person using remote to sail on the virtual Hokulea

Adventure awaits! It may soon be possible to sail on the Polynesian Voyaging Society canoe Hōkūleʻa, view the stars and constellations at sea and navigate using traditional wayfinding techniques all from your home, thanks to virtual reality. It’s a project called Kilo Hōkū, which roughly translates to navigating the stars.

“You can buy a [virtual reality] headset at a very low price and be able to use it just like anybody else,” explains Dean Lodes, a Learning Design and Technology PhD student.

Kilo Hōkū simulates being onboard the Hōkūleʻa and looking up into a cloudless sky. Lodes was part of a team of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students who created the program at the Laboratory for Advanced Visualization and Applications (LAVA) at UH Mānoa.

image of Hokulea sailing canoe
Kilo Hōkū’s virtual Hōkūleʻa

“I guess when you are a kid, when you hear about the Hōkūleʻa, it’s like they’re adventurers! It sounds so exciting and just so awesome,” says team member Kari Noe, an undergraduate student of the Academy for Creative Media and the computer science department.

Kilo Hōkū allows users to navigate using the stars in a virtual setting.

“Basically what I did was created a sphere model, and then I took images from NASA and I pretty much mapped them on the reverse side of the sphere,” explains Anna Sikkink, a recent computer science graduate. “Then you can just put the Hōkūleʻa inside and look around.”

The team hopes to someday make the program available to the public for free.

“I really want this to be a very Hawaiian learning tool. And I hope that it will reach the people that for whatever reason cannot possibly see the Hōkūleʻa or Hikianalia or any of the sailing canoes,” says Noe.

Kilo Hōkū team members are also quick to point out that there is much more to traditional wayfinding than a computer program.

“It’s really a very small slice that we’ve cut off having to do with wayfinding,” says Patrick Karjala, who is working on a masters degree in computer science, “But I think it’s also a very cool slice that will really excite people that get to try it out.”

The public can experience Kilo Hōkū at the Mālama Honua Summit at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center June 18–20, 2017.

—By Kelli Trifonovitch