot of improvements," says the CEO. A better angle of view, gesture recognition, an even lighter and more comfortable helmet... It's really impressive."
This is enough to confirm the company's choice of this technology. "In mixed reality, more so than in any other field, technology is key, but it must not cut off from the real world. The more natural the experience seems to the user, the better. And this is exactly the path Microsoft is taking with HoloLens 2, and now it is up to us, developers and publishers, to make the necessary efforts on content. Learning, education, play... All this blends together. People no longer want to be passive, they want interaction. It is up to us to give it to them via the tools made available to us by Microsoft." concludes Nino Sapina.
Traduction of a text published on the Microsoft blog on March 11, 2019
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