Saturday, June 4, 2016
Pop Up Thinglab 4: VR Travel Agency - Croydon Central Library Reception
Pop Up Thinglab 4 was a Virtual Reality Travel Agency held in the reception of Croydon Central Library.
Over 30 people of all ages and backgrounds experienced virtual reality in our "Lunchtime Library Trips" session. People travelled into space, to Pluto, the circus, The Tomb of Tutankhamun, The Australian outback, Borneo, Kenya, Mongolia, swam underwater with dolphins and whales, saw real life dinosaurs, visited a dystopian future and rode on roller-coasters.
From the "Virtual Reality Trips" available people selected Felix & Paul Studios Introduction To Virtual Reality, The Tomb of Tutankhamun, Jurassic World, Pluto, Muse "Revolt", The Click Effect, View-Master Space and Wildlife played Smash Hit VR, rode the Dive City Roller-coaster, Fibrum roller-coaster and the Fibrum Fibrum Crazy Swing.
This was our first Thinglab where children had a go at the View-master VR headset and destinations VR content. The View-Master VR viewer is a good robust Google cardboard VR ecosystem headset able to play any of the Cardboard VR content but also has its on "destinations" content designed specifically for children from 7 years old so I was interested to see how it worked with them. I had found the destinations content to be rather limited and simplistic but I'm not a 7 year old. I was impressed by how well the View-master VR set and destinations worked with the children - they could operate the View-Master headset easily and were engaged with the destinations space and wildlife content - eliciting the usual VR experience "wow" responses from the children as they looked around.
As is often the case usual with new technology - it is our young people who are most at ease with it. I was impressed how the children at Pop Up Thinglab 4 helped their parents with virtual reality - explaining how to use the headset, suggesting what to look at and describing what they saw like a story. The teenagers were mostly already aware of virtual reality but hadn't tried it yet - they were keen to "jump in" and have a go and had a great deal of fun exploring our virtual worlds.
I had conversations with parents about virtual reality health & safety - practical common sense about supervising children's use of VR, content and avoiding prolonged use - 15 minutes per hour is a practical safe option. Manufacturers have very different recommendations for minimum ages - Oculus (Rift and Samsung Gear) say 13+ , Sony Playstation say 12+, Mattel say 7+. HTC say the Vive wasn’t designed for ‘young’ children but don't specify a minimum age and Google doesn't specify a minimum age and have been very active in children's education from primary schools up with their Expeditions program. One reason for these very different recommendations may come from the nature of the headsets - Mattel and the majority of Google Cardboard headsets are lighter and held to the face making them less immersive than the Oculus (Rift and Samsung Gear) and Playstation headsets. The best advice is to stick with the manufacturers recommendations otherwise supervise very closely. It does seem strange that Samsung Gear specify 13+ yet are developing Bedtime Stories VR specifically for very young children.
I had conversations with parents about the potential addiction dangers of virtual reality - how screen addiction has been a problem over the decades from watching too much TV, through computer and video games to strapping a screen to your face with virtual reality. The intensity of experience with virtual reality is only going to get deeper in the years ahead - presenting real difficulties for those with escapist\addictive or tendencies. Like all technologies, virtual reality has its upside (e.g. treating additions and phobias) and its downside (becoming addictive). We are at the early phase of a new populist\mass media era of virtual reality and the real dangers of virtual reality have not been addressed much as of yet - I fear we are moving headlong eyes wide shut into some very potent addiction problems - its something I hint at in the short video "Blending Reality" for The IT Kitchen and something I will write about soon.
Some people have suggested that virtual reality may lead to young people getting mixed up and confused but so far I have found just the opposite - even young children, no doubt used to TV, computers and video games are quite clear that virtual reality is just another screen and that its not real at all. One of the things I want to do in the future is to ask children who have tried virtual reality how they would describe it and what they think about the dangers.
Experiencing virtual reality is fascinating ... its also fascinating watching people experience it - its s strange to see someone looking at things and gesticulating at things you can't see - here's a short clip of Julian Bream in Muse Revolt for example. Its fascinating to hear people talk about their trips - a popular one is about how the circus performer with the fire sticks in Felix & Paul Studios Introduction To Virtual Reality comes right up to you. Virtual reality is (at least at the moment) an individual journey but when people have taken the same trip they can relate - when one of the teenage boys shouts out "I'm in a tent" - one of the ladies who had taken the same trip earlier new just where the boy was.
One of the things I want to do in the future is to explore various uses of virtual reality in education. I am interested in how people describe what virtual reality is and how they experience their individual trips both in real-time as verbal descriptions and afterwards as verbal and written stories of what they saw, where they went and what they felt - hopefully future Pop up Thinglab Virtual Reality Travel Agencies will feature some of these stories.
For more information about the Virtual reality Travel Agency visit http://inspirenshare.com/vrtravelagency