Skelex - Touching and dismantling allowed!

Nadja Heinisch

By Nadja Heinisch
03.04.2020 | 6 minutes reading time

‘Skelex’ is a virtual reality application that allows users to interactively explore exhibits of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. What is usually forbidden in the museum becomes possible with the virtual application: grabbing and pulling objects apart and much more.


VR-Application Skelex (Foto: Coding da Vinci, CC-BY 3.0)
VR-Application Skelex (Foto: Coding da Vinci, CC-BY 3.0)

The project has its origin in the culture hackathon „Coding da Vinci“ 2017, a hackathon that has been taking place since 2014 and is, among others, organized by Wikimedia Germany and the German Digital Library. People interested in technology and culture come together to create innovative projects with freely accessible data from various cultural institutions. The Skelex team, consisting of Lisa Ihde, Sebastian Schulz and Joana Bergsiek, developed the VR application in a 6-week sprint with the help of 3D scans of snake skeletons, which the Museum für Naturkunde freely provided to the participants of the hackathon along with many other data sets. Using VR glasses and controllers, snake skulls can be touched, rotated and dismantled. Furthermore, the bones can be measured, bone markings can be seen and animations experienced. In addition, a CAT scan, a computer tomography, can be performed. During the final event of the hackathon, the team won the audience award ‘Everybody’s Darling’ with its creative invention.

Winners of the Coding da Vinci 2017 hackathon (Third from the right is Sebastian Schulz of the Skelex team, Foto: Nadja Heinisch, MfN)
Winners of the Coding da Vinci 2017 hackathon (Third from the right is Sebastian Schulz of the Skelex team, Foto: Nadja Heinisch, MfN)

After Coding da Vinci, the application could be presented and tested several times. In May 2018 Skelex was presented to the Wikimedia community at the ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien in Karlsruhe. The VR installation was accompanied by an original ring snake skeleton on loan from the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Karlsruhe. As the skeletons are very fragile, transporting a specimen from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin would have been too risky. But with the help of colleagues from the Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, a skeleton could be made available for the entire duration of the presentation.

Original skelleton of a grass snake from the Hatural history museum in Karlsruhe(Foto: Tina Schneider, MfN)
Original skelleton of a grass snake from the Hatural history museum in Karlsruhe(Foto: Tina Schneider, MfN)

In June 2018, Skelex was also presented to about 150 participants from the cultural sector at the DDBforum, the community celebration of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, which took place in Berlin. In the same month, Skelex and the Mediasphere team were invited to present the application as part of the European Heritage Year 2018 at the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin. This allowed numerous interested passers-by to test the VR application.

Lisa Ihde from Skelex at the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin (Foto: Tina Schneider, MfN)
Lisa Ihde from Skelex at the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin (Foto: Tina Schneider, MfN)

In a similar way, the exhibition area of museums could be extended by interactive formats like this VR application. Furthermore, the application could be used in school lessons. Those who have the necessary VR equipment can use Skelex as an app at home. In the spirit of free access to open cultural data and the continued use of developed projects in the context of Coding da Vinci, Skelex is available under this link.

If you want to get an impression of Skelex despite missing VR equipment, you can have a look at the demonstration video. It explains – without sound – very vividly the different interaction possibilities of the app.