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The STEAMhouse crew have collaborated with BCU students and students at Cal Poly University in the USA to create an immersive experience which will reveal the extensive coral reefs living underneath disused oil rings in California.

The concepts are part of Ocean Sight One, a unique collaboration between BCU and California Polytechnic State University based in Sans Luis Obispo in California, known as Cal Poly. It focuses on the future of 23 decommissioned oil and gas platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and preserving the amazing marine life which has grown up underneath them.

The students have devised a sustainable bamboo gateway built to resemble a rig, which leads into a travelling museum featuring an immersive experience thanks to VR headsets. The aim is to enable people to dive beneath the rigs and have a 3D, 360-degree experience, seeing the amazing coral reef and its marine life for themselves, without getting wet.

The students presented the project at Innovation Fest last week, where they also met Co-Director of the Liberal Arts and Engineering Programme at Cal Poly Dr. David Gilette, and two of the Cal Poly students working on the project, Madelyn Cruz and Bella Slosberg.

David said: “Innovation Fest provided the ideal platform for the students to showcase the hard work that has gone into this multi-disciplinary collaboration project and included a live link up with the other students in California.

“Over the course of the last five months, I’ve seen all the students grow in confidence and work together to produce a number of really amazing concepts.”

The model bamboo gateway is built to resemble a rig. This acts as an entrance leading to a travelling museum, featuring a state-of-the-art immersive experience provided by VR headsets, and a motion-sensitive experience complete with smoke, steam and speakers.

The future of the rigs in California is uncertain; with a referendum vote due to take place about what to do with the rigs, which are the responsibility of the Californian authorities. While the cheapest option is to remove them, this would destroy the unique marine ecosystems underneath.

Engineering and Architecture students from both universities have come up with a unique approach to informing people about the incredible diversity of marine life that has flourished beneath the structures, in the hope that only the tops of the rigs will be removed.

David added: “The students have trialled proof of concepts which show the fragility and beauty of the coral reefs which have grown up on these rigs. Preserving new marine ecosystems is vital not just off the coast of California, but all around the world where rigs need to be decommissioned, including the British ones in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, which support a surprising number of cold water corals and associated animals.

“To make the students’ ideas a reality, we will now be testing them at Cal Poly’s marine research lab, and hope to apply for a national grant from the National Science Foundation. With luck, in the next couple of years the entrance frame, travelling interactive museum exhibition, and use of the VR headsets will all become a reality.”

David has been working in collaboration with BCU’s Business to Business Team and the Head of STEAM Academy Innovation and Development, and winner of Staff Entrepreneur at this year’s I AM BCU Awards, Alexa Hartwell, to design and deliver the project.

Alexa said: “This project has presented students with some big challenges, from having to deal with completely different time zones to working with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. They have also had to meet a demanding deadline and work with students joining and leaving the project at different stages as the concepts evolved. Given all this, I’m so proud of what they have achieved, which is very much in the spirit of STEAM.”

The build for the project was based on seven different entryway designs which were tested by the students. The chosen model resembling a rig is composed of locally sourced bamboo connected by 3D printed brackets, the modular structure being both fully portable and recyclable.