Documentation & Support


Aloha mai! Kilo Hōkū is a virtual reality simulation that allows you to experience contemporary Hawaiian non-instrument navigation techniques and sail across the open ocean aboard the Hōkūleʻa, a wa‘a kaulua (a Hawaiian double-hulled sailing canoe) within a virtual environment. Users can learn about the basics of modern Hawaiian wayfinding, which is a method of navigating across the open ocean to a destination without the use of Western maps or modern navigation instruments. Through ongoing development of the simulation, we aim to assist in the education of the celestial navigation portion of modern Hawaiian wayfinding knowledge, and to help educate future generations of navigators.

Who is this for?

The intent of this application is for educators and learners of modern Hawaiian wayfinding to utilize it along with their time in the classroom and experiences on a wa‘a kaulua. However, Kilo Hōkū can serve as an educational environment for anyone interested in learning about the Hōkūleʻa or wayfinding techniques.

The user will be exposed to the art of wayfinding through both immersion in the virtual environment and through visualizations that are commonly used to train navigators to recognize the movement of the night sky, such as the Hawaiian Star Compass. Through their experience, the user will be able to train their observation skills so that they will be able to understand their position in relation to the stars. 


Set-up Considerations

Virtual reality requires approximately 10 sq. ft. of space in order to allow the user to be able to navigate and operate without accidentally impacting anything in the physical environment.  Please follow the setup manual for the HTC Vive for instructions on creating this space.


HTC Vive or HTC Vive Pro Virtual Reality System (

Computer recommended minimum specifications:

  • Operating System:
    • Windows® 7 SP1, Windows® 8.1 or later, Windows® 10
  • Processor:
    • Intel® Core™ i5-4590 or AMD FX™ 8350, equivalent or better
  • Memory:
    • 4 GB RAM or more
  • Graphics
    • NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon™ RX 480,  or equivalent
  • Storage
    • 1.5 GB
  • VR Headset
    • HTC Vive or HTC Vive Pro


Steam and Steam Account, available at

SteamVR, available at


Go to and follow the posted instructions.

Getting Started

When the simulation is first launched, the user will be in the Start Scene.  From here, the simulation may be operated externally by an observer looking at the screen using the Teacher Controller, or it may be operated from within the simulation using the VR Controls.  There are also Keyboard Controls that may be used as shortcuts for certain actions.


The simulation contains 3 scenes that the user may experience.

  • Start
    • This is the welcome scene for the user when the application first launches. They are given some information about the project and given the option of “Stargazing”, which is a simulation of being on the Hōkūleʻa, or “Exploration”, which gives the user the ability to explore around the Hōkūleʻa and learn different aspects about her.
  • Stargazing
    • Within this scene the user will be able to sail the Hōkūleʻa within an open ocean environment while being able to utilize common visualizations used to understand celestial navigation techniques. . It’s both a learning and assessment tool for teachers to help them continue helping those that are not understanding.
  • Exploring
    • Within this scene the user can see the Hōkūleʻa in daylight while she is safely docked at a pier, and investigate and learn the names of the various parts of the wa’a using a pointer on the controller.

Teacher Controller

The teacher controller allows an external viewer or teacher to control certain portions of the simulation, including what is  being seen through the headset and on an optional external screen for viewing.  It also allows the external viewer or teacher to change what appears in a given portion of the simulation. Certain options are only available in certain scenes.


  • Scene Selection (All Scenes)
    • Switches between the Start, Stargazing, and Exploring scenes.
  • Star Compass Toggle (Stargazing Only)
    • For direction and location, Nainoa Thompson developed the Hawaiian star compass, a tool which is used to track the rising and setting location of stars on the horizon in relation to the sailing vessel. This toggle allows a teacher to turn the compass on and off in the simulation so that it may be used in a learning situation or possibly in an assessment one as well.
  • Celestial Meridian Toggle (Stargazing Only)
    • A line drawn bisecting the sky starting on the horizon at true north, through the zenith directly overhead, and then back down to the horizon at true south, perpendicular to the horizon.  Thus, two vertically aligned stars in the night sky are indicative of being oriented against the observer’s celestial meridian, and the lower altitude star of the pair can then be used to indicate distance to the horizon, and subsequently the latitude of the navigator.  This further expands the navigator’s toolset for determining latitude out at sea beyond sighting single stars, but requires memorization and recall of the rising and setting pairs, and pairs that align at the celestial meridian.
  • Celestial Equator Toggle (Stargazing Only)
    • The Celestial Equator is an imaginary line around the middle of the Celestial Sphere, equidistant from the North Celestial Pole (NCP) and South Celestial Pole (SCP) and on the same plane as the earth’s equator. It intersects the Circle of the Horizon at East and due West. This toggle allows a teacher to turn the celestial equator on and off.
  •  Islands Toggle (Stargazing Only)
    • This toggle allows a teacher to turn the islands on and off. 
  • Moon Phase (Stargazing Only)
    • Choose which moon phase you want
  • Locations (Stargazing Only)
    • This dropdown gives you a list of sailing routes.
  • Latitude  (Stargazing Only)
    • Here you can choose a specific latitude to jump to.
  • Longitude  (Stargazing Only)
    • Here you can choose a specific longitude to jump to.
  • Lat/Long Translate (Stargazing Only)
    • Moves the sky rotation in the indicated direction.  Press Stop to cease rotation.
  • Sky Rotation (Stargazing Only)
    • Change the speed at which the sky will rotate.  Stop returns to realtime.
  • Timer (Stargazing Only)
    • Start, Stop, and Reset the timer for assessing task times.

VR Controls

The controls for the user will vary depending on the scene that the user is in.

All buttons for the HTC Vive control wands are illustrated below:

Both the left and right hand control wands have the same buttons.

A quick-guide for controls is available to the user whenever they look at the controllers within the simulation.  This will be context-sensitive to show controls based on the scene that the user is currently in.

Menu ButtonUnusedExit to StartExit to Start
TriggerUnusedGrip PaddleGrip Paddle
Trackpad PressUnusedBring up teleportation pointerBring up teleportation pointer
Trackpad ReleaseUnusedMove to teleport location indicated by teleportation pointerMove to teleport location indicated by teleportation pointer
Left Hand VR Controls
Menu ButtonUnusedActivate Star Lines while heldExit to Start
TriggerClick to interact with pointed-at menu optionGrip PaddleGrip Paddle
GripUnusedRotate SkyUnused
Trackpad PressBring up menu pointerBring up Star Constellation Pointer / Railing Marker pointerBring up waʻa part pointer / Railing Marker pointer
Trackpad ReleaseUnusedActivate / Deactivate Railing MarkerActivate / Deactivate Railing Marker
Right Hand VR Controls

Keyboard Controls

  • Esc – Quits the simulation
  • F1 – Loads the Start scene
  • F2 – Loads the Stargazing scene
  • F3 – Loads the Exploration scene
  • Tab – Toggles display of the Teacher Controller
  • Spacebar – Resets and reloads the current scene


For assistance with Kilo Hōkū VR, please visit our Contact Us page.

You can also post to our discussion board on the page at

Credits & Acknowledgements

The Hawaiian Star compass was developed by Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, and is used with the permission of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

The voyaging canoe Hōkūle’a and the name Hōkūle’a are property of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and are used in this simulation with permission.

Hōkūle’a Model by Mike Pai;

VRTK Toolkit from

Developed using Unity 3D for the HTC Vive, this simulation was originally produced at the Laboratory for Advanced Visualization and Applications at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

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