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I just nuked Manhattan in a realistic new VR simulation, and the experience changed how I understand the bomb

I just nuked Manhattan in a realistic new VR simulation, and the experience changed how I understand the bomb

Nukemap VR is a new Dave Mosher/Business Insider I tried this new 3D experience at its public debut at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. By coincidence, the demo was held August 9: the 74th anniversary of the Christopher Manzione; Reinventing Civil Defense/Stevens Institute of TechnologyA second virtual TV screen showed a…


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  • Nukemap VR is a new Dave Mosher/Business Insider

    I tried this new 3D experience at its public debut at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. By coincidence, the demo was held August 9: the 74th anniversary of the Christopher Manzione; Reinventing Civil Defense/Stevens Institute of TechnologyA second virtual TV screen showed a map of where the bomb would detonate if I pressed the red button. The blast would hit a mess of skyscrapers just south of Central Park, somewhere near the corner of 50th Street and 7th Avenue.

    Manzione noted that Nukemap VR was an early prototype. I noticed some of its rough edges: The Manhattan skyline, for example, was a rough cut-and-paste job — not a 3D-rendered collection of buildings — which made it look like a flat backdrop on the set of a play. The animation of the nuke’s fireball and mushroom cloud also looked a bit disjointed and jumpy.

    Still, I found the simulation surprisingly effective.

    My first impression was that a 15-kiloton detonation was a lot smaller than I expected — I had a sort of “that’s it?” feeling. (No offense to the roughly 600,000 virtual people I either killed or injured.)

    But as the full experience of Nukemap VR hit me — I found the soundscaping especially detailed — that feeling gave way to dread.

    Nuke Map VR Preview from on Vimeo.

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    Such kiloton-yield nuclear warheads are precisely the kind of bombs the US military plans to build in a new push by the Trump administration (rather than megaton-class Dave Mosher/Business Insider

    Nukemap VR emerged from a larger three-year project at the Stevens Institute calledReinventing Civil Defense, which aims to “restore a broad, cultural understanding of nuclear risk,” according to its website.

    Wellerstein and others at the institute are funding the work with a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The organizationput up $4.4 millionin 2016 “to support projects aimed at reducing nuclear risk through innovative and solutions-oriented approaches.”

    As an historian, Wellerstein was already researching Cold War-era government campaigns for nuclear survival, including the classic“Bert the Turtle” duck-and-cover cartoonsof the 1950s and 1960s.

    “It just sort of came to me in one caffeine-fueled fever dream: What if we said we were going to reinvent civil defense?” Wellerstein said. “I had already been thinking about new strategies for communicating nuclear risk to people and finding new ways to have people reengage with nuclear issues.”

    Read more:If a nuclear weapon is about to explode, here’s what a safety expert says you can do to survive

    The Reinventing Civil Defense project eventually spawned a cornucopia of initiatives, including Nukemap VR, video games, graphic novels, informational posters, and art installations. All of them aim to give the public useful information about nuclear weapons, their effects, and how to up your odds of surviving an attack.

    The threat of global nuclear war today is not as omnipresent and is arguably less likely than it was during the Cold War. But instead, scenarios like a limited missile strike from North Korea or an explosion of a 1- to 10-kiloton weapon built by terrorists seem more plausible to experts now.

    “You’re not talking about 1,000 warheads going off. You’re talking about one, maybe a couple in different cities, and saying most people will survive in the country,” Wellerstein said. “The country won’t die if you had three nuclear weapons going off. But it would be a totally different world, especially people weren’t prepared for it.”

    He said the next phase of his work is to explore which projects, if any — Nukemap VR, posters, games, comics, and the like — might actually reach people, build basic awareness about nuclear weapons, and promote survival techniques like the concept of “go in, stay in, tune in.”

    “We have to grab the bull by the horns here,” Wellerstein said. “We have to admit that we’re talking about ‘Bert the Turtle’-type stuff, but we’re doing it seriously, and it’s not as dumb as people think.”

    This story has been updated.

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