Rats move their eyes in different directions, spiders see ultraviolet light, mantis shrimp have 12 color receptors, tarsier's eyes are as large as their brain. Animals perceive the world in fundamentally different ways from our own. We can learn about optics in the classroom setting, but how can we translate the knowledge of how those different traits function into how they affect the personal experience of the world? How might seeing through the eyes of another animal change our understanding of the space we inhabit?
Tarsiers are tennis ball-sized nocturnal primates with enormous eyes, both in absolute size and in proportion to the size of the animal. What would it be like to have eyes of that proportion?
Tarsier Goggles is a virtual reality (VR) project that allows everyone to experience how a tarsier might see. It serves as a tool to engage in hands-on scientific concepts in optics, perceptual science, and evolutionary biology, and also challenges our own thinking about our environment. The experience is self-guided and allows users to toggle between human and tarsier in order to explore different realistic environments with both sets of eyes.
Project in partnership with Sam Gochman
how we built it
Built in Unity3D with SteamVR for the HTC Vive Pro. For various functionalities like teleportation, splash screens, and tooltips for our tutorial, we use Virtual Reality Toolkit (VRTK), an open source library. For many of the visual effects, we used Unity’s built-in post-processing stack. Our assets were built in Maya.
DALI project Tarsier Vision Virtual Reality Experience was selected to present and demo at the prestigious anthropological society event of the year, the Leakey Foundation 50th Anniversary Gala on May 3rd, 2018. The Leakey Foundation plays a pivotal role in the international study of human origins and evolution. It funds important research projects and leads efforts to engage the public with science through educational outreach and science communication. Ben Cooper '18 (DALI mentor and VR specialist) represented DALI alongside project partner Sam Gochman '18 and his advisor, Professor Nathaniel Dominy. Gala guests were enthusiastic to gaze through the eyes of the tarsier and reconsider their own human perception.
“Many of us learn about how evolution has produced adaptations in visual perception, but it is difficult to communicate why that all matters. By bringing our project to the Leakey Foundation, we have the opportunity to show how design and modern technology can be bridged to science education and how science can be brought to a personal level of understanding and relevance.” – Sam Gochman
Sharing the tarsier project with the Leakey community extended the reach of the important bridge between science education, design, and technology. It was also a unique opportunity for the DALI team to interact directly with leading anthropologists, entrepreneurs and industry leaders from Silicon Valley. The trip was supported by the Dartmouth Anthropology Department and the Nuekom Institute.
Gochman started working with DALI in January 2018, tested the VR experience at DALI’s Technigala in March, and brought the project to The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in mid-May. VINS hosted the project for an afternoon to share with a group of visiting middle schoolers. The kid's reaction to the virtual reality environment was visceral! They jumped when the tarsier jumped and were quick to point out the unexpected differences in vision. The DALI team added an owl component to the experience to bridge the human-tarsier experience with a more familiar animal. It also provides an excellent opportunity to learn about convergent evolution, as well as optics.