Choosing Computer Hardware and Optional Hardware
As we mentioned before in Part 1, the hardware requirements for virtual reality are pretty steep. Most classrooms in both schools and corporate environments are not outfitted with adequate hardware to run VR.
As of right now, the cheapest options retail for around $800 per PC. There are a handful of laptops that are ready for VR, and the starting prices for those are at around $1150 per machine.
These are just a fraction of the options for PCs that are on the market now. They’re labeled as “Vive ready” or Oculus ready” but in reality, these machines will (in most cases) work for either headset.
You also have the option of building your own. Here are links to a couple of guides.
While there aren’t many laptops out there that can handle virtual reality right now, this article does provide some good suggestions.
The Kinect is a full body motion tracker. It’s perfect for fitness applications and other real world scenarios where physical tasks are a large part of the training experience.
The Virtuix Omni is a 360 rotational treadmill. This piece of hardware is exceptionally useful when moving through areas is a significant part of the training process.
The Leap Motion is a small device that can be mounted to a head-mounted display. The device tracks hand motions, and can be used for more realistic training when physical tasks are performed.
With so many different VR options hitting the market these days, it may seem like a daunting task to even get started outfitting your classroom(s) with this new technology. In this series, we’re going to walk through the all the steps you’ll need to take from choosing the right headset for your environment to setting up your VR station!
The first decision to make is “which head-mounted display do I want to invest in?” In this article, I’m only going to touch on the major 2 desktop options out there- the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Both are excellent choices, but do vary in some significant ways.
While this is definitely not a comprehensive list, it does highlight key features and drawbacks for each option.
The first consumer version of the Oculus Rift hit the market in Q1 of 2016, and has been wildly popular.
-Positional Tracking is done using sensors on the headgear+a base station that is typically placed on a desk.
-Each Rift comes with an Xbox One controller.
-Oculus Touch, motion tracking hand controllers with buttons, will also be available to purchase sometime in 2016.
-Starting price of $600, making it $200 cheaper than the Vive.
-At the time of writing this article, Oculus Touch is not available yet, leaving users with less options for user input controls.
-Built to be more of a seated VR experience. Because of the way the positional tracking works, you’re not really meant to get up and move around without some extra hardware.
-Because of the included handheld controllers and positional tracking system, the Vive is a truly immersive VR system out of the box. You have the ability to stand and move through VR environments.
-Slightly more flexible graphics card options than the Rift.
-$800 price point, making it $200 more expensive than the Rift
-While standing to play is super immersive, the headset is still wired, making it somewhat hazardous to play.
From an education and training perspective, the biggest deciding factor is probably going to be one of space. The Vive requires a bit more space, with more specific location requirements for its positional tracking. This also means that in smaller spaces, you’ll have less flexibility for multiple VR stations within the same classroom. You’ll need to consider how important full, standing immersion is compared to the need for multiple stations in your space as you’re making your decision.
At the time of publishing this article, neither the Rift or the Vive support Macs. Both headsets also have fairly beefy computer requirements. For a comprehensive hardware spec comparison, here’s a great article. Our next post will talk a little more in depth about computer options.
While we are facing some pretty significant pitfalls in 2016 with the launch of major virtual reality sets (namely HTC Vive and Oculus Rift), we remain pretty optimistic that consumers and companies will look past these roadblocks to a bright future with VR. That being said, here are some of the major hurdles we’ll be facing this year.
Higher hardware cost to buy in than originally thought. Just the Rift is going to cost $600, and that won’t even include the Touch controllers slated to come out the 2nd half of this year. You do get an Xbox One controller and the ergonomics of the headset are much, much nicer. Also, up until recently, people have been able to take just about any recently made computer (including laptops) and run Rift software. Now the system requirements have been greatly increased (not complaining here… We totally get why- FRAME RATES), so a lot more folks are looking at having to upgrade or replace their rigs just to get started.
Lack of Titles
As with any new tech, there will be some time between major headset launches and emergence of a large offering of quality apps to choose from. While it’s true that there are several major companies as well as many talented Indie studios developing games and experiences for VR to launch this year, we’ll probably still be waiting for enough content to really keep us busy and interested in the first few months.
Just as they were when smartphones first came into being, major studios are still highly cautious about going all-in on VR titles, so there aren’t a lot of ‘recognizable’ names and titles out there now.
There are so many possible platforms. While developers are provided some freedom through development tools like Unity 3D and the Unreal Engine, the fact remains, developing titles for multiple platforms is a huge undertaking in most cases. Unified development software like SteamVR, OSVR, and just Unity’s own native VR support does not cover most headsets. The ones they do cover are still very much in beta-level support.
