JKU LIT at the Ars Electronica Festival: The Virtual Court. Reality.

Imagine you are part of a court proceeding and are at an on-site inspection butting heads with managers of a construction project. Or you at the scene of a crime. In truth, however, you are in a virtual location! The LIT Law Lab has created "The Virtual Court" as an Ars Electronica project where on-site inspections and court proceedings become virtual. Festival visitors actively take part a trial themselves and can influence the outcome. Our verdict? Pretty cool!

Ricarda Aschauer

Can you briefly describe your project?
Ricarda Aschauer: Our project, "The Virtual Court. Reality.", presents a vision of the future: What will judicial and administrative proceedings look like in the future? How can someone take part? The concept is fairly simple: Visitors put on VR glasses and find themselves directly in front of the court - only this court is in a virtual space. The experience is all the more engaging as visitors are plunged into a virtual court hearing in which the issue at hand is approving a so-called commercial facility, specifically a club. As legal parties, they directly take part in the proceedings. VR technology provides unprecedented advantages for both the individual parties and the rule of law. As part of a local, virtual inspection, planned buildings are simulated as finished buildings in the here and now, as are their consequences.

Where did the idea or inspiration come from?
Ricarda Aschauer: Research conducted at the LIT Law Lab has clearly shown us that new technologies are not only challenging, but they are also an opportunity for the law and the rule of law. This is also why we want to approach technologies like VR technology in a whole new light. What started out mainly in the gaming scene can also be opened up to include unimagined possibilities in support of the rule of law. The added benefits related to virtual reality are not limited to being free from time and location constraints – something we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic - but they also span a wide range of areas as it is interactive in nature. Courts and authorities can use this to present project plans in a completely new way and it be experienced using all of one’s senses. Crime scenes can be reconstructed in a three-dimensional way and from different angles, providing a more immersive experience. Witness statements, among other things, can be assessed in regard to conclusiveness - and credibility - by accompanying VR simulations.

Who are the project team members?
Ricarda Aschauer: Michael Mayrhofer is a university professor of public law and Dean of the JKU Faculty of Law. His research focuses on technology law and he conducts research in regard to digital transformation as part of several interdisciplinary projects. As head of the LIT Law Lab and project manager of “The Virtual Court. Reality.”, he is particularly excited to make use of the Ars Electronica Festival platform and make complex legal research -. and the current and future challenges - accessible to non-experts in a more comprehensible and engaging way.
As deputy project manager, I liaison between project management, the (vice) rectorate, collaboration partners, and externally commissioned film and VR companies. In regard to the project, my legal background greatly benefits the installation script’s content development and my targeted problem-solving skills are valuable in regard to implementing this new VR project at the LIT Law Lab.
Our LIT Law Lab manager, Rudolf George Albu, is a JKU graduate. Based on his social science background, he is passionate about supporting the acceptance of university research when it comes to social discourse. Rudi plays a key role in “The Virtual Court. Reality.” project with his organizational skills as well as his creative and technical contributions.

What does "A New Digital Deal" mean when it comes to your project; or, what would you like to see as part of a "New Digital Deal"?
Ricarda Aschauer: In order to protect citizens from the negative effects of digitization and create acceptance for new technologies and their applications, "A New Digital Deal" has to be based on a more advanced legal foundation. On one hand, we need technical expertise in order to identify and understand the diverse potential in support of further social advancement. On the other hand, we need legal expertise to create and apply regulations that provide adequate protection but, at the same time, also support innovation. The latter, however, has always been a balancing act: when is it good to be more cautious and when do safety measures unnecessarily hinder progress? "A New Digital Deal" needs to be flexible enough to allow these trade-offs to be made each time and at any time - preferably on a daily basis.

What can visitors look forward to most when they come to see your project?
Ricarda Aschauer: Our project’s special feature is that visitors use virtual reality to take part in an event. Our futuristic trial is not a 3D presentation – it allows two people to simultaneously appear as active legal parties in a court case and even affect the course of events and outcome. Which party can best present its legal position in the courtroom? During the virtual, on-site inspection, who can discover the most factual clues and therefore create more well-founded arguments? Visitors will delve into a virtual world to discuss the approval of a commercial facility in court and experience first-hand what kind of benefits virtual reality can offer when it comes to the rule of law. Put your briefcase away and put your VR goggles on instead!

What have been some of the greatest challenges when implementing your project? What was the biggest surprise?
Ricarda Aschauer: The biggest challenge in regard to “The Virtual Court. Reality.” project turned out to also be our greatest realization: bringing legal research together with VR technology to create a court of the future as well as develop the virtual reality aspect is a first at the LIT Law Lab. Still, we were able to accomplish this ambitious goal and implement a multiplayer installation. It was also challenging to come up with a situation in court that could be compressed and fairly easy to understand yet come as close to a "real" trial as possible. We have also been pleasantly surprised with the consistently positive and enthusiastic feedback by legal experts in regard to the actual use of VR.

Learn more about the JKU projects at the 2021 Ars Electronica Festival

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