Charles Darwin viewed eyes as the epitome of evolution by natural selection, describing them as organs of extreme perfection and complication. The visual system is therefore fertile ground for teaching fundamental concepts in optics and biology, subjects with scant representation during the rise and spread of immersive technologies in K-12 education. The visual system is an ideal topic for three-dimensional (3D) virtual reality learning environments (VRLEs), and here we describe a 3D VRLE that simulates the vision of a tarsier, a nocturnal primate that lives in southeast Asia. Tarsiers are an enduring source of fascination for having enormous eyes, both in absolute size and in proportion to the size of the animal. Our motivation for developing a tarsier-inspired VRLE, or Tarsier Goggles, is to demonstrate the optical and selective advantages of hyper-enlarged eyes for a nocturnal visual predator. In addition to greater visual sensitivity, users also experience reductions in visual acuity and color vision. On a philosophical level, we can never know the visual world of another organism, but advances in 3D VRLEs allow us to try in the service of experiential learning and educational outreach.
Tarsier Goggles is a virtual reality (VR) project that allows everyone to experience how a tarsier might see. It serves as a tool to engage in hands-on scientific concepts in optics, perceptual science, and evolutionary biology, and also challenges our own thinking about our environment. The experience is self-guided and allows users to toggle between human and tarsier in order to explore different realistic environments with both sets of eyes. Built in Unity3D with SteamVR for the HTC Vive Pro. For various functionalities like teleportation, splash screens, and tooltips for our tutorial, we use Virtual Reality Toolkit (VRTK), an open source library. For many of the visual effects, we used Unity’s built-in post-processing stack. Our assets were built in Maya.
Nathaniel Dominy, Samuel Gochman, and the Dartmouth Applied Learning & Innovation Lab (DALI). Tarsier Goggles: a virtual reality tool for experiencing the optics of a dark-adapted primate visual system. https://dali-lab.github.io/tarsier/, December 2018.