The UK's National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and web and mobile developers Entropy Reality have launched the Colossus VR experience. Visitors can virtually stroll around two of the museum's galleries and immerse themselves in the story of Colossus and how Bletchley Park code breakers cracked a complex cipher used by the German High Command in WWII. The VR experience is due to be released as an app later in the year, allowing anyone with a supported headset to tour the exhibits without leaving home.
Colossus certainly lives up to its name. The world's first semi-programmable electronic computer contained around 2,400 valves and was able to read up to 25,000 characters per second. It was designed to break a teleprinter (teletypewriter) encryption system dubbed Tunny by the folks working at Bletchley, and manufactured by the Lorenz company. The enormous machine's first day of work was February 5, 1944. By the end of WWII, some 63 million characters of German communications had been decrypted by the combined efforts of 550 codebreakers and 10 Colossus computers.
In 1992, work began on a rebuild of a working Colossus machine. The project was completed in 2007 and the Colossus workshop room was subsequently transformed into a viewing gallery at the museum. And now this gallery, along with the Tunny gallery, have been captured by six GoPro Hero 4 video cameras operated by Entropy Reality. The data then had to be processed, a truly colossal task in itself.
"The biggest challenge was Colossus," said CEO Eddie Vassallo. "Its size and detail are mind-blowing in real life – for the virtual world, we required massive servers to process its 65 million points of data. Each shot took 31 hours to process and export! Then we had the huge post-production task of stitching together all our images and deploy various tricks of the trade, just like a magician, to make sure the viewer looks where we want them to."
The first phase of the VR project has just been completed, and will be used by on-site visitors as part of the museum's Summer Bytes festival that runs from Thursday to Saturday every week until August 27. The tech will also be used by museum staff at roadshows, followed by the release of an app for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or a VR-compatible handset.
Phase two will incorporate touch elements into the experience, and the third phase will allow users to actually send messages between locations.
Source: The National Museum of Computing
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