Macquarie Island station goes virtual

View of Macquarie Island research station from Wireless Hill.
The Macquarie Island Modernisation Project will construct a new research station on the sub-Antarctic island that meets the long term needs of the Australian Antarctic Program and its stakeholders. The existing research station was built in 1948 and has been operating continuously ever since. (Photo: Greg Stone)
Madeleine and David Rayward standing in front of a pine tree.

Macquarie Island research station will be captured in 360 degree virtual reality this month, to assist station redevelopment and provide a historical record of the current buildings.

Australian Antarctic Division Macquarie Island Modernisation Project Manager, Adrian Young, will travel to the sub-Antarctic island on Australia’s icebreaker, Aurora Australis, today, with a team from Tasmanian business Sky Avenue Photography and Design.

Mr Young said the photographic team will take 360 degree images from inside and outside the station and surrounding environment, and stitch these together to provide a virtual tour of the site.

“This will help the Australian Antarctic Division and the future Managing Contractor to prepare for the design and construction phase of the project, as well as the decommissioning of the current station buildings,” Mr Young said.

“As access is limited, the virtual tour will be a valuable tool to help the Managing Contractor design the new station and understand how the existing facility operates.”

The footage will also give the designers an understanding of the dynamic environmental conditions experienced on the island, especially those in which construction materials will need to be unloaded from the ship, transported to and on the island, and stored.

“We have to transport everything from the Aurora Australis to shore using LARCs [amphibious vehicles] or helicopters, often in challenging weather conditions. This will help them gain an understanding of how cargo operations are undertaken on the island,” Mr Young said.

Over eight days Sky Avenue father-daughter team, David and Madeleine Rayward, will use DSLR cameras with fish eye lenses to capture thousands of images of the site, and a small drone to provide aerial views.

Once stitched together, the images will appear similar to those in Google Street View.

“The 360 degree imagery will be superimposed on a satellite map, so you will be able to see an aerial view of the buildings and little hotspots for each building that you can click on,” Mr Rayward said.

“When you click on a building it will open up and you can look around inside. We’ll include a menu system for each building that will direct you to different areas, like the kitchen or a scientific lab. You can also follow arrows around the floor or across the ground outside.

“Additional areas of interest within buildings or rooms, such as a close up of the main power system, will appear as pop up boxes within the tour and will contain more detailed information.”

Sky Avenue recently completed a virtual tour of the CSIRO Marine National Facility RV Investigator, which joined some 2500 images and required over 95 000 web files. They don’t expect the Macquarie Island station job will be as large, however the weather, rather than the volume of photography, is the main challenge for the pair.

“Capturing 360 degree images in the rain is not usually done because the lenses are curved, so we’ve had to create a special flat lens hood and change our process to be able to do the work,” Mr Rayward said.

The final product will be available to the Macquarie Island Modernisation team in about April. The tour will be viewable on mobile phones and desktop computers, as well as through virtual reality headsets.

Macquarie Island is about 1540 kilometres south of Tasmania, half way to the Antarctic Continent.