Retelling Geelong’s industrial design heritage through VR experiences

Deakin University’s Dr Kaja Antlej is leading a project, to explore how virtual museum experiences can reignite passion for design and engineering in one of Australia’s most important manufacturing cities. The project was partially funded by the SSN’s Interdisciplinary Project Incubator grant.

The project, Designed by Geelong: a history of invention is part of a larger project titled The social value of engineering and design heritage in post-industrial cities and its digital interpretation in a museum context. It is bringing together expertise from engineering and design, arts and heritage studies to explore new ways of experiencing industrial history in a way that inspires new generations.

“The aim is to create stimulating learning environments and resources for museums, schools and individuals in order to empower community through engagement with digital technologies, and provide new technological skills to communities to increase employability and engagement”, Dr Antlej said.

Geelong has been known as one of Australia’s largest manufacturing cities for a century and a half. Following the recent closure of various manufacturing industries, the City of Greater Geelong community developed a 30-year vision for the region and became a UNESCO City of Design.

The Ford Motor Company produced its Australian vehicles in Geelong for nearly 90 years before ending production in 2016. As part of an initial case study, the project team is 3D digitising Ford’s first (1934) and modern (2009) ute models so that these local design icons can be presented in virtual reality.

A restored 1934 Ford coupe ute owned by Peter Emmett as designed by Lew Bandt and originally built by the Ford Motor Company in Geelong (photo: Kaja Antlej). The car was 3D scanned by Max Rahrig and Mathew Kanjirakattu George.

In March 2020, a number of relatives of the designer of the first Ford ute, Louis (Lew) Bandt, visited Deakin’s CADET Virtual Reality Training and Simulation Research Lab to try out these digital works in progress.

Lew Bandt’s relatives learn about the project and facilities from Associate Professor Ben Horan of the Deakin CADET Virtual Reality Training and Simulation Research Lab Lab

Among the group was Lew Bandt’s daughter Dr Ros Bandt, who took a virtual walk-around of the iconic car that her father designed over 85 years ago.

“I think the future of the VR ute from Deakin is very promising. A celebration of creativity, brain power and brilliance is surely needed in the city at this time”, Dr Bandt said.

Dr Ros Bandt tries out the VR experience with Dr Kaja Antlej.

This project incorporates opportunities for young students and early-career researchers, as well as opening up opportunity for future international collaborations.

“The SSN funding has been crucial in providing essential resources for a social value assessment of Geelong’s design and manufacturing heritage and to attract further funding to undertake the project including a PhD scholarship for Manca Ogrizek, who is exploring 3D interaction techniques for immersive museum experiences using a case study of the first ute” Dr Antlej said.

“A number of undergraduate, postgraduate final year and internship engineering students have been involved in the 3D digitisation of two (first and modern) ute vehicles which will be used as a basis of the Virtual Reality experience developed by the CADET Virtual Reality Training and Simulation Research Lab. Two students have been trained by a Bridges Visiting Fellow Max Rahrig from the University of Bamberg, Germany.”

In the future, Deakin University’s project partners on the SSN project including Coventry University (UK), Aarhus University (Denmark), and Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (Germany) may be conducting similar research in their cities based on this research, which Dr Antlej says could provide a valuable international comparison.

A more automated and digital world is the reality we adjust to more every year, bringing with it advances in quality of life, while at the same time leaving fewer opportunities for the skilled manufacturing-based jobs of the past.

While Australia’s car manufacturing days seem all but over, Dr Antlej is optimistic that this kind of interdisciplinary focus on heritage is going to inspire a new generation to feel a sense of pride in living in cities like Geelong with deep industrial and design heritage.

“The project questions perceptions and stigma of a post-industrial identity as well as addresses the issue of lack of diversity in engineering practice by attempting to attract more diverse participants to the field of engineering.”

“Heritage has a role to play as a means of economic development, social cohesion and increased participation. How design and manufacturing heritage may be captured, and what form they should be presented in, or what impact this has on individual and collective identities, particularly given the rise of digital technologies, is therefore of pressing concern.” as A/Prof Steven Cooke emphasised.


Follow the project via #GeelongInventions.

Principal researchers involved in the project: Dr Kaja Antlej and A/Prof Ben Horan (School of Engineering), A/Prof Steven Cooke (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), and A/Prof Meghan Kelly and Dr Russell Kennedy (School of Communication and Creative Arts).