Competition is great in that it helps control pricing, but as the VR industry takes off, there are definitely going to be some growing pains. The consumers that choose the “wrong” brand of headset will be out of luck when some of these companies go under or at the very least, have a very limited selection of titles to choose from.
The advent of accessible virtual reality application is right around the corner. This technology promises a new world of opportunity, for those seeking heightened entertainment capabilities, but more importantly for businesses looking for cost-effective solutions, return on investment for updating human resource skills, better training options, and more. Let’s take a closer look at where businesses can save money and optimize operations.
New Hardware Technology - A Better Approach
In the past, to create realism in simulated job site training, companies had to invest millions of dollars into bulky, software-limited simulator hardware. In many cases, this hardware is completely stationary, which causes large expenses and/or inadequate training time when trainees are spread out nationally or globally.
Emerging affordable virtual reality hardware provides a 360 degree perspective of a digital world. It can be used in conjunction with various off-the-shelf motion tracking devices. This new hardware approach allows learners to interact with what they are seeing using their arms, hands, legs, and feet.
The best part about this hardware (aside from the super low costs)
How can these devices make training more effective?
- Many companies hold training from a specific site (headquarters). Having to fly trainees around the country or from other countries is cost-intensive and time consuming. Sending hardware or instructors+hardware is much more efficient—bringing greater profits and lower costs.
- Companies that deal with manufacturing of products can train their employees effectively the virtual way from various sites simultaneously without using resources. Digital models can be interacted within a realistic mode. This allows for a larger margin of error without waste.
- Customer service training can be carried out interactively with less stress. Employees can learn how to better interact with customers on an individual basis. This can optimize time spent on training by reducing stress—a relaxed atmosphere is conducive to learning.
- Marketing and sales training can be held virtually in a realistic way.
- Seminars and training for specific topics for all levels of employees can take place on site simultaneously with participants from all over the world. Engineers can learn complicated new job operations without leaving town—saving lots of money, bringing increased expertise to the workforce, and thus a large return on investment.
- Reduce the amount of time your money-making production equipment is "parked" for training.
Return on Investment and Cost Effectiveness
Being able to train employees for new operations, skills and job positions often costs a lot of resources and brings a questionable amount of return of investment. Investing in new technology costs less than 1000 USD per unit and can be used repeatedly by any number of employees. The amount of seminars that can be participated in virtually is limitless. The interactions that can take place between people all over the world are infinite. ROI becomes easier to measure based on the new skills and training programs undertaken, via this exciting new technology.
While many of these technologies are not yet on the market, they will be soon, and to stay competitive on the worldwide market will mean investing in new methods of doing business on an international scale. Flying and other forms of travel are expensive. The new way of communicating and learning interactively carries little risk and a lot of benefits.
A varying array of applications for work and play with the newest technology, Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens are making big waves in tech news. They are making reality augmentation and virtual reality that much more integrated into work and play. As highlighted a bit in part 1, Rift is a headset that allows the user to experience the images displayed from a first person perspective while HoloLens is a device that has the user controlling holograms and imposing them over their view of the world around them.
At first glance, the headsets look similar. They are worn by users like glasses over the eyes, but with varying degrees of transparency. Rift totally wipes out the outside world and puts the wearer into a virtual reality based world. HoloLens lets you see your desk, your computer, your windows and coffee cup, but with digital images imposed onto the scenery by way of the lens. Let’s take a deeper look at the features.
- Ideal for gamers who want to get inside the games they play. — Rift will support a variety of games when it is available for consumers on the market.
- At 350 USD, a competitive price tag for medical students who need to simulate the practice of surgery. —Technology already exists to simulate surgery scenarios, but this device is a cheaply priced alternative that could put it at the forefront (we're actually working on applications like this).
- Educating school children and teens in a more hands on way. — Students can explore countries and structures (like government buildings, pyramids in Egypt) remotely. Instead of an expensive class trip, this can allow students hands-on experiences at a fraction of the price.
- Watching movies. — As more films are made in this format, it could change the way viewers experience films. They can watch a film as a part of the film, in the first person.
- Can optimize the skype experience. — For families forced to be at a distance in today’s society, being able to see loved one’s as a part of the scenery can give the feeling they are there with them in the room while talking via skype.
- Making remote business meetings more effective. — A complaint often heard in the business world is that virtual meetings are less effective than meeting in person. A holographic generated image of a colleague could make them feel they are interacting in a more personal way, and thus connect optimally to get more done on the job.
- View a model of an engine while doing idle chores. — Multi-tasking taken to new levels.
- Team building events will be more amusing. — Scenery can be created to resemble a beach, a desert, the set of Game of Thrones, and more. This can be a springboard for fun and open teambuilding events.
- Training new employees. — A more three dimensional approach to getting new employees acclimated using holograms to demonstrate tasks.
