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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Take a city tour of Dubai – inside a projection theatre ball

Opening on Wednesday, The Sphere, a 15-metre diameter ball, shows shoppers in Dubai Mall views of the city like they've never been seen before, and all for free.
Dubai Mall shoppers can step inside the giant ball in the Star Atrium, walking along a suspended footbridge to the centre of the ball, and experience a fast-paced six-minute film of Dubai shot in 360 degrees. Victor Besa for The National
Dubai Mall shoppers can step inside the giant ball in the Star Atrium, walking along a suspended footbridge to the centre of the ball, and experience a fast-paced six-minute film of Dubai shot in 360 degrees. Victor Besa for The National
DUBAI // Breathtaking views from a rarely seen perspective are on show to the public at the world’s largest interactive virtual city tour.

The city comes alive within a sphere presented by Dubai 360, a website that offers panoramic views.

Dubai Mall shoppers can step inside a giant ball in the Star Atrium, walk along a suspended footbridge to the centre of the ball, and experience a fast-paced six-minute film of Dubai shot in 360 degrees.

The installation is a 15-metre diameter spherical projection theatre, built by San Francisco company Obscura Digital.

Open for public viewing for free, visitors to the Sphere will witness cutting-edge technology from the moment they step inside.

Powered by 18 projectors running simultaneously, the dome-surround projections show iconic locations such as Burj Khalifa and The Palm Jumeirah in a way never seen before.

Project manager Ismaeil Al Hashmi said: “The launch of Dubai 360 has established new standards for how people experience a city. The Sphere is another extension of that experience.

“The basic idea was to create a physical space where we take the high-quality, panoramic content from the Dubai 360 website and present it in a unique way, to offer a fully immersive journey.”

Dubai 360 is the first virtual city tour that uses fully interactive and immersive 360-degree panoramic photo, time-lapse and video content.

With content filmed at the pinnacle of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, site users can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city, with sweeping panoramas down Sheikh Zayed Road and Dubai’s coast.

Viewers also can travel to the luxurious Royal Suite at the Burj Al Arab and appreciate gold-clad interiors, opulent rooms and stunning sea views.

Obscura Digital chief executive and founder Chris Lejeune said the project could be the start of a long-term partnership with Dubai 360.

“This is the first time we have done a temporary installation in a full sphere,” he said.

“Similar spheres have been done but they are smaller. This is the largest we know of, and the first as a portable experience.

“Dubai is always willing to do ambitious and interesting projects and we are always looking to push the boundaries of technology for human experience.”

In honour of the UAE’s 40th anniversary, Obscura created a series of elaborate projections illuminating two culturally significant landmarks, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and the Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain.

Mr Lejeune compared the latest developments at Obscura with those at Google and other innovators.

He said the Sphere offers the user a visual output equivalent to stepping outside into the world but powered by the mobile tech you carry around in lightweight, wearable hardware.

Devices will project artificial, but realistic images directly onto a user’s retina.

“There is a big push in virtual reality now,” added Mr Lejeune. “People are blurring the lines of media and physical reality.

“You are able to get a group of people into a space to share this kind of media in a virtual way like nothing else. It is very different to putting on a pair of gaming goggles, and a simple personal experience.

“We have only just begun and hope to work a lot further with the Dubai 360 team to develop it as a platform and find new uses for it.

“We have a big interest in education and have a series of projects for environmental films to teach people about climate and what is going on in the world. It would be good to do that with a dome.”

Smaller education projects involving dome-surround projections in planetariums have been trialled in UAE classrooms. A fixed planetarium seating 72 people has been in place at the Gems World Academy in Al Barsha since 2008, and there is a similar one at the Gems World Academy in Abu Dhabi.

Advanced Sensory Education involves inflatable domes equipped with a 540-degree projection system.

Tommy Wakefield-Smith, a South African consultant who lives in Dubai, is the co-founder of ASE. “Obscura Digital has demonstrated the incredible possibilities of immersive entertainment and education,” he said.

“I hope Dubai 360 considers its use for further immersive sensory educational shows for children, as it has great potential to become another one of Dubai’s world-leading attractions.”

The Sphere will remain open until March 18.

nwebster@thenational.ae