This week The Weather Channel was hit by a tornado—a virtual cataclysm brought forth through immersive mixed reality technology. It was meteorologist Jim Cantore who showed viewers the early stages of a tornado strike all the way up to a catastrophic EF5 behemoth, which eventually wiped out the studio.
The segment aired at three different time slots on the morning of Wednesday, June 20. It began like any other weather program, with the anchor standing before a screen that supposedly shows real-time footage of a tornado. As the funnel cloud started to form and move, a power line can be seen crashing onto the floor of the studio. The anchor then taught viewers a few safety measures when surrounded by downed power lines.
Floating yellow boxes popped out of nowhere, revealing important facts. One of those boxes informed viewers to keep a safe distance from a fallen power pole.
Mixing Education and Entertainment
Cantore’s program is designed to educate and inform, but it also does not fall short of entertaining. It elucidates how such a natural phenomenon can pose risks to people and properties. The meteorologist-turned-anchor laid out the facts as he dodged and yelled as power lines and debris kept on flying into the studio, including a beat-up car.
Using immersive technologies, the network was able to make the studio appear like it was being whiplashed by 200mph winds. It illustrates how far the tornado’s strong winds can carry objects of different weights and sizes.
As the storm got closer to the location, Cantore donned a helmet and ran off screen to take cover. The studio itself was ripped apart by the virtual tornado, leaving nothing but rubble, smoke, and the American flag, which somehow didn’t fall to the ground.
Introducing Interactive Mixed Reality to Broadcasting
The broadcast seemed vaguely similar to a video game. The Norwegian-based developer, The Future Group, might have something to do with that. Together, they fashioned an interactive mixed reality experience using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Their partnership with The Weather Channel was first announced in April.
Mo-Sys’ newest camera tracking system was also utilized in the process. The Future Group made the virtual experience life-like by using latest particle systems, dynamic textures, and other state-of-the-art effects from the Unreal Engine.
Mixed reality, also called hybrid reality, involves merging real with virtual elements to come up with a new environment where physical, as well as digital objects, co-exist in real time. MR is often used interchangeably with augmented reality. In a sense, it is a certain type of AR in that it incorporates real-world properties with digital technologies. But MR’s capacity for interactivity between physical reality and digital content places it a little further along the virtuality continuum.
Despite being in its early stages, mixed reality is already being utilized in several industries for educational purposes. Aircraft manufacturers use MR to train their technicians. Now that The Weather Channel has introduced it to mainstream media, they hope it would transform how journalists report about the weather.
Following the Wednesday’s broadcast, Mike Chesterfield, the director of weather presentation for The Weather Channel, expressed his desire to incorporate mixed reality technology in as much as 80% of their programming by 2020.
The Weather Channel’s mixed reality broadcast aired at 6 am, 7 am, and 8 am EST. But viewers who missed the program can check out the video from network’s official YouTube channel: