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article imageMixed reality reveals the very real danger of rising floodwaters

By Karen Graham     Sep 14, 2018 in Technology
The Weather Channel’s 3D, room-encompassing depiction of the Hurricane Florence storm surge took many viewers by surprise. Unlike previous weather graphics, it actually shows people what could happen — just as if you were there in real-time.
In order to show the force of the wind in hurricanes, the Weather Channel sends out staff — like meteorologist Jim Cantore — to monitor the storm live. And most of us remember Cantore holding on to his hat while being nearly blown over by winds close to 75 mph or more as he tells viewers to stay indoors.
But to impress the public about the dangers of storm surge? That's a whole different story. Water can kill and more deaths are associated with water than just about any other hazard in a hurricane. Again, the Weather Channel puts its staff — in this case, meteorologist Erika Navarro — in harm's way.
While a graphic is certainly more impressive than numbers on a wall, the Weather Channel has taken things a step further, using mixed reality that shows the waters surrounding the on-screen meteorologists. The flood waters rise above their heads as the wind howls and floating cars slosh at the surface.
How the video was created
Now, while frightening to look at, this is as real as it can get. The viewer now can see what six or nine feet of water rolling down a street in their city looks like. But how did the Weather Channel create this video?
Called mixed reality graphics, it was created in partnership with augmented reality company The Future Group.
The partnership was formed to help ignite the next evolution of weather presentation through new, immersive mixed-reality technology. One year ago, this wouldn't have been possible, according to Wired. As it turns out, the Weather Channel finished its new “green screen immersive studio” at its Atlanta headquarters this week.
With September being the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, “It was all hands on deck,” says Michael Potts, TWC’s vice president of design.
The Unreal Engine Platform
The Unreal Engine used to create the graphics regularly provides immersive experiences that are believable to the human eye. VR requires complex scenes rendered at very high framerates. Because Unreal Engine is designed for demanding applications such as AAA games, filmmaking and photoreal visualization, it meets these requirements and provides a solid foundation to build content on all VR platforms, from PC to console to mobile.
As this Lunar Great Wall Studio presentation (above) shows, the Unreal Engine can do just about anything.
“Rather than creating effects and rendering them in post-production, the process used to create visuals for most films, the Unreal Engine builds effects in real time,” Ren LaForme reported for Poynter when The Weather Channel unveiled the tech in a tornado demo.
Since 2015, the Weather Channel has used award-winning live augmented reality experiences that allow the network to tell weather stories, explain the atmospheric sciences and help convey important safety and warning messages to viewers.
“Our immersive mixed reality (IMR) presentations will combine 360 HD video and augmented and virtual reality elements that are driven by real-time data and our expert on-air talent to transport our audience into the heart of the weather, said Potts.
“Using The Future Group’s Frontier powered by Unreal Engine for weather broadcasting has never been done before. We are excited to continue our investment in the latest technologies that are not just cuttig-edge but on the bleeding edge of design and science.”
Jim Cantore explains tornadoes
In June this year, with the tornado season gearing up in the U.S. meteorologist Jim Cantore was on air talking about tornadoes and the damages they can do when the studio appeared to be hit with a tornado.
Well, at least that's what it looked like — but it was another graphic representation created using the Unreal Engine platform. The Weather Channel says it can now take a picture of you sitting on your front porch — " and visualize what a storm surge realistically might mean for you,” Potts said. “That makes it personal.”
More about mixedreality, Weather Channel, unreal engine, Future Group, Hurricane Florence
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