Making (Virtual) History
Exploring an historic sailing ship gave Sujan Shrestha a modern idea. He was aboard the topsail schooner Lady Maryland, a replica of a vessel that from colonial times transported cargo along the eastern seaboard.
"The Living Classrooms Foundation uses Lady Maryland to engage students in the craft and environmental sustainability of shipbuilding," explains Shrestha, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies. "I thought, what if we could deploy 3-D virtual reality (VR) technology to help people understand how historic ships were constructed and used?"
The resulting project, informally titled Baltimore’s Ships, is engaging Shrestha and his students in creating 3-D models of historic ships as part of a simulation game they are developing for K-12 students. Producing a VR game optimized for teaching requires an exceptional combination of skills, says Shrestha. "Besides understanding the mathematics and logic of technical design, the students immerse themselves into details and stories of the historic period,” he explains. “They become specialists in engineering practices, the region’s available materials and environmental influences."
Baltimore’s Ships is a product of UB’s GameLab, established in 2016 as a space where students and scholars develop educational tools and solutions to real-world problems through games and simulation. The lab offers a variety of technologies such as the UB-student constructed CAVE automatic VR environment for creating virtual interactive experiences. CAVE is used alongside tools for digital imaging, graphic design, mapping and game development.
The team anticipates that Baltimore’s Ships will be ready for launch in 2018. Says Shrestha, who is beginning outreach efforts to distribute the game in area schools and museums, "It’s extremely satisfying to be able to use sophisticated technology to bring the Baltimore tradition of shipbuilding and the city’s maritime history to life."