Local firm hopes to spread 4D booths in museums across Canada for 150th birthday bash

SimWave wants to put Canadians right in the thick of some of the country’s most memorable historical events over the course of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

The Ottawa-based virtual reality firm will be demonstrating its Vimy Ridge 4D booth – where 3D film is synchronized with effects – Thursday from 1 p.m to 7 p.m. at Orange Art Gallery at 290 City Centre Ave. The booth is still a work in progress but SimWave is hoping to have it officially ready for museums by July.

The idea grew from parent company SimFront, which works on non-virtual reality simulations for military exercises. 

SimWave had partnered with the Royal Ottawa Hospital to help with immersive therapy VR, but a lack of funding put the program on the backburner. 

“We had these Oculus Rifts (virtual reality headsets) and we started exploring the idea of developing a similar environment that would recreate the soldiers PTSD issue for treatment,” says SimWave CFO Adam Caithness. 

“From the PTSD world we started talking about history . . . and museums,” Mr. Caithness says. “Kids don’t want to just come in and read plaques anymore, that’s not cool. Looking at the artifact in the display case lasts all of five seconds. So the virtual reality stuff came in.” 

Museums were looking to make their programs more interactive, and that’s where SimWave came in, Mr. Caithness says. Having a 4D experience was the logical progression. 

“You’ve already got the goggles on, the headset on . . . but what if the floor shook while you were driving a tank or what if you could feel the heat of an artillery shell going off, really bringing you in there.”

In the Vimy scenario demo, the user enters the 6x6-foot box and is assailed by cold as they march across the desolate battlefield of Vimy, the ground shaking beneath them as artillery is fired off. The entire scenario, when complete, will run five minutes and involve climbing a ladder out of a ditch and putting on a gas mask. 

SimWave hopes to have their booth installed in museums across Canada in 2017 and has filed an application to be a signature vendor. That would bring a lot of publicity for their booth, along with money from Heritage Canada’s Canada 150 fund.

SimWave already has 37 museums across the country committed to using the its exhibit should they receive the funding. 

The 150 celebration scenario will involve an interactive map of Canada, where the user will choose a province or territory and be transported there to live out an historical moment important in that province or territory’s history. 

SimWave has partnered with Stéphane Bouchard, the Canada Research Chair in Clinical Cyberpsychology at The Université du Québec en Outaouais to help their bid, as government funds are usually less likely to be handed out to for-profit companies, Mr. Caithness says. 

Total funding of the project would require $5.5 million. If the firm receives full funding from the federal government, SimWave could get up to $4.5 million, with the rest coming from inside the company. 

If accepted, the booths would remain in the museums for a year with support from SimWave, with an option to be upgradeable with new scenarios, should the museums be interested.  

“We’re hoping once they’ve seen the technology, seen what it can do, they’re going to want to order some custom new software related to their museum’s focus,” Mr. Caithness said. “They’re going to say ‘Well, I want someone to fly this plane we’ve got here.’” 

With new funding, SimWave would also be able to grow its current team of seven. 

The company will also have one of the first exhibits at the new Science and Technology Museum when it reopens close to 2017, where the user will be able to operate a train.