Images of flames over Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week shocked the world. For those of us who haven’t had the chance to see the real thing, Baidu has launched a virtual reality experience of the cathedral that is viewable through VR goggles or Google Cardboard.

The fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15 ruined priceless art that was centuries old. (Picture: Baike Museums Project)

The effort is part of the Baike Museums Project, which seeks to digitize museums around the world and make them accessible to users who cannot travel to see the artwork themselves.

The 800-year-old symbol of France caught fire in what officials have said was likely an accident. The 360-degree images can be seen in desktop browsers, but Baidu's Baike Museums mini program on WeChat offers a more immersive experience when combined with VR goggles, adding to the long list of things mini programs can do.

Although 360-degree images rely on similar technology when combined with a headset, they’re not exactly VR. However, Baidu has explored other projects using AR and VR tech with its video platform iQiyi, also known as the Netflix of China.

Unfortunately for Baidu, not all of the company’s VR projects have been well received. The company was branded as sexist in 2017 after releasing a female digital assistant named Vivi for its VR headset. Vivi was dressed as a real secretary, and it allowed users to flirt with her and “touch” her in the virtual world.

Baidu found the worst VR cliche: The virtual secretary-slash-girlfriend. (Picture: Handout)

Baidu and iQiyi also unveiled a VR headset in 2018 called the Qiyu VR II, which plays 4K videos and 8K panoramic videos.

Baike Museums is a different kind of project, however. Baidu’s museum digitization effort includes the Gaudi House Museum in Barcelona, Spain with VR videos and high-resolution 360-degree photos. The project has digitized artefacts from museums across China, too, including the famous Terracotta Army discovered in Xi’an in 1974.