Virtual reality forecasts the future

Virtual reality forecasts the future

November 30
16:03 2016

The Media Library and The Factory are planning to provide students with more options pertaining to virtual reality within the coming month. The emerging technology, which provides both an educational and recreational outlet for students, offers applications in medical, construction and communication fields, alongside a myriad of others.

The Oculus joined the media library in May 2015 and over 850 students have used it.  The Vive arrived May 2016, bringing in 370 curious students.

Outreach and Program Director Jeremy Kincaid said there are two software development kits of the SDK Oculus Rift, along with HTC Vive that are equipped with two tripods holding cameras and a supercomputer to support the VR headset games. The media library wants to mount the cameras above head level to allow for more walking room in the future, but the portability for transportation is more appropriate at the moment.

“VR is not really a feasible thing for people to buy right now on their own,” Kincaid said. “Unless they are really willing to dedicate a lot of time and money to it. So by us having it, it allows people to experience something that is new and upcoming that might not be able to in their everyday life.”

Since the media library is constantly looking for new types of media, VR provided a new and creative outlet to display that media. Despite the fun and games, however, research is the first priority in the library.

The benefits of VR to students are plentiful. Students are able to “travel” to places they normally wouldn’t be able to go to, like the Sistine Chapel, in order to learn more about aspects and features of various places around the world. In addition, students studying anatomy or other medical related classes are able to practice on a skeletal system.

“We are engaged in students staying in school,” Kincaid said.

Factory worker John Knowles highlights Unity, a game design engine that utilizes VR technology at Willis Library. Four fully equipped workstations are available for students to experiment in-shop. In addition, an Oculus system can be checked out, often by professors for their research projects.

“One of the biggest advantages of Unity is that it publishes games that can take advantage of VR headsets,” Knowles said. “It allows people to really easily get into making really interesting VR applications, interacting with 3-D objects and 3-D space in VR platforms without having to go and do all the backend coding that you would have to do to build a rendering engine.”

While the VR sets provide educational purposes for students, they also provide a way for students to take a break and relax from the stresses of upcoming finals.

At the moment, game options are limited. Games that have multi-use licenses are free downloads that can be shared with all students.  Right now, each VR headset has four games available. The media library provides the hardware, but students need their own software. Students are able to utilize their own Steam or Oculus accounts for single-use licenses to access the full roster of games. Steam recently announced they are in the process of allowing exclusive multi-use licenses for libraries.

The libraries are planning ahead for future purchases of the PlayStation VR, which is expected to release in six months. The PlayStation is an easier way for everyday people, including students, to afford VR. In addition, the PlayStation VR will provide physical disc copies of the games, which would eliminate the licensing issue.

Kincaid expects VR to progress beyond the library.  The hands-on engagement provides educational opportunities that lay the ground floor for students.

“It makes me like I’m actually in the game,” engineering student David Choperro said. “You forget where you are. You forget what time it is. You forget everything. You are just so deep in the game.”

He describes it as full immersion, imagining himself in his favorite book where he gets to do things he’d never do in real life.  His friends told him about the technology earlier in the year, but his school schedule didn’t let him see it until the Thanksgiving break.

“I thought I might as well try it for myself just to see what it is like because I had never tried VR before,” Choperro said. “I’m kind of hooked on it.”

Students interested in learning how to utilize the VR technology in full are encouraged to attend the workshops posted on The Factory website.

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Travis McCallum

Travis McCallum

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