Authors: Dr. Don Engel , Mark Murnane , Nicole Trenholm , Ben Daniels , Jeffrey Halverson
Abstract: Spherical displays such as Science on a Sphere and Magic Planet enable viewers to view data which is intrinsically spherical in nature without distortion. Much of this data is geographic, such as visualizations of observed or modelled data about a planet’s surface, surface temperatures, weather patterns, and tectonic activity. These displays have also enabled a new form of spherical storytelling using two-dimensional content, including content captured from 360º cameras and displayed inside-out on the surface of a sphere. While spherical data and commercial off-the-shelf cameras have become increasingly available, and while the volume of freely available content intended for use on spherical displays continues to grow (e.g. https://sos.noaa.gov/Datasets/ and 360º videos on YouTube), there remains a very limited set of tools for viewing this data on a spherical surface. Modern Science on a Sphere displays are primarily found only in museums. They are complex and expensive, depending on projection mapping from four 4K projectors and on paid software licenses from NOAA. Magic Planet displays are primarily found in classrooms and are intended to be used with the proprietary software made available by their manufacturer, Global Imagination. Here, we describe our ongoing work to create open-source alternatives for spherical and VR hardware, the first of which, released in conjunction with this publication as version 1.0, is a remote-controlled, platform-independent software alternative for displaying on Magic Planet hardware. Future releases will support stereoscopic monitors and head-mounted displays such as the HTC Vive Pro.