VIRTUALDiver is an innovative platform for virtual underwater experiences targeting the cultural and tourism industries. Although, the underwater environment is of great scientific interest regarding all fields of marine research, it has not been exploited broadly yet for cultural and tourism purposes. At the same time, technology in the fields of virtual and augmented reality has undergone considerable development by providing technical solutions for environments that their modelling has been problematic or non-operational for a variety of spatial scales.

In this context, business and investment opportunities are currently being created which this research project strives to exploit. In particular, the goal in VIRTUALDiver is to develop an integrated interactive platform for exploring natural (augmented reality) and virtual (virtual reality) environments in areas of touristic and environmental interest (eg. unique geomorphological structures, shipwrecks, sunken harbors and parks, marine parks, NATURA areas, etc.), in order to enrich travel experience and promote specific and diverse forms of tourism, such as cruise, diving, scientific and other

Significant, multi-temporal, validated knowledge, information and data from the university partners will guarantee a detailed, high-resolution mapping of the marine and terrestrial relief, which will be carried out with state-of-the-art technologies (swath mapping systems, underwater vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles) to create a synthetic topographic relief basemap and to analyze all its particular geomorphological and ecological structures as well as anthropogenic interventions. Through a set of special designed tools for multimedia content management by the involved industrial partners, it will be possible to write narrative scenarios and produce interactive experiences in virtual reality. In this way, users will be able to assimilate to real (or even imaginary) environments through different media (e.g., tablets, virtual reality glasses, etc.), as well as more specialized peripherals. Depending on the medium, the end user will be able to engage in rich material of surveillance, but also immerse himself in a universal experience.

VIRTUALDiver is targeting to timely address this particular market and investment opportunity with regard to the relative current industrial competition in Greece and Europe and at the same time to invest in the development of new knowledge and skills. In particular, the integration of research knowledge into interactive narrative systems will lead to the development of innovative tourism products to promote the complex, challenging, magnificent underwater environment and to attract tourists of general or special interest.

The platform will be piloted for the submarine area of the Santorini caldera but also for the Mediterranean underwater volcano, Kolumbo, and will enable users to navigate virtually in environments accessible only by underwater vehicles and in cost-intensive, research and scientific missions. We are strategically targeting Santorini as one of the most touristic destinations in the world, while the Minoan eruption, which has formed the current caldera 3600 years before, has been screened in international documentaries. The unique geomorphological scenery of the inner slopes of the caldera, which continues on the seabed, the particular settlement development as well as the geological history and evolution of the volcano will be the themes of the interactive narrative of the platform. The platform will use digital bathymetric data, ROVs, as well as topographic terrestrial photogrammetry data from unmanned helicopters (drones) to synthesize 3D digital images of specific areas of tourist interest in high resolution. Finally, the research results will be interpreted in a popular way through the developed platform while the systematic data collection methodology and the virtual representation will be scalable and applicable to any other coastal environment of touristic and/or cultural interest.

The objectives of the project are as follows:

  • The development of an innovative product to provide specialized tourism services, with emphasis on marine – diving and cruise tourism.
  • The combination of the research results of underwater surveys along with terrestrial and overhead data and their exploitation in the creative-cultural industry.
  • The creation of a complex Digital Platform for the realization of Virtual Experiences and the narration of narrative scenarios.
  • The development of a Mapping System and 3D Surveying of the underwater area with emphasis on the interpretation of the geological / geomorphological structures of the Greek seabed and the spatial connection to the coastal area for the needs of the Virtual and Increased Experience.
  • Utilization of the software produced as a service provided by the Partnership Companies, thus creating positions of specialized scientists in the fields of research, culture and tourism.
  • The development of technical terms for the implementation of the platform in other coastal areas of Greece. Linking academic research to entrepreneurship.