Recently I tweeted about an app that I thought was very interesting usage of VR that showed our solar system in simple and very visual way. At the time of this writing, it’s free. The app itself is simple, strap on the headset and start it up. Once it gets going you are planted in the middle of our solar system and can cycle through each planet (no Pluto..) to see some basic information about it and have it highlighted as it orbits around the sun. While this is just a beta, I found it fascinating to just sit and watch the planets and their moons go around.
An application like this could be invaluable for teaching people about our solar system, and in the future as we gain more information on what is out there, the many other solar systems and galaxies. The idea that we use pictures or models now seems outdated as we can take a very visual and immersive look into how our solar system works and moves.
For this application the model is simple, it’s basic math affecting basic geometric objects. If you had to calculate hundreds of thousands of years, it may be a different story, but for the most part the solar system doesn’t move much relative to our simple viewpoint. The best part of it though is that it’s obvious in what it does and what it teaches and allows the user/viewer to explore as they want with the information presented.
Virtual reality is going to bring a whole slew of new ideas and inventions in the world of education as we continue to imagine how we can learn through immersive experiences. While graphics will always play a huge part in this equation, as they do now in so many video based materials, live footage also must be part of the solutions. At this point unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of room in VR for video. If you don’t build natively in C++, you’re going to have to use Unity or Unreal as the engine for the experience. This is obviously the fast track as the powerful engines that these are for 3D, and in turn VR, can get a game or app out into the wild quite quickly. In fact, the utilities provided by Oculus allow you to bring in VR cameras and player controls etc very very easily to replace what you may have now. In some cases, converting a normal game to a VR game is as simple as replacing just one camera!
Of course, at the time of this post the SDK is still sitting at 0.8 and improvements are coming all the time. I’m very interested to see v1 and then v2 as we quickly move along the development cycle of this incredibly new and amazing technology. The imagination and ingenuity of the community is already happening at a pace that is hard to keep up with and as the need increases, so will the variety of solutions. I recall being at the forefront of the technology that drove live video on the web through the Flash player and Macromedia’s Flash Media Server. In the beginning it was just magic and hardly used, but it wasn’t long before it was just ubiquitous and nowadays it’s the norm. I very much expect VR to get that far and beyond as we are constantly looking for new and more efficient ways of absorbing information and experiences. The solar system app was a real trigger for me on how presenting the same information in a completely new way can be such a game changer for an industry. Obviously it started out as drawings on paper, then we had books, then models you hung from the ceiling, then TV and motion graphics, then computers to control it, and now you can sit in the middle of it and move your head around to see it.
The education industry is going to explode once VR gets mainstream. It looks like Samsung is first out of the gate with the GearVR but I’m really hoping that Oculus and the HTC Vive take off as there are so many more features available for tracking the head and hands. Soon after I’m sure there will be more that will be possible to either track or extrapolate from the trackable. I highly recommend checking out the Oculus connect series of videos to listen to other people’s experiences in this area. It’s fascinating.