Terrorism destroyed this museum – but VR has brought it back to life

VR is helping fight the effects of terrorism

The Mosul Museum was the second largest museum in Iraq until it was destroyed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters in February 2015.

But even though the bricks-and-mortar building has been wrecked and its artefacts looted, the museum and its exhibits live on, recreated in a VR world – and you can now explore the museum from anywhere in the world with a VR headset.

The museum was home to some of Iraq's most important cultural artefacts, and I was able to experience them all again through the world of VR, thanks to a collaboration between Project Mosul and The Economist,

Fighting back

I was invited to tour a virtual version of the museum while at the Wearable Technology Show 2016 in London. I strapped on a Gear VR headset and Samsung Galaxy S6, and the tour began with my avatar walking up the steps to the museum door and entering the building.

Everything has been stitched together by Project Mosul, which has used a variety of donated photos and other media to get the most accurate representation of how the museum looked before it was destroyed.

3D scanning has enabled the project to include accurate representations of rooms and exhibits.

Mosul Museum

The experience wasn't photorealistic – sometimes it felt a little like I was in a museum recreated in Second Life, and I was expecting a higher-resolution experience. I also think the focus was on what the technology employed here can do, rather than the museum itself.

The voiceover and video employed through the virtual exhibit explained how Project Mosul has created this 3D world. But all I really wanted to do was explore the museum at my own leisure, rather than be told how it was created.

That said, this project offers the next best thing to what the terrorists destroyed last year, and this technology will enable us to create places we could never otherwise access.

The technology is certainly limited right now, especially on a Gear VR – but imagine being able to put this project into HTC Vive, and get up close to museum exhibits and view them from every angle.

A few weeks after seeing how Project Tango can change the existing museum experience, this experience is further evidence of what technology can achieve in this area.