The future promises to be an eye-opening journey into the world of reality augmentation and virtual reality, on and off the job. The Oculus Rift and the HoloLens will surely be at the forefront.
Technology is becoming more and more futuristic, including the way we view what we’re doing. Lenses, headsets and other assorted viewing devices offer total or partial immersion in virtual worlds, or at the very least: augmentation of the so-called real world.
Popular displays like the Oculus Rift, the Microsoft HoloLens, the Google Cardboard, and the Samsung GearVR are among the up and coming technology virtual reality devices have to offer.
- A bulky headset that allows users to see digital worlds from a 360 degree angle based on how the user turns his or her head. It can be supplemented with the Virtuix Omni to include hands, arms and feet motion for an even more realistic experience
- It’s impossible to see out of the headset, users are totally immersed in what they are playing—working on or viewing.
- Slightly smaller than the Rift and lighter weight. It also allows the viewer to see their work from various perspectives but is also transparent to the outside world.
- Provides only partial immersion, depending on what applications are utilized.
- Augmentation to the world outside instead of blocking the outside world.
- Runs only in conjunction with Windows 10.
- Consists of a simple cardboard viewer.
- Applications on the user’s mobile phone provide the view.
- Affordable, lightweight, and simplistic.
- The cheapest virtual reality option that works with a variety of mobile phones.
- Only works with one Samsung mobile phone: the Samsung Galaxy Note 4
- The headset is similar to Oculus Rift
- Provides total immersion
- Only costs 199 USD
Various Degrees of Virtual Reality
Whereas Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens are more intensive and have the potential to be used for a lot of business related operations including training and design, the Google Cardboard and Samsung GearVR viewers are easily affordable and can provide virtual reality experiences for consumers looking to just stick a toe in the water. They are less bulky than the Rift and more transportable. Though the Samsung GearVR only runs on Galaxy Note 4, more models could be added in the future and it’s already possible to go out and buy the Google cardboard and the GearVR—unlike the Hololens that is only out there as a prototype (that not everyone can get their hands on).
The Rift and the HoloLens are less accessible to start with, but may prove to be more realistic in immersing users. Once they arrive on the market to consumers, it will be interesting to see what applications are picked up. Google Cardboard and Samsung GearVR can be tried out now, giving us a taste of what is to come.
Recently a virtual collegiate tour company called YouVisit has upgraded its user experience by integrating their original concepts with the new Oculus Rift device. The experience of deciding on higher education has become more enticing with the immersive virtual reality tours. The initial user experience was akin to Google Street View with the founders being hired out by thousands of universities to photograph their campuses. With the new virtual reality headset, prospective students can get a more life-like feel for the spaces without spending money on airfare and travel expenses for short visits.
Interactive Education and Augmented Reality
YouVisit’s use of Oculus Rift for Education gets students excited about entering into the establishment, but keeping them there and engaged in the classroom is likely to become a digital experience too. While we are a long way out from holographic in-home tutors and professors, faculty members across the entire board of education can benefit their students’ imaginations and curiosity by bringing to life history and world travel.
Imagine: Art history majors walking through world renowned museums on virtual tours without leaving the classroom; and museums could go from virtual to creating augmented reality software and adapted devices that allow visitors to look at the art pieces while also having the history and information in their visual fields with interactive displays. Anthropology and Archeology departments can recreate lost ruins to their original splendor and create student projects that immerse students in the visual cultural space. Historical events could be created to become 3-dimensional worlds that can be explored and controlled. The possibilities are limitless once university departments start working with 3D animators and designers.
Students: Retaining Knowledge and Curiosity
I remember the agonizingly mundane routine of high school and teachers usually didn’t try to hide their agreement. The educational experience as a whole needs to be able to impress itself upon students without using grade coercion, which is a hard thing to do if both students and teachers are having difficulty engaging. Virtual reality education looks like an answer, with exciting benefits that motivate our youthful sense of curiosity. Tori DeAngelis wrote an article for the American Psychological Association about testing virtual reality in the classroom:
"The Holy Grail of teaching is one-on-one instruction," says Bailenson, who directs Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. "Virtual reality enables you to amplify what is normally done in a real classroom…" In a range of studies, Bailenson's team is showing that manipulating virtual versions of the teacher and classroom environment can help students pay attention and perform better… As a whole, these technologies could have profound implications for distance learning, individualized learning at home, and other applications, Bailenson believes. Consider the advantages of giving thousands of students the ability to see the same great teacher; to consistently sit in the best spot in the class; or to enter a teacher's body to learn physical moves.
Oculus VR and the Chocolate Factory
Come with me, and you’ll see, a land of pure 3D animation…
The broader technological applications of Oculus Rift are still in a world of pure imagination, but it is one closer to home than we think and not nearly as strange. While it might be some time before the phrase ‘virtