Do you like space? Like, outer-space? Do you believe that going there and exploring is important to the future of humanity? I guess these days we have to ask the question, do you believe it exists? If not, this is probably not the article for you. For the rest of us, we owe a great debt of gratitude to agencies like NASA for making it their mission to cross the final frontier. And, to a lesser extent, agencies like NASA owe a debt, even if only a tiny one, to Virtual Reality.
Okay, to say that NASA owes a debt to VR may be reversing the situation, but NASA has certainly put VR to use and VR has helped to make space travel and the jobs that need to be done up there a bit safer by allowing astronauts to train on earth for their duties in space.
NASA has used virtual reality since at least the early 90’s when their virtual environments consisted of wire frame models only. Since then they have continued to upgrade their equipment. They now have a VR room with a bespoke VR set up that even has tracked gloves with pressure sensors on them to know when the astronaut is gripping something. In this room are physical representations of virtual objects, which are themselves representations of the real objects they will have to work with in space. These objects are hung from wires and pulleys so that moving them is similar to moving an object in space where it will have mass and all of the forces that go with it, but not weight. This, combined with a fully accurate virtual representation of their workspace is the closest thing the astronauts have to doing the real thing here on earth where a mistake isn’t going to cost a lot of money or human life.
More recently NASA has been using VR to visit Mars before making the trip there in real life. They have partnered with MIT and fusion.net to create the Mars 2030 Experience which allows them to simulate life on Mars and, with the help of physics simulations, allows them to test vehicle performance. The Martian landscape was created from years of Mars surface architecture studies and is as accurate as it can be based on current information. But this isn’t only a tool for NASA. It will be an experience we can all enjoy if we have the equipment to do so. The Mars 2030 Experience is to be released for free through Steam VR and fusion.net for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive as well as other platforms.
NASA has shown that VR is more than just a plaything. In fact, it was a tool at the beginning and only became a plaything later. During the early days of VR, devices were quite expensive ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 dollars. Thanks to the popularity of video games the components required to make VR work well have significantly dropped in price making VR far more ubiquous and impressive. In the beginning I said that NASA owed a debt to VR, the truth is, VR owes a debt to NASA and other research agencies who kept VR alive for research purposes when the rest of the world wrote it off as a failed experiment.
1980’s Virtual Reality – NASA Video:
Mars Immersion: NASA Concepts Bring Precision to New Virtual Reality Experience:
http://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-concepts-bring-precision-mars-to-virtual-realityMay 16, 2016
Educaton has changed very little since it became widespread 150 – 200 years ago. Since the beginning it has involved teachers, classrooms, desks, chalkboards and books. Advances in technology and population growth have changed some of the tools, but the methods have largely remained the same. For example, it isn’t as common for the entire school to sit in one classroom under one teacher, instead we have large schools with many classrooms for each grade and many teachers. No longer are notes taken on slates with chalk. Instead, pencils, pens and now even notebook computers and tablets are where we store lecture notes and work out our problems. Computers are frequently used to try to make learning a bit more entertaining by making games out of it. But the games either rely on having already been taught the material in class or else if the game teaches it, it does so in very much the same way that a book or the teacher on the blackboard would. So rather than being an educational tool, you could say that it’s more like a study tool.
I’m not knocking these advancements or education in general. But the world has changed an awful lot since the school system was created and education of the future is going to need more than just new tools to do the same old things. The world has never been static. Each generation added to our body of knowledge, but the rate at which these additions were made has not remained the same. At one time you would go to school and learn the facts that would get you through a life that generally consisted of one job and a family. For better or for worse, life is not like that anymore and storing facts in our brains is less important than learning to adapt, take risks, problem solve and plan a few steps ahead.
Virtual Reality is already being adapted for education. In a YouTube video put out by AMD (see sources below) one math teacher speaks of using virtual reality to demonstrate mathematical functions in a class or two that took him a year in University to be able to imagine and get his mind wrapped around. Being able to physically manipulate 3D coordinates in real time as the students watched made the lessons much easier to grasp.
In another video from TEDxCERN, Michael Bodekaer speaks about the use of virtual reality for science education. He lamented that students were bored in science class, often wondering why they were learning the things they were being taught. To solve this problem he made a virtual labroatory that gave access to top of the line science equipment and gamified the learning process by tasking students with solving a murder. If you have a Gear VR you can actually try a demo of the experience by searching for “Labster” in the Oculus store. Studies have been conducted by learning psychologists from Stanford, as well as Technical University in Denmark. In these studies they took 160 students, gave them a test then divided them in half and taught one group using only traditional methods and another group using only the virtual labs and then gave them a test at the end. The group that used only the virtual lab showed a 76% improvement in learning effectiveness. A further study combined the virtual laboratory learning with more traditional teacher led learning and found a 101% increase in learning effectiveness.
That may only be one study, but with results like that it certainly demands a deeper look. If we can double the effectiveness of our education by using virtual reality to augment the classroom experience with more practical, virtual experiences then it’s something that needs to be developed. And VR is still in the very early days. It’s only going to get better and more realistic and as it does virtual experiences will become more useful, and possibly just as useful as real situations, while being safer and cheaper.
Another way that VR is currently being used in education is through programs like Google’s Expediditions. With Expeditions, teachers can order the program from Google which comes with Google Cardboard headsets and VR capable devices for the students and tablet for the teacher. She is able to read the information off of the tablet while guiding the students through virtual tours of various places that they would otherwise not be able to go, places like Mars or the pyramids of Egypt. The teacher is able to draw the students attention to certain points of interest by touching them on the tablet and a marker then shows up in their experiences. This type of activity engages the students is ways that looking at a book will not. Being able to look down at Martian soil and then look up at the Martian sky is something completely unique to VR. Standing at the base of the Great Pyramid and craning your neck to see the top and realizing as you do just how big it really is will cement the idea in the students mind far better than the old tactic of drawing the pyramid next to a sky scraper, a whale, an elephant and a person.
There are certainly many more ways than just these to use VR for education and there will be more in the future. As VR develops and becomes more ubiquitous and VR cameras improve it could even become possible to attend school remotely and feel as though you are actually there. Or, instead of having a friends bring your homework home from school you could log on to the schools website and download the day and attend in VR when you feel better. This sounds like one of those old timey, black and white futurust videos from the Worlds Fair, but this isn’t wild fantasy. This could happen if the tech we have now improves. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that whatever VR education becomes in the future it will make my ideas seem just as quaint and ridiculous as those old videos that predicted women’s dresses adjusting to the time of day, but I only suggest it to get you thinking about the sort of things that will be possible very soon. It’s enough to make me want to do school over again.
VR In The Classroom: Early Lessons Learned from Google Expeditions:
These Two School Districts Are Teaching Through Virtual Reality:
VR in Education
Reimagining education | Michael Bodekaer | TEDxCERN
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYpovgka-9QMay 14, 2016
We expect virtual reality to revolutionize the gaming industry. Now that several VR headsets are available, more consumers can get their hands on this amazing technology. But some issues have been around since the beginning of time, and continue to plague VR users today. Such as bacteria. After you wear the headset for a few hours, or after a few days, it’s likely that these creatures will grow, especially on the foam cushions that touch your face.
The Oculus Rift foam, Gear VR foam, or HTC Vive foam can all be affected by sweat, which starts to have an odor when mixed with bacteria. How do you clean the VR headset’s foam?
We can help with that at VR Cover, and here is how: Our convenient covers keep your virtual reality headset clean and comfortable, by sliding over the foam areas to prevent them from having direct contact with your face. Much like a pillowcase, you can wash it with your regular laundry.
But let’s talk about the general problems and solutions to virtual reality headset hygiene. First, be aware that many sweat glands lie in the areas where these pieces of foam touch your face, so you want to be diligent about keeping your face as clean as possible.
Try cleaning your face with an antibacterial cleaning wipe before you put on the headset. You might even want to wear a headband or bandana when using your VR headset, to prevent sweat from running down into your face. And ladies, you probably want to forgo wearing makeup when you’re going to use your VR headset.
Oculus Rift Cleaning Instructions
The Oculus Rift foam stays attached to the headset, so here are some options for cleaning it:
A soft cloth to remove sweat and oils helps keep the foam clean. You can also use antibacterial wipes, but choose some made without alcohol or other abrasive ingredients. We recommend you not use any alcohol on your Oculus Rift foam.
