Virtual reality is finally here

Attar VR enthusiast Bill Myers displays the Samsung Gear VR on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Myers dedicates much of his time researching and developing new methods in the field of Virtual Reality.

Amy Kessler

Virtual reality, freshman applied engineering Michael Nelson said, “truly feels like you are in a different world.”

“You put the goggles on,” he said, “and you are there. You see a disc, a meteor, anything coming ‘toward you,’ and it seems so real that your body reacts as if you were actually about to be struck by what you see.”

Virtual reality is hitting its stride, especially with recent releases of headsets like Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift.

Many people have experienced virtual reality through either Facebook or YouTube. The sites can now host 360-degree videos or provide the sensation through multiple augmented-reality apps available.

There are two ways to use reality devices: virtual reality and augmented reality. Both have become extremely popular.

Virtual reality is seeing a virtual world all around you. Essentially, it is a three-dimensional game environment that can be interacted with a person, as well as explored by that person. Augmented reality takes the real world in real time and overlays objects into the real world.

Video games and virtual reality; the perfect pair.

More and more games are coming out with virtual reality elements.

“For video games, a key component is taking away some controls from a controller and substituting the VR headset for it,” said Matthew Allen, a Kent State alum who majored in technology. “For example, most games use the right joystick, (the) A and D keys or the mouse to turn the camera in a game. Virtual reality allows game designers to control this through the headset which, if done right, creates a better experience.”

Allen explained that when control is given to the virtual reality headset, “it allows the player to turn their head and look around in the real world while the virtual reality headset is on them. This translates into the game world allowing the game camera to turn and look around as well.

Allen said that the combination of movements becomes synced, so that when the player turns in the real world, they actually turn in the virtual space. This is displayed at the same time on their headset.

To use virtual reality, a person simply has to move around. If they do that, the game will follow.

“My team and I have created a virtual DJ game where you are a DJ at (a) venue playing music while a crowd dances. Fog floats around and lights spin and display text on the walls,” Allen said. “We used the Oculus Rift to view the crowd and a motion controller (a controller you are able to connect to your computer and solely use hand motions to play a game) to allow the player to ‘scratch’ the record while playing.”

Nelson said virtual reality is “being completely immersed in a different environment.”

“When you put the goggles on and get yourself all situated, a screen appears and you focus in on what it says or what you see,” Nelson said. “After you see the first screen and finish doing what you’re doing with the goggles, you take them off and you feel like you’ve just landed in a different dimension.”

One of Nelson’s favorite games is called Weightless, a virtual reality application that utilizes a motion controller.

“Weightless puts you in a spaceship that is in orbit,” Nelson said. “You use your hands to push buttons, interact with objects and scroll through different menu options. This game really makes you feel like you are in space; I sway back and forth while using it because it seems so real.”

In a game called Collider, Nelson is able to control the game through something called a virtualized supercollider, which is a constant stream of different geometric shapes and other figures coming at a person at varying speeds, different colors and in varying formations.

“This game is incredibly interesting to the visual and auditory senses. It transforms where you are into a different dimension by putting on the goggles and watching a never-ending stream of objects come at you with sound around you (that) puts you into sort of a ‘haze’—almost like a daydream,” Nelson said. “If you wear headphones while playing Collider, the noise adds to the experience. Not only is there a fast stream of objects coming at you, there is music amplifying the experience.”

Virtual reality and education

“I think allowing students a new way to be engaged while providing auditory, visual and haptic (sense of touch) learning will really help people learn better by doing,” Allen said.

That is exactly what teachers are now doing in the classroom. Teachers have recently been using virtual reality to get in tune with their students.

One teacher at Stow-Munroe Middle School is doing such. David Ternent, a middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher, teaches his students about virtual reality and uses Google Cardboard.

“(Students) download virtual reality apps to try them out and get a feel for them,” Ternent said. “Once the students understand focal length, head tracking and the coding involved, they start to use Unity Game Engine to try making some games they could put on their phones. I’ve had a couple of students that have made games and actually do this.”

Stow-Munroe Middle School was just approved by Microsoft to get the developer edition of Microsoft HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset.

When asked about the kids’ reactions to using virtual reality to the classroom, Ternent said, “Aside from the initial giddiness, we see that students love working in (virtual reality). So much so, they buy their own Google Cardboard, download Unity for home-coding their own games, and talk, teach and collaborate with their friends on using (virtual reality).”

Ternent also said virtual reality will become important to future jobs for the incoming generation.

“I really see this as the next big advance in computing and computer use,” he said.

“To train astronauts on how to work on the (International Space Station), NASA is using virtual reality and augmented reality to control the Rovers on Mars,” Ternent said. “In building ships, the Navy uses virtual reality to make sure objects (computer consoles, pipes, tubes) fit where they want them; Volvo uses augmented reality to make and design their cars … So, their jobs when they graduate and move on are going to be way different from what they were 10 years ago.”

Not only are middle-school aged kids getting educated on virtual reality, younger children are taught at Kent State-hosted camps.

“In the AT&T Classroom, we have explored the use of Quiver with our classes,” said Annette Kratcoski, director of Research Center for Educational Technology(RCET) at Kent State. RCET is a center for research and practice in relation to teaching and technology.

Quiver is an app that turns coloring pages into a 3D-augmented reality experience. The app combines layers of digital content with the actual environment by using the camera feature on the tablet device, creating a virtual reality on the tablet screen.

There are many types of themed coloring pages that can be picked up to help a user in this experience.

A person can color the coloring page in either markers or coloring pencils and then open up the Quiver app on either their iPad or iPhone. Then, by holding the phone over top of the colored picture, it instantly comes to life, utilizing animations and sounds the developer has built into the app.

“The value of the app is that it builds from a very developmentally appropriate activity (coloring) but adds the opportunity for the child to utilize a 21st century tool for augmented reality within the writing curriculum,” Kratcoski said. “The animated 3D experience not only engages the student in the activity but also offers motivation and inspiration as they approach the creative writing aspect of the lesson.”

RCET uses this app with children for science lessons related to Earth Day and plants. They also have a creative writing assignment that goes along with this, as well.

RCET puts on several camps in the summer months centered around technology, including a camp called “Digital Tools for Coding, Programming & Virtual Reality,” which teaches children to code and program games, animations and 3D printing. Participants will also have the chance to use virtual reality headsets, such as Google Cardboard and Aurasma. This coming summer will be the first summer virtual reality will be used in the camps.

Virtual reality in the industry

Bill Myers, a virtual reality evangelist at Todd Biss Productions in Akron, hosts monthly meet-ups where he demonstrates demos of virtual reality headsets and also brings in several different speakers to talk about virtual reality.

Myers saw how big of a technology presence Seattle and New York City had and wanted to bring that to Akron.

“I started off realizing that Northeast Ohio did not have a big virtual reality presence,” Myers said. “I had demoed the technology and a friend showed it to me … I was just so blown away.”

After Myers first started these meet-ups in July 2015, he saw more people start to continue to show up and fill the room.

“My first meet-up was just with friends and family and three people from the outside community,” Myers said. “Week after week, more people started trickling in and word started to spread. It was amazing to see it go from nothing to maxing out the room.”

Now, about 40 people show up to the virtual reality meet-ups.

Myers brought the idea of virtual reality to his workplace.

“I showed (work employees) what the Oculus Rift can do and showed them some 360-degree video stories,” Myers said. “I showed my boss one thing, and he said, ‘I’m hooked. How do we keep going with this?’ He (could) see my passion for this and, sure enough, I was able to get him to purchase a 360-degree GoPro Camera.”

Myers is currently trying to get his clients to start working with virtual reality and teach them the benefits of doing so.

One of Myers’ recent projects was working with the Massillon Museum in Massillon, Ohio.

“At the Massillon Museum, I used (a) 360-degree GoPro Camera and filmed in seven different locations throughout the museum,” Myers said. “One shot in particular was in the Immel Circus Gallery, where a 100-square foot miniature circus is on display. I recorded it in three locations within the gallery and added in loudspeaker audio similar to what you might have heard at a circus in the early 1900s.”

Akron virtual reality meet-ups occur on the last Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

Virtual reality in the future

Allen is sure that virtual reality will become much bigger in the future.

“There are a lot of jobs that can benefit from it,” Allen said. “For example, let’s say a problem happens at a factory, like a cooling system breaks in a hard-to-reach place. Typically, the workplace might have to pull out blueprints and look at dimensions to figure out how they can access it. If (virtual reality) is used, they can have a scale model of the building in a virtual space. They can load it up from any computer and walk around and view the problem area. From here, they can assess the damage and come up with solutions to fix it.”

Allen also explained that there was virtual reality in the ’70s and ’80s, but at that point in time, computers and game consoles didn’t have enough power to handle it.

“I consider this to be the revival of virtual reality,” Allen said. “With the Internet spreading awareness and more people programming, contributions to virtual reality are more rapid and are growing to help improve it.”

Myers said that the next two to three years will be a trial time for the virtual reality industry.

“It is going to be interesting to see who utilizes it and who takes the technology to the next level,” Myers said.

Amy Kessler is a consumer technology reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].