Featured picture of post "How to Create a Virtual Tour: A Unique Underground Facility in Helsinki"

How to Create a Virtual Tour: A Unique Underground Facility in Helsinki

Kyla Ball

The Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) have an admirable vision to create the world’s most sustainable urban region. In 2020 they co-organized the International Water Association Conference, which like so many events that year, eventually had to be cancelled. Central to the event and its visiting experts was a tour of the underground wastewater plant. Looking for an alternative solution to host the international experts, HSY contacted ThingLink to see if it was possible to create tours that were virtual and interactive in just a couple of months.

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Virtual alternative to in-person tours

HSY supplies high-quality drinking water to more than one million residents in the Helsinki metropolitan area. They also treat the wastewater from city residents and industry as well as build and renovate the water supply and sewer network. As part of this process, they manage two wastewater treatment plants, one of which – Viikinmäki – usually welcomes visitors throughout the year. Visits last around 1.5 hours and are free of charge for water utilities, municipal and state operators and organisations as well as educational institutions. The site is unique, being situated in deep rock underground tunnels.


Virtual tour software

When the International Water Association Conference that was originally scheduled for June had to be cancelled, Heini Snellman, Environmental Specialist at HSY started looking into virtual tour creator solutions. She remembered seeing ThingLink in action elsewhere, and contacted ThingLink’s team in Finland to see if it was possible to get help for creating a tour within a tight time frame of just a couple of months. 

How to create a virtual tour of a facility in 360

In addition to software, ThingLink offers its customers a variety of services including training, learning design, and virtual tour production. In this case, Heini Snellman knew exactly what they needed. Together with Anna Kuokkanen, a project engineer and environmental specialist at HSY, she wrote and developed a detailed script for the tour, which was based on a usual in-person tour of the plant. The script was handed over to Henri Pennanen in the ThingLink team, who then designed and executed the production including 2D and 360 degree image and video capture, image processing and uploading the content to the customer account on ThingLink.

Screen shot of the virtual tour

Tours would normally start with an introductory lecture in the auditorium, and this content was reproduced in the introduction tags or hotspots on the first page. Once you have gone through each numbered page to learn more about the background to the plant, you enter the360-degree tour. Within these are tags of various sorts with detailed information about all the stages and processes involved.

Viewing the tours in virtual reality

Whereas all the 360 images and new videos were taken by Henri Pannanen of ThingLink using a 360-degree camera, the customer team also made use of their existing photos. In the annotation process the tour was optimized for VR viewing with a VR headset – to ensure that text was readable. Tags were thoughtfully placed to ensure that information is viewed in the correct order.

Virtual tours for students

Most visits to the plant are educational tours, and soon after making the first version of  the virtual visit the HSY team realized that their “expert tour” could also be cloned and adapted for children or schools as a free virtual tour which was shared by teachers to their classes. A third version of this new tour was developed for a public Baltic Sea themed event in the summer.

At the moment HSY is  piloting an option where the ThingLink virtual tour is a permanent alternative to traditional site tours. Usually freelance student guides lead the school groups, however given the positive feedback on the virtual tour, they may now be re-resourced as leads on the virtual tours. Website users complete a simple sign up form for access – on any device including mobile devices..

“In this situation there wouldn’t be any better way to represent this educationally,” says Heini Snellman, Environmental Specialist at HSY.

Introduction to the virtual tour

Tips for creating a virtual tour

  • Once you have created your initial tour using ThingLink, you can easily use the clone feature to adapt the information for your audience – whether professional experts or school students.
  • When your site is as unique as this one, 360 images really help to bring it to life. 
  • 360 images can be created with a 360-degree camera such as an Insta360 or Ricoh Theta. Some smartphones now have this capability such as the Google Pixl. The images are then saved as photosphere jpgs and can be easily uploaded to the ThingLink editor in the same way as any other image. (Please note that panoramic images are not usable as panoramas are not true 360 degree photospheres.)
  • A clear map infographic as your landing page really helps to orientate users and guide them in how to best use the tour before they jump into the 360s. (Read this following blog about adding maps and floorplans to your tour creation as an additional feature.)

Where else can you use a virtual tour?

Virtual tours are increasingly use by real estate professionals to reach potential buyers with a virtual staging property or show home. You can embed your ThingLink virtual tour in ThingLink in any website or landing page, share via social media, by a simple link or with a QR code. ThingLink was designed to be the easiest and quickest to update virtual tour platform and can be viewed anywhere on any device including iphones and android smartphones.

As well as realtors and other real estate businesses it is also being used by universities and colleges across the world to create virtual 360-degree tours of campuses – attracting potential students who may be unable to visit the location in person. Read more about some of the best use cases in that sector here. It is also being used to create some amazing examples of virtual field trips for students.

It is also being used in safety training, allowing a low-risk walkthrough of a site which may be high risk to new employees or trainees.

Further reading:

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  • ThingLink is GDPR COPPA & FERPA compliant details here
  • The images in this Case Study are screenshots as the tours are part of an educational approach with accompanying materials.

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