Australians will soon be able to go back to the dinosaur age and walk among the prehistoric creatures that roamed our state, thanks to Deakin University innovation.

While most researchers spend their days trying to take the world into the future, Deakin researchers have spent months working out how to take us back millions of years.

The time warp, however, is in the virtual reality sense, with Deakin engineering innovation creating a VR experience that will allow people to understand what life was like in Victoria more than 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The engineers, including Director of Deakin University’s CADET VR Lab Dr Ben Horan and Industrial Design Lecturer and researcher in digital heritage interpretation Dr Kaja Antlej, have teamed up with Deakin Honorary Professor and Swinburne University palaeontologist, Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich to explore the life of the Leaellynasaura, a small dinosaur that lived in Victoria’s Otways.

“When dinosaurs inhabited Victoria, the land was inside the Antarctic Circle, so it was often freezing and during winter there was no daylight for weeks at a time,” Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich said. “The small wallaby-like dinosaurs in the area had good eyes, which enabled them to source sustenance in the dark.”

To contextualise this experience, Dr Horan said the team was working to create the VR experience using 360-degree video, illustrating both a present-day scene as well as a view of the past.

“When the users put on a VR headset, they will be immediately immersed into a dig site. After a while a fern tree forest will appear, together with a 3D model of a Leaellynasaura,” he said.

“The 3D Leaellynasaura model will be used as the basis to 3D print a physical semi-transparentmodel, using technology at Deakin.

“The 3D printed model combined with a VR experience isn’t something we have seen in a museum setting before and will allow visitors to feel the Leaellynasaura at the same time as they see it.

“We are very excited to not only provide visitors with an immersive VR experience but allow them to touch and play with the dinosaur model which normally isn’t possible.”

The project team recently visited a real fossil dig in the Otways as part of the project. The discoveries from the dig will join an extensive collection of fossils Professor Vickers-Rich has built up over three decades of research, as well as the VR experience, to form an exhibition later in the year.

Dr Antlej said museums and arts spaces would increasingly use VR storytelling techniques in the coming years.

“In the past when going to a museum, how would one immerse themselves in a dinosaur’s habitat and get a feeling of what it would be like to be one of these creatures? VR can show people elements of a dinosaur’s life, which wasn’t previously possible,” she said.

The project is a collaboration between Deakin University, Museums Victoria, Geelong’s National Wool Museum, and Swinburne and Monash universities.