I don’t like writing about the same thing two columns in a row. However, since my last column on virtual reality in the classroom I have heard from several readers with thoughts and questions. While a few of them were along the lines of “this is just like 3D, a passing fad,” but more of them were interested in the technology and excited to see it in person. Additionally, if you have been reading the news over the past month you may have noticed more and more articles showing up about virtual reality.
Facebook was one the first companies to jump into virtual reality when it purchased Oculus in 2014. Currently you can purchase what it calls the Gear VR, which allows you to use your Samsung phone as the viewing screen — kind of like what Google Cardboard does, only a bit more expensive, and official looking. Oculus’ flagship product, Rift, is expected to be released in July of this year. The Rift is selling for $600, but comes equipped with a set of accessories, such as a headset and XBox one controller. Short VR videos have begun popping up on Facebook. I recently saw one of Times Square during a snowstorm. As I was on my phone, I was able to move it around and see people moving through the city. After watching for several minutes without the video looping I was impressed with the quality and effect of the video, even without a headset.
Apple is also rumored to be in the virtual reality business. This is particularly exciting as we all know that when Apple does something it does it right. The company has recently put together a team to work on virtual reality and has made a couple of acquisitions that would be key to developing the technology. One of these acquisitions, FlyBy Media has technology that allows mobile devices to see the world around them. With its long standing ties in the education world, an Apple product would likely have the interest of educators. Especially if Apple is able to keep the price down by using iPods or iPhones.
Microsoft meanwhile is heavily engaged in what they are describing as augmented reality, with its HoloLens, expected to be released in the first quarter of 2016. In augmented reality, you see the real world around you, but the technology adds holographic images to your view. Microsoft has a very nice website that shows some of the many possible uses of HoloLens. One of my favorites is of a person fixing a sink. The women is wearing the HoloLens and looking at the sink, while the device also casts a Skype call with her father, who is presumably giving her advice, into her vision. The man is able to “draw” and point to parts of the sink virtually.
In my column last month I wrote about how the promise of this technology is that it is using things that we all already own, namely our mobile phones. While clearly you can see that is not always the case it does appear that the mobile phone will be a major player in the VR market. For devices like the HoloLens, having the ability to interact with someone in another place is very powerful. Think of teachers being able to edit a paper online with a student. With the growing trends of online education, this has a lot of power. Whether you are an educator, or a techie, this technology is coming fast. Even the devices that don’t use mobile phones at the core are not fetching the ridiculously high prices that one normally sees in new technology. Try this out and let me know what you think!