My Oculus Rift came this week and last night I got around to plugging all the components in and giving it a spin. Oculus Rift is the VR headset the Palmer Lukey developed and then sold to Facebook for $2 billion. There have been developer models for a few years now, but this year marked the release of the initial public version.
The public release includes the headset/headphones, motion sensor (that reminds me of an old Apple iSight camera, only black instead of silver,) a small remote control, and a XBox Controler. These devices all connect to a computer, with ample horsepower and a high end graphics card ( NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater,) three 3.0 USB ports, 1 2.0 USB port and an HDMI port.
I have always been a fan of VR, since the days of QuickTimeVR, and continue to explore the medium with cameras and software to this date. When Google released Google Cardboard, almost two years ago now, I was quick to generate my own Cardboard creations using Unity, the Cardboard API, and IOS Developer tools. Cardboard really brought VR into the vernacular of many people, beyond the “nerds and geeks,” like myself. A put together a web site titled www.vrstorydesign.com that I might start sharing some of the things that interest me regarding VR. For now, it just contains a few vr tours I created that you can explore in Cardboard or through your web browser.
With the release of Oculus Rift, we are beginning to see the very early beginnings of VR technology’s potential. The science fiction, so cleverly described in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, begins to take shape on your face the minute you put on the Rift. After connecting the spaghetti of cables to your computer, and installing the software, the introductory sequence is quite amazing. The speed at which your brain gets sucked into the immersive experience is a bit spooky. The initial start up sequence of content is very appropriately positioned to induct you into the Rift VR world. I’m not a big fan of heights, and the introductory sequence includes a 3D generated scene on top of a “steampunk” looking skyscraper. I immediately felt the tinge of a panic attack coming on while looking out over the CGI ledge. I lost myself so quick in the sequence, that I found myself instinctively trying to look down at my hands to see what I was trying to select on my remote. That’s kind of hard to do when you have a mask covering your eyes.
After using the Rift for a little while, it’s not hard to see the potential for what this technology can bring to education and learning. As educators, we strive to engage students in the learning environment we call the classroom. If you are an OG geek like me, you can remember the days of watching Star Trek and the story lines involving the holodeck. Wearing the Rift begins to bring the whole holodeck idea to life. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine students excavating an archaeological site uncovering artifacts and evaluating them. Or standing within a tide pool on the Monterey Coast examining creatures in the pools, taking notes, virtual photographing them for later review, or researching what they are finding in a HUD in the corner of their view. Don’t worry about the technology isolating them from other people, there is a growing number of systems such as AltSpaceVR that are designed to bring people together to explore these environments together. One highly anticipated social vr environment is Project Sansar, from the Linden Labs folks. These are the people who created Second Life. This summer they are planning to open Project Sansar to content developers, with an anticipated launch in the Fall/Winter time frame.
I can foresee many opportunities for bringing VR to the classroom as the hardware and software continue to evolve. It is not completely out of the question, at the speed at which technology improves, that the full 60 frame per second, wireless from a mobile device, VR will soon replace the high end workstation and spaghetti of cables currently used to view VR. Who knows, VR and a mobile device could essentially eliminate the need for desktop computers. Early applications such as Tilt Brush by Google, and Virtual Desktop on Steam provide more reasons to compute directly though VR. The future of learning looks exciting!