You’ll want to clean the foam after each use, and make sure it’s completely dry before you use it again. But we don’t recommend using a hair dryer, or letting it dry in direct sunlight, which can degrade the material. See here for further Oculus Rift cleaning instructions.
Users of paintball helmets, and related activities, have dealt with this problem also, and some advice for them would apply to the VR headsets. One of their suggestions involved storing your helmet, (or VR headset) in an area with good air circulation. Keeping it in a trunk or closed up in a tote bag can contribute to odors.
HTC Vive Cleaning Instructions
In the User Guide, HTC Vive recommends that you remove the foam and clean it with a cloth and cold water. Gently wipe the area you want to clean, but don’t soak it in water or run water over it. Don’t use any kind of bleach. We recommend avoiding alcohol to clean the HTC Vive foam, as well.
After cleaning it with the cloth, simply let it air dry. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight, and don’t put it in the dryer.
At the end of the day, you have choices for how to keep your Virtual Reality headset clean. We at VR Cover strive to make things easier for you; have a look around the VR Cover website to see some options. With a few precautions, you can keep your VR headset clean and sanitary, so you can enjoy many hours of using it!April 17, 2016
The good people at Oculus have been so kind to send us an Oculus Rift to work with. There were a couple of delays but it finally came through not too long ago. In any case, we are already ramping up production so please make sure you are subscribed to our newsletter (signup in the sidebar) to hear about the launch first.March 28, 2016
In spite of the fact that Virtual Reality seems to be taking over the world, it still has it’s share of naysayers. There are still those hangers-on who refuse to see the reality that is staring them in the face… pun absolutely intended. Most of these people must by now realize that they were wrong to doubt the successful resurgence of VR and they are simply holding their position in the faint glimmer of hope that this raging behemoth of an industry will trip over it’s laces and fall flat and they won’t have to admit they were wrong. With all of the major tech players involved, including Oculus, HTC, Valve, Sony and Google, that glimmer of hope now seems like a figment of their imagination. But there is one thing that could still kill VR before it has the chance to mature. Cooties.
That’s right, cooties. Germs. Disease, Gnarly funkage. Whatever you want to call it. These headsets can become filthy after prolonged use and possibly even spread disease. And though you probably received several cootie shots when you were in public school, you are going to want better protection than that. If this headset is going to be pressed against your face then you are going to want to be sure that it’s clean.
Imagine you went to a hotel and when you went into your room the pillows had no pillow cases on them. You call down to the front desk to let them know the mistake and they tell you that they don’t use pillow cases. I think most people would either check out immediately and find a new hotel or else sleep without a pillow. The thought of laying your head on something that countless other people have used with no protective barrier is revolting. And yet, out of box, the situation is very similar for users of VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.
Oculus and HTC have put a good deal of thought into the ergonomics of their headsets in order to ensure that they are comfortable. HTC has their thick, formed facial foam that provides a good amount of padding and Oculus, while not as thick, uses two layers of foam to provide comfort. The problem with both of these headsets is that the designers did not seem to take into account just how hot it can be inside these units, especially on a crowded show floor or in the heat of midsummer. Sweat happens in these cases and that facial foam becomes like a sponge, sucking up the dirt and grime that the sweat is gathering off of your face and the face of the other people who have used the headset.
While hygiene of the entire unit is important, especially when demoing to a lot of people, the most important area when it comes to cleanliness has to be the facial interface. It’s vital to make sure that this area is easily washable and the best way to do that is to cover it with a washable sleeve that can be removed, or better yet, that doesn’t have to be because the cover itself can simply be wiped down with an antibacterial cloth. If the entire padding can be made washable and removable, even better.
2016 looks to be shaping up to be the year of VR, what with companies like Facebook’s Oculus and HTC having already released their headsets, Sony set to launch theirs in the coming months and even Google getting into the game this fall with their Daydream VR standard. It seems that our future is going to be full of pressing our faces into these machines to do everything from play video games, to watch movies to shopping. So maybe we should also try to make sure that 2016 is the year of VR hygiene as well.
To make sure that your headset is ready for the Year of VR Hygiene, visit our store.March 2, 2016