This story has several opportunities for you to experience virtual reality (VR) yourself. Every bolded link will redirect you to a VR video. If on desktop, click into the video and drag into any direction; the screen will move in the direction you drag. If on a mobile device, click on the video title and it will redirect you to YouTube. When there, simply bring your device up to your eyes and move the phone around to different directions.
Imagine you could transport yourself anywhere — watch the Northern Lights in Alaska one moment, then observe the pyramids of Egypt the next — all with the use of a cardboard box.
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology trend that places users in a computer-generated environment, allowing them to interact with the world in a seemingly real way. Google and other companies have come up with affordable options of VR by giving consumers a simple cardboard box. The box holds mobile devices in a way that consumers can create a mini VR experience.
VR — a term coined by computer philosophy writer and computer scientist Jaron Lanier in the 1980s — has been frequently used in gaming and entertainment.
But now VR is spreading.
VR is reaching areas such as education, student marketability and the world of journalism.
Learn by being there: Learning about the world through VR
Robert Hernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California (USC) who specializes in emerging technologies for journalism, recalled one memorable, nonjournalism VR story that received a tremendous amount of national feedback last year.
Perspective — a series created by Morris May and Rose Troche — consists of an episode about college date rape called “The Party.” The VR fiction story starts off having users experience a college party as a woman talking to a man at a party. While both are intoxicated, users see it from the woman’s perspective. The episode then proceeds to the man and one of his friends walking into the bedroom in which the girl is passed out.
“It’s haunting and scary,” Hernandez said.
The episode then shows the story again, but switches the perspective. Instead of being the woman, users are now the man, experiencing it from his perspective.
“To really put yourself in another world is pretty intense,” Hernandez said. “With the video game and entertainment side of VR, I can create anything and have you experience it … We can go back in time, we can go in a made-up world. Of course, we have to be aware of how to use it. So if someone has been traumatized by rape, we don’t want to put someone through that.”
Hernandez explained how out of all the emerging technologies he studies, VR feels different.
“VR is an empathy machine,” Hernandez said. “You just feel it.”
Along with educating on sensitive and serious topics, VR educates students on things they could learn from a textbook, but tells it in a more engaging way than words on a page.
This is especially true for Edwin Aquino, biomedical engineering junior and Student Director for Innovation Sandbox — a facility for students to foster learning and innovation through hands-on experiences.
“In the use of a classroom, your teacher could create world history — you’d be able to see the pyramids instead of looking at a picture,” Aquino said. “In your workplace, you can view anything face-to-face. VR gives you more of that personal touch toward spaces.”
And sometimes, it can simply be used for fun.
Video by Angela Fausone
How understanding VR can get you a job
Aside from experiencing VR, knowledge of the technology is something Cal Poly marketing professor Joachim Scholz says can increase student marketability in the job market.
“It’s so new, that if students specialize in this right now, they can stand out tremendously,” Scholz said. “One of the reasons Facebook was so enthusiastic about buying Oculus Rift is because it’s an opportunity to shape the next new technology trend, which they see through VR and AR (augmented reality). It’s the same thinking tied to anyone here at Cal Poly — by searching for courses like digital marketing or by using this in journalism for information consumption, those are the things that you can use to stand out.”
Scholz studies augmented reality and virtual reality. Though he specializes in AR, which is an in between of the digital and physical world — such as being able to see arrows on the sidewalk as you use your phone to guide you in an unfamiliar area on campus — the idea is similar, simulating a way for users to engage more.
As a learning institution, Cal Poly is already ahead of the game in getting students familiar with this up-and-coming technology. The Innovation Sandbox is a key player in bringing this technology to students.
The Innovation Sandbox owns a starter development kit from Oculus. This allows students from all disciplines to try their hand at VR.
One of the projects Innovation Sandbox has conducted with VR is using it to allow its quadcopter pilots to see the [ers[ective of the aircraft as it explores the skies.
Video by Tom Nork
According to Aquino, the facility has been allowing students to experiment with the equipment for a little more than a year now.
“VR is one of the first things that interested me when I walked into this space,” Aquino said. “Whenever we’re giving a tour, people don’t usually say no to trying Oculus.”
A look at ourselves: VR in journalism and in the general future
In addition to learning about the world through VR, Hernandez discussed how the world of journalism has started to use VR for storytelling.
“We (journalists) can (come in and) create stories of all different types — from small experiences to deeper experiences as the technology becomes easier and more sophisticated for us to use — journalism plays a role there,” Hernandez said.
In Hernandez’s class at USC — Emerging Technologies in Journalism — he recruits students all across the university to essentially participate in a hackathon that intertwines journalism and technology. When his class explored the technology of VR, they were able to create stories about cyclists, roller derby and Mexican wrestling.
Outside of USC, news organizations around the world are using VR to tell news stories.
Hover over each hotspot and click on the video to start a virtual reality experience. If you are viewing this on desktop, click onto the video and drag into any direction; the screen will move in the direction you drag. . If on a mobile device, click on the YouTube symbol and it will redirect you to YouTube. When there, simply your bring your device up to your eyes and move the phone around to different directions and the video will move in that direction.
Graphic by Angela Fausone and CJM Tech
In Cal Poly’s journalism department, professors and students have started to realize the impact VR can make on reporting. In fact, Mustang News experimented with it earlier this year when Cal Poly scored the winning shot against the UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team.
If you are viewing this on desktop, click onto the video and drag into any direction; the screen will move in the direction you drag. . If on a mobile device, click on the video title and it will redirect you to YouTube. When there, simply your bring your device up to your eyes and move the phone around to different directions and the video will move in that direction.
Video courtesy of Brady Teufel
While that VR story was a milestone for Mustang News, adviser Pat Howe explained that different trade-offs — such as battery life and memory — all have to be made when dealing with VR.
“We made trade-offs because we were in the initial stages of exploring this, but it also just takes a ton of computer time and memory to put this together,” he said. “It’s not an easy process.”
Though the amount of money spent on a VR project can easily play a role in the final result, Howe explained that even the simple technology by the journalism department has the power to make a difference in storytelling.
“If you have an unlimited amount of money, you can produce an incredible effect,” Howe said. “But honestly, even with the barebones level of technology that we have — I think we spent 400 or 500 bucks total — I think we could probably achieve something that could be high definition.”
And according to Howe, this is just the beginning.
“Have you ever watched any of those early 1904 movies? It was basically waves crashing and trains running by and cats boxing. I think that’s kind of where we’re at,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out — how does this work to tell a story?”