Illstration av museibesökare som pratar med en virtuell säl.
In 2025 visitors at the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History and the Maritime Museum and Aquarium will be able to ask questions to a virtual seal.
Photo: AI-genererad bild från Adobe Firefly

Virtual seal to increase ocean literacy


Museum visitors in Gothenburg will soon be able to talk to a virtual seal. The aim of the initiative is for visitors to learn more about ocean acidification and how it affects marine life.

The project "OceanSpeak" recently received support from the Swedish Research Council Formas to develop a virtual seal that will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) to make life below the surface more accessible.

Equipped with VR headset and handheld controllers, museum visitors will be able to interact with a seal in virtual underwater environments. By asking the seal questions, visitors will learn more about the seal's habitat and how it is affected by the acidification of the oceans.

Porträtt Geraldiné Fauville
Géraldine Fauville, Associate Professor in Educational Sciences at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning.
Photo: Johan Wingborg

"We hope that this project will raise awareness of ocean acidification - one of our most pressing environmental problems," says Géraldine Fauville, Associate Professor of Educational Sciences at the University of Gothenburg, who is the lead researcher on the project.

Increased Ocean Literacy

A major challenge in communicating issues related to the marine environment is to create emotional engagement with what is happening below the surface. With the virtual seal, the project hopes to make that connection and increase understanding of how human behaviour affects marine life.

"Ocean acidification is in many ways an invisible environmental problem. That's why we want to create engagement and understanding of the problem and what can be done about it. I believe that the virtual seal has an important role to play in this," says Géraldine Fauville.

Géraldine Fauville explains that the seal was chosen because it is an animal that many people know and can relate to. The seal becomes a guide to the underwater world. And the choice of ocean acidification is due to the involvement of one of the world's leading researchers on the subject, marine biologist Sam Dupont.

‘We start with seals and ocean acidification. In the project, we will also explore the possibility of spreading and extending our methodology to other AI-trained virtual animals and sustainability issues."

Combining AI and VR

What is new about the project is that it combines two technologies, both VR and AI. The seals will be trained using AI to answer different types of questions. VR will be added to make the experience feel real. To Géraldine Fauville's knowledge, this has not been done in an underwater environment before. Instead, inspiration comes from the world of art. A recent example is an exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, where visitors interact with an AI version of Vincent van Gogh and visit a VR landscape based on his paintings.

The plan is that a first version of the technology will be in place at the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History and the Maritime Museum and Aquarium in early 2025. Then the technology will be refined and developed.

"In the longer term, we plan to expand OceanSpeak to other museums and science centres in the Nordic countries and beyond. We are already in contact with several interested parties," says Géraldine Fauville.

Text: Karl-Johan Nylén

Facts about OceanSpeak

The project ‘OceanSpeak - Immersive Conversations with an AI Virtual Seal for Enhancing Ocean Literacy’ has received SEK 2 million in funding in the Swedish Research Council Formas' communication call 2023. The project runs between 2024 and 2026.

The multidisciplinary team consists of:

  • Géraldine Fauville, Associate Professor in Education, University of Gothenburg
  • Gustav Petersen, Postdoctoral Fellow in Educational Psychology, University of Copenhagen
  • Sam Dupont, Associate Professor of Marine Biology, University of Gothenburg
  • Karl-Johan Nylén, Communications Officer, University of Gothenburg
  • Björn Källström, Marine Biologist and Development Manager, Maritime Museum and Aquarium
  • Renée Göthberg, Programme and Exhibition Manager, Gothenburg Museum of Natural History.