Imagine visiting a beautiful arboretum with your family one spring day. At the Virtual Tree Lab, each of you puts on a Virtual Reality headset and stands at the foot of a towering (3D digital) hickory tree in a virtual forest.  With one jump, you all soar to the top of the tree to observe its canopy leaves in detail. Then you descend the trunk and limbs for a close up look at its bark. Finally, you reach the base again for a subterranean look at its roots. Then the REAL fun begins….

You walk outside with your family through one of the most incredibly diverse collections of temperate trees and shrubs in North America. Your mission is to search the 19-acre arboretum and identify 5 different species of hickory trees from 5 different countries (US, Canada, Mexico, China, India) within half an hour. Your Virtual Tree experience has given you a sense of what trees to look for. In your hands, a tablet is your state-of-the-art Augmented Reality digital tree guide that allows you to scan the leaf and the bark of each tree to search for a match. If you succeed, your family will take home a wooden coaster made of hickory wood! Next month you’ll all be back to search for 7 species of oak from 7 countries, in hopes of taking home your oak coaster. After a few more successful visits, your family will have a full set of coasters to remember the hickories, oaks, and other tree species you learned. How COOL would that be?

THAT is the type of unforgettable experience you will be helping us to create with your contribution to the Virtual Tree Experience project. When Dr. Charles Keith started his tree collection more than 40 years ago, he hoped he would be creating a legacy for the community – the Digital Tree Visualization project ensures that it is a legacy for the 21st century!  The Keith Arboretum and the mature forest of the adjoining Pickard’s Mountain Natural Heritage Area are true community assets that can benefit everyone — families, schools, university students, and elders. Together, we can develop a leading model for using technology to reconnect people to the natural world! The Pokemon Go craze was just the beginning – we can be smart about using technology to get us back into the great outdoors and develop a lifelong connection to the ecosystems that support all life.

We need your help today!  We are working on plans for the Virtual Tree Lab at the Keith Arboretum. We have assembled a powerful team of pioneering tech companies in the Carolinas with expertise in virtual/augmented reality and 3-D digital tree graphics.  Now we are ready to design Version 1.0 to prove the concept!


Tech Advisory Team - We are fortunate to have a stellar Tech Advisory Team to lend their expertise and offer guidance in developing the Digital Tree Visualization project as an experiential environmental education tool like no other!

  • Doctine Creative/Wild Eyes - Durham-based Doctrine Creative is our lead developer for the project. Their Wild Eyes program uses 3D/360/VR/AR technology to connect people to nature with nature-based immersive experiences for national parks, regional art museums, natural science museums and now -- botanical gardens and arboretums!

  • NC State - Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab - The Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at NC State conducts pioneering work allowing students to study interactions between humans and VR/AR. For the Hickory Project, we look to their guidance on assessing user perception and behavior to make the tree climbing and tree treasure hunt experiences as fun, realistic, and educational as possible.

  • SpeedTree - SpeedTree has been visiting the Keith Collection in Chapel Hill since 2016 to develop and enhance its library with botanically-accurate scans of diverse species trees from around the world, and those native to the forests of eastern North America. Their award-winning work creates the most realistic trees in films and video games, and we are thrilled to work with SpeedTree to create fun educational experiences.

Botanical Advisory Team - One of the great strengths of the NC Triangle are its botanical gardens - and we have the best as our Botanical Advisory Team members to offer guidance on botanical accuracy and educational applications for the project, and to help us roll out the project as a "kiosk" experience to be shared with their visitors.