Courtroom Exhibit: Mixed Reality


My first experience with virtual reality (VR) was a Google Cardboard headset with a mobile phone slipped in behind some cheap lenses. It was interesting, but not very realistic. A year later I got my hands on an Oculus Quest and immediately saw the potential for creating immersive experiences that not only show, but also allow viewers to feel what it’s like to be in a scene.

For example, jumping into the driver’s seat for a bus crash case I was able to experience exactly how much “rock and roll” was needed to clear the blind spot caused by a side mirror and “A” pillar assembly. In another case, while stepping to the edge of a 30 foot tall scaffold, I felt a twinge of fear while trying to negotiate climbing onto a ladder while crouching to avoid a steel beam.

It’s still early days, but Fat Pencil Studio has already been able to use immersive VR technology on real cases to meet with attorneys and investigators inside a crime scene, and create realistic presentations for mediation. The question is… can this work in a trial? It’s hard to imagine strapping an immersive VR headset on every person in a courtroom– attorneys, witnesses, judge and jury– and having anything but chaos as a result. 

One alternative is to use the augmented reality (AR) capabilities built into newer mobile devices to add virtual content to an area viewed through the camera (think Pokemon Go). While we probably don’t want jurors distracted by Pikachu, AR technology does have the benefit of keeping viewers aware of their shared surroundings. This option is about to get a lot more interesting when Apple and Meta release long-rumored “mixed reality” headsets later this year. Viewers will be able to choose immersive VR or use a pass-thru mode where they can see their own surroundings, plus AR content added into the space. I can think of several ways this could be useful in a trial.

Virtual Site Visit

Visualizing large objects

Cutaway and exploded diagrams

Poseable human figures

Perhaps someday, as predicted by Mitch Jackson, we’ll get rid of the physical courtroom altogether, and all participants will join remotely using VR equipment. In fact, a virtual courtroom training environment has already been built by an Idaho based firm called Just

However, my architectural background makes me think there is something about the physical space of a courtroom that conveys a sense of authority to the proceedings. Also the experience of human expression and emotion that is so important during trials will be difficult to digitize. Sure, computer graphics will keep getting better, but I think a fully virtual courtroom is always going to feel a little bit like a game.


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio