SIGGRAPH 2004 - The 31st international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques
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Swimming Across the Pacific
In this virtual swimming apparatus, a swimmer is suspended in a swimming cage wearing a hang-gliding harness, a head-mounted-display, and eight tracking sensors. When the apparatus is installed in an airplane flying across the Pacific Ocean, a performer will swim for the entire duration of the flight, and the plane, a bubble of non-time and non-space, will become a collaborative artistic space.

Life Enhancement
Swimming across the Pacific is a compelling swimming experience that enhances life in four main areas:

1. Entertainment. The sensation of swimming in virtual water while suspended in air is highly enjoyable. The apparatus may look clumsy, but it is very comfortable, and it gives a strong sense of floating because it supports the body quite well.

2. Sports. The simulated swimming requires exertion of energy to move through the space. Just as in any sport, often it is the process of doing that is enjoyable and satisfying. Virtual swimming is about the fun of the activity as much as the destination.

3. Education. With this apparatus, people who are afraid of the water can learn to swim and enjoy the pleasures of body movement while floating. For researchers, Swimming Across the Pacific supports investigation into new ways of engaging the body for navigation through virtual spaces. For participants, engagement of the body while moving around virtual space heightens their sensory experiences.

4. Art. This project is part of a larger artwork. The sense of suspended space and time conveyed by the apparatus is an important component of the overall project. The artwork is intended to introduce a new era of collaborative artistic space through the activity of swimming across the Pacific. Swimming in an airplane creates a bubble of no-space and no-time. In this airplane space, artists, performers, scientists, and others exist without ego for the duration of the flight, as they watch the sunset stand still, eat a performance, and create new works.

The current state of the apparatus permits one person to experience virtual swimming fully immersed in an aquatic environment. The system projects a bird's eye view of the swimmer in the virtual world for the audience to see. An odometer in the scene shows the swimmer's speed and current location above the virtual Pacific Ocean.

One of the virtues of locomotion interfaces is that, regardless of the type of activity (bicycling, walking, running), they all promote physical fitness [Wyshynski and Vincent, 1993]. This is due to the fact that one's whole body becomes involved in the interaction. The ever-changeable virtual environment is capable of turning these interfaces into a sports simulator. The swimming interface could be a major component of water-sports simulation.

The swimming interface also offers a new way to explore knowledge bases. Although this swimming apparatus moves in virtual water, it could be used to move in data spaces that use other liquids as metaphors. Operations such as arm strokes, kicking, paddling, and diving gain new meaning when used to navigate various data spaces, such as financial data, molecular models, 3D artwork, DNA strands, and body cavities. For example, medical students could swim through a framework of blood vessels to investigate human anatomy. Similarly, economists could swim through stock exchange statistics to get a sense of the state of the market.

Using the body as a natural navigation device can dramatically heighten one's sense of scale, distance, meaning, and even self-awareness. Expending energy at a body-scale level may allow a person to understand how objects relate to each other in that frame of reference. A swimming locomotion interface, therefore, provides a thought-provoking method of exploration, even though the current design focuses on swimming from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

Creative use of this technology in an amusement-park setting could provide novel experiences for people who want to escape the ordinary. Whether it is swimming with dolphins and whales, or swimming to escape enemy pursuit, virtual swimming can address the human craving for an enjoyable, relaxing, educational, and, most importantly, safe way to spend leisure time.

In addition to creating a fun, immersive device that simulates swimming as closely as possible, we plan to use this apparatus in our research on active control of dynamic simulations for locomotion (using motion capture systems for animation). We plan to use the device to control dynamic simulations of swimming motions. Swimming Across the Pacific is also the central component of an artwork in which the sense of space and time are shifted while swimming. We intend to use this effect to place the whole apparatus in an airplane that is flying across the Pacific Ocean.

The full-body locomotion apparatus for virtual swimming on a water surface is innovative, especially the mechanical techniques that provide a good sense of floating in water.

The water splashing algorithm is also innovative and helps to make the visualization of swimming more interesting for both swimmer and audience.

The complete system, including the kinematics for animating the swimmer from tracker data, is innovative. It requires skillful integration of hardware design, graphics, virtual reality, instrumentation, and human-computer interaction techniques to provide an enjoyable experience.

Complete Project Information

Sunday, 8 August
1:45 - 3:30 pm
Room 404AB

Sidney Fels
The University of British Columbia

Tzu-Pei Grace Chen
Sidney Fels
Ashley Gadd
Yuichiro Kinoshita
Yasufumi Takama
The University of British Columbia

Kenji Funahashi
Nagoya Institute of Technology

emerging technologies jury and committee
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Conference 8-12 August, Exhibition 10-12 August.  In Los Angeles, CA