The Promise of Shared Immersive Insight

Immersion and Interaction

Immersing users in interactive, collaborative virtual spaces

Inside Futurelab: 25th Anniversary Series – Episode 1 – Virtual Worlds

Connecting Worlds 

Breaking through the barriers between real and virtual worlds

The entanglement of Ars Electronica Futurelab with the entire range of what may be considered “Virtual Worlds” – from Virtual Reality (VR) to Augmented Reality (AR) onwards to Mixed Reality (MR) and their summarization in concepts of Extended Realities (XR) – goes right back to the early days of the Futurelab in 1996, making it one of the key areas of the Futurelab’s work along this entire quarter of a century. Within this span of time, however, Virtual Reality underwent numerous cycles of hype and de-hype, of heightened attention from industry and media followed by times of stagnation. But Ars Electronica Futurelab, due to its special disposition at the nexus of art and science and its integration into the cultural system of Ars Electronica always had the benefit of taking a separate path. This individual approach, among other factors, is nourished by a kind of meta-topic, which has been guiding the research interests of the Ars Electronica Futurelab until today: the question of social interaction and cooperation in virtual spaces and, ultimately, the vision of a future co-existence of humans and machines. 

From an isolated to
a shared experience

The story of virtual worlds and the Ars Electronica Futurelab began with the installation of a milestone development in VR, the so-called CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) at the Ars Electronica Center in 1996. The CAVE broke new ground for VR in two key aspects: By allowing up to a dozen people in the space, and replacing bulky head-mounted-displays (HMD), which had isolated the user from the surroundings, with projections and only slim shutter glasses (needed for perceiving the stereoscopic projection), the CAVE turned VR into a shared experience.

The CAVE’s successor, the Deep Space, which opened its doors with the reopening of the Ars Electronica Center in 2009, was the next step in immersive, collaborative virtual experiences. With projections on the giant wall and floor and space for up to 120 people to be in the 3D virtual environment at the same time, it stimulated efforts to develop new forms of collaborative storytelling.

A coming of age story



The CAVE marked the beginning of the Futurelab's work with virtual reality, which continued all the way through those 25 years to the present day. With a space of 9 square metres, the CAVE was already a novelty in the field of three-dimensional visualization, an installment which gave visitors the feeling of being immersed in the world projected.

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Humphrey I

Strapped into a specially constructed rig, HUMPHREY allowed the user to take off on a flight through digital worlds, viewing 3D images of the surroundings by means of a head-mounted display. The flight path was not determined by conventional steering devices but rather by the user’s head and hand movements, which provided for an especially realistic flight experience.

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Gulliver's World

A multi-user mixed-reality system that enabled visitors to design the artificial world and its components themselves. Intuitive editors made it possible to individually customize and repeatedly reconfigure the environment.

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Papyrate’s Island

A multi-user interactive narrative on the Deep Space platform, where objects and creatures are drawn on virtual paper by a painter, who has the role of world creator. Participants can navigate the island and involve themselves in the creation process by making drawings on real paper, which are then transferred to the virtual reality world.

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Deep Space 8K

With the development of the Deep Space 8K, immersive experience was raised to an unprecedented level. 16 x 9 meters of wall and another 16 x 9 meters of floor projection, both in 8K image resolution, as well as laser tracking and 3D animations, make the Deep Space 8K unique.

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Cinematic Anatomy x Deep Space

Ultra-high-resolution projections of anatomical CT and MRI data turn the Deep Space into a huge, modern-day version of an anatomical theater.

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more projects


“We really thought that having access to these tools would change the way we saw the world, change our relationship to people and things, and change how we viewed ourselves.”

Daniel J. Sandin

Born in 1942 in Rockford, Illinois, US. Video and computer graphics artist. Co-founder of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) in 1972 (together with Thomas A. DeFanti), professor at the School of Art & Design, University of Illinois Chicago. Inventor of the "Sandin Image Processor" (1971 - 1973) and the CAVE (together with Thomas A. DeFanti and Carolina Cruz-Neira) in 1992.

Daniel J. Sandin

Credit: Daniel J. Sandin

Roland Haring

Credit: Denise Hirtenfelder

“The Futurelab does not follow the hype cycles of certain techologies, since it does not focus on consumer products. We were working with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality at an early stage, long before the technologies for a mass market arrived. The topics continue to be interesting, but the Futurelab always keeps its highly individual approach to them.”

Roland Haring
Technical Director Ars Eletronica Futurelab

Born in 1975 in Linz, Upper Austria. Media technologist, designer. Studied media technology and design at Hagenberg University of Applied Sciences. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2003, technical director since 2014.

“Ars Electronica Futurelab is a laboratory and atelier for the future systems of the world. Creating tangible results using the artistic approach has always been a consistent element in our projects. The projects are presented widely to the public and society. The feedback promotes dialogue to discuss the future of technology in society. That is our mission.”

Hideaki Ogawa
Co-director of Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1977 in Tokyo, Japan. Creative catalyst, artist, educator, curator, and researcher in the field of art, technology, and society. Artistic director of the media artist group h.o. Member of Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2007. Founding director of Ars Electronica Japan since 2016. Co-director of Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2019.

Hideaki Ogawa

Credits: Vanessa Graf

Gustav Pomberger

Credit: Gustav Pomberger

“Sensitivity to the necessity of invention, to transformation and synergies of the technically feasible and the intuitively conceivable—insights and capabilities that are, by definition, the artist’s forte—will be increasingly important for (technological) innovation in the future.”

Gustav Pomberger

Born in 1949 in Gosau, Upper Austria. Computer scientist. 1987 - 2017 head of the Department of Business Informatics – Software Engineering at Johannes Kepler University Linz. Since 2018, chairman of the University Council of the Art University Linz and academic head of the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria.

“Ever since the Ars Electronica Futurelab was founded, an essential aspect of [the] agenda has been to come up with hardware and software that facilitates artists’ access to extremely flexible, high-performance Virtual Reality systems.”

Florian Berger
Lead Developer at Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1972 in Linz, Upper Austria. Studied theoretical physics at Johannes Kepler University Linz. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2001. Applied research on realtime computer graphics, simulation, signal processing, and embedded systems.

Florian Berger

Daniel Leithinger

Credit: Jifei Ou

“Gulliver’s World was one of those rare projects where different ideas, which you usually find only separately, were brought together in one consistent experience, including 3D scanning, placing yourself in a virtual world, and augmented reality to explore it. Gulliver’s World integrated all those ideas in the flow of an interesting story.”

Daniel Leithinger

Born in 1980 in Eberstallzell, Upper Austria. Studied at the University of Applied Sciences, Hagenberg, and at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston. Worked at the Ars Electronica Futurelab in 2004 and in 2007. Since 2018 assistant professor at the ATLAS Institute and the Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado Boulder.

“Every idea and every project needs allies, people who believe in visions, and others who allow themselves to be inspired by these visions. At certain times, natural born fighters with a dash of guerilla mentality are needed, and a certain degree of tenacity and the power of conviction. Ars Electronica has been blessed with all of these … .”

Christine Schöpf

Born in Linz, Upper Austria. Radio and television journalist, 1981–2008 head of the culture and science department at ORF Upper Austria, 1987–2004 responsible for conceiving and organizing Prix Ars Electronica, 1996-2020 artistic co-director (together with Gerfried Stocker) of Ars Electronica Festival.

Christine Schöpf

Credit: tom mesic

Diethard Schwarzmair und Markus Jandl

Credit: Ars Electronica Archive

“The Ars Electronica Futurelab is a platform for outstanding talents. Keeping them on board with interesting projects and constantly attracting new people is key to the success of the Futurelab.”

Diethard Schwarzmair and Markus Jandl

Diethard Schwarzmair (*1955, AT). Studied Economics at the University of Linz, completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. He was secretary general of Austria Tabak AG and has held various positions on the advisory boards of companies. From 2009 – 2020 he was Co-CEO of Ars Electronica Linz GmbH.

Markus Jandl (*1982, AT). Studied Economics at Johannes Kepler University Linz. He has held various positions at Ars Electronica over many years. Since September 2020, he has been chief financial officer (CFO) and, together with Gerfried Stocker as Co-CEO, he manages the business of Ars Electronica Linz GmbH & Co KG and Ars Electronica International GmbH.

“The purpose of Ars Electronica is not to take stock of the past; it is oriented instead to the developments of tomorrow. Thus this event for electronic arts and new experience assumes a character of incalculability, of risk, and of daring to try something new.”

Hannes Leopoldseder
Co-founder of Ars Electronica

Born 1940 in St. Leonhard/Freistadt, Upper Austria. 1974 -1998 Television journalist and director of Austrian broadcasting company ORF, 1999 -2002 information director of ORF. Co-founder of Ars Electronica (together with Herbert W. Franke and Hubert Bognermayr) in 1979.

Hannes Leopoldseder

Credit: Joichi Ito


Credit: Erwin Rachbauer

“The constant emphasis on creating prototypes is the key discovery strategy of the Ars Electronica Futurelab. These prototypes answer questions you wouldn't have asked in a purely theoretical discourse and provide an important anchor for discussing implications of technology.”

Christopher Lindinger
Vice-rector at Johannes Kepler University Linz

Born in 1977 in Hallein, Salzburg, Austria. Computer scientist. Early member of the team of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, co-director of the Ars Electronica Futurelab from 2002 until 2019. Since 2019, vice-rector at  Johannes Kepler University Linz.

“The Futurelab is the ongoing proof of the fact that the dedication of a handful of people, their creativity and will to innovate, were able to turn groundbreaking ideas and ideals into a tangible reality, and a loose-knit crew of obsessed individuals could turn into an institution that has made a name for itself on the global media landscape.”

Horst Hörtner
Co-founder & director of Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born 1965 in Vordernberg, Styria. Media artist, musician and researcher. Expert in Human Computer Interaction. Co-founder of artists‘ group „x-space“ (together with Gerfried Stocker) 1991-1995. 1996 technical director of Ars Electronica Center. Co-founder and Managing Director of Ars Electronica Futurelab since 1996. Since 2020 he is also CTO of Ars Electronica.

Horst Hörtner


Gerfried Stocker


“The birth of the Futurelab was to a certain extent preprogrammed in Ars Electronica’s DNA, and it was probably just a matter of time until the right people came together at the right place and time to make it happen.”

Gerfried Stocker
Artistic director and co-CEO of Ars Electronica

Born 1964in Möschitzgraben, Styria. Media artist and engineer for communication technology. Co-founder of artists' group "x-space" (together with Horst Hörtner) 1991-1995. Artistic director and co-CEO of Ars Electronica since 1995.

“As the future will not stop at today’s frontiers between disciplinary fields, we should develop tools that can bring together actors from heterogeneous backgrounds.”

Daniela Kuka

Born in 1983 in Halberstadt, Germany. Studies in Cultural Engineering, Master’s degree in Media Culture and Art Theory at the University of Art and Design Linz. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab from 2005 to 2009, senior researcher for interactive dramaturgy. Academic teacher at Berlin University of the Arts. 2015 Founder of 'goolin – Studio for Transformation' with focus on game format development, interactive tools, and hybrid storytelling.

Daniela Kuka

Credit: Christian Blümelhuber

Nicolas Naveau

Credit: Matsudo International Science Art Festival (photographer: Hajime Kato)

“We placed a high value on putting the technology into a social context through an artistic approach. I actually view technological innovations whose social value lies solely in wanting to go further and higher, faster and faster, quite critically. Where people meet, and where a shared experience happens, social interaction and a zone for social encounter can also be created. The shared experience can help people participate in the lives of others, feel understanding and empathy, and better empathize with the experiences of fellow human beings.”

Nicolas Naveau
Senior Researcher at Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1970 in Nantes, France. Artist, designer, and researcher. Studied at the School of Fine Arts in Angers, France. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2006. Senior researcher for information design. Co-founder of the Ars Electronica Happy Collapse group.

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