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The VR Dabble

Let me preface by saying I have always been a sucker for technology. I personally found that I have a sense of wonder in what continues to evolve in my own interests. I suppose I can be classified as a “Dabbler” in wide range of devices.

I have made my way through the cell phone jungle from ones that had pullout antennas, to flip phones, to ones with touchscreens of various sizes. I found it a little hard to part with one of my latest cell phones that I had upgraded from. It is a Samsung Galaxy 8S.

I liked this phone because it has a nice screen, an external SD card slot for my music, but it also fits into an external device that turned it into a Virtual Reality (VR) headset. VR has not been around long. Google Goggles had appeared with its cardboard VR, but it wasn’t as solid as what I had. My first few experiences were tours of the solar system, a walk through a museum, and a VR ride on a roller coaster (more about that later).

These experiences seemed somewhat real enough, but they were limited in variety and length. I kind of let it fall by the wayside because my phone’s battery needed to be replaced as it didn’t seem to hold a charge long given the VR demands on the hardware.

Jump forward a couple of years, and we now have a handful of dedicated VR devices and companies working on providing a multitude of VR experiences. Was this the time to reexplore VR? YES!

I did some research and decided to get an Oculus Quest 2. A dedicated VR device that interfaces with Meta, formerly known as Facebook. It not only has the headset but also has 2 handheld controllers.

The Quest 2 fits over the head with adjustable straps to fit snuggly on your head. This takes a little getting used to, as there is a fair about of weight and some critical adjustments to get it just right. The controllers are ergonomically designed to fit in the palm of your hand with a light grasp and it has a variety of buttons and joystick combinations on each hand.

Once set up there are a variety of built-in experiences and ones which can be purchased much like any other device. When the Quest boots up there is a choice of creating a fence or field around yourself to limit your movement before you get too close to objects or there is a stationary selection for when you are standing still or sitting. This component is extremely important, as it is very easy to get so involved that you lose your sense of spatial context. Just Google “VR Fail Compilations” and see why this is important.

What is amazing is how involved you can get in the VR experience that you can easily lose your sense of direction, time and act out with the experience. I mentioned earlier about the VR roller coaster. I have one that is so realistic that I tilt my head left, right, up, and down to the point that I get uncomfortable with the experience. I’ve parked that one for now.

I have found that the documentaries and 360-degree views like climbing Mount Everest or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef are so immersive that one could feel the sensation of truly being there.

It is taking me some time to get oriented to the controls. Both controllers have a variety of buttons and toggles that all represent and input commands of some kind. However, there is a hands-free interface that mimics hand movement without the controllers which will probably be more suitable for me as I am discovering my inability to manipulate the controllers. I also just set up voice control as if the controllers and hands-free weren’t confusing enough.

A quick Google search for classroom VR setups and not surprising there are several companies that have classroom packages and curriculum to support VR. I will admit that although I have had my Quest 2 for a little over a month, I can connect with how valuable VR would be to engage students in a classroom.

In a matter of seconds, you can be dropped just about anywhere in the world in a 360-degree environment or experience a virtual reality constructed from computer-generated realism. One such scenario is the International Space Station or ISS. The user can experience real footage shots on the ISS and maneuver around with the crew, or a VR setting where there are missions to perform in and out of the ISS. The experience is breathtaking.

I have only scratched the surface of Virtual Reality, but it is enormously engaging. I have already virtually experienced places I will never get to see in person and have a greater appreciation for how I can closely emulate being there. The journey has just begun.

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Thursday, 20 January 2022
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