There you are ... in my virtual reality
Pop Up Thinglab 17 was a virtual reality travel agency student welcome event at Westminster Kingsway college Soho centre.
We aimed to give students and staff a personal experience with immersive 360 degree virtual reality by putting them in the picture (literally) using our virtual reality camera. We started off talking 360 degree virtual reality selfies.
We are familiar with seeing ourselves in two dimensions on flat media such as photos and videos but seeing ourselves in virtual reality is something new - the VR selfie is the strangest selfie yet. In-situ virtual reality is strangely compelling and messes with our senses as we move from the familiar two dimensional passive voyeurism of flat media perspectives to the active immersive first person perspective of virtual reality. The best lie is close to the truth - In-situ VR is close to reality and gets the closest I've seen yet to confusing people that what they are seeing is real - people seem spell-bound looking around, many start reaching out to touch things and many can't resist moving around.
Experiencing an in-situ VR selfie
With the virtual reality travel agency students and staff visited Borneo, Kenya and Mongolia, went ski jumping, walked a tightrope, went to the top of the spire at the world trade centre, rode roller coasters, went into outer space, went back in time to the Jurassic era, went forward in time to a cyber-punk future in Prague and New York and went on stage with the Cirque Du Soleil.
Virtual reality can seem real
Using virtual reality with the smartphone speaker helps make it a shared social experience as the VR traveller can have conversations with people around them in the real world and involve them in what they are experiencing.
Now that I have your undivided attention
Many of the students wanted to get more immersed and used their headphones with the VR viewer - this had the effect of disconnecting them from the group around them and I noticed each part then acting and experiencing separately. The VR travellers with headphones all became quite isolated and introspective - quiet, absorbed and engrossed ... indeed they became immersed.
Seeing the absorbing effect of immersive virtual reality made wonder how it might be used in relation to attention - not just to help concentration and focus but also to help with attention shifting conditions such as ADHD and sensory overload conditions such as autism.
We had conversations with students and staff about the differences between 360 immersion and 3D viewing and immersion and used the experience of the VR selfie to understand these differences. We spoke about so called 4D of light field image capture with the Lytro Immerge "volumetric" light field virtual reality camera for example.
We had conversations about the future of virtual reality - the thought of Matrix style total immersion and the problems of VR addiction for some individuals and for wider society.
We had conversations about practical uses of virtual reality in addition to entertainment and gaming. We talked about the use of virtual reality to provide simulations for training and education, for remote control of robots and equipment, medical uses such as the treatment of phobias. We spoke about the potential of virtual reality in design sectors such as architecture where people could get inside architects' 3D models and experience an environment before it is built - helping to shape a design and avoid the problems once a design gets into the build phase.
Thinglab 17 images (Flickr album)
Thinglab 17 videos (Youtube playlist)
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