Preparing for the Next Tsunami with Virtual Reality

Preparing for the Next Tsunami with Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift simulation could help prepare for natural disasters

Leo Lutero
  • 16 march 2016

It is in Japan’s geology and geography to be prone to tsunamis. The highly advanced society suffered a disaster in 2011, when Japan’s east coast was devoured by waves reaching up to 40.5 meters high. Aiming to prepare citizens for a similar disaster, faculty at the Aichi University of Technology is using the Oculus Rift DK2 as a convincing head-worn simulator of cities being devoured by monster waves.

One of the worst things you can do in an emergency situation is panic and the best solution to panic is experience. With the grand scale at which tsunamis occur, it’s impractical to build simulators aiming to educate the entire country. The next best thing would be virtual reality where people can actually experience the terror of floodwater rushing left and right minus the danger. These kinds of immersive experience can help people cope, plan and remain coherent even under pressure during real-world situations.

VR content for the tsunami simulator was created by Dr. Tomoko Itamiya, an associate professor at the Itamiya Lab, Department of Engineering at Aichi University of Technology. He has created three simulations, excerpts of which has been uploaded on YouTube.

On the first simulation, you become a driver trying to escape the rushing waters only to end up in a pile. There, your car is immersed in water, lifted up from the ground and carried with the current. Although the video did not specify any gameplay aspect (the main character sits still), the fact that you remain trapped inside your car creates a helpless claustrophobia that could remind citizens to avoid riding cars during tsunamis and prefer hiking to higher ground if possible instead.

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The two other videos make use of YouTube’s 360° capability. These simulations are set in Handa-city in Aichi and Asakusa, Tokyo. To review, these two cities weren’t the main impact points of the 2011 tsunamis which occurred mainly on the east coast of Japan’s main island. However, these two locations are still prone to tsunamis being generally close to shores that open to the Pacific Ocean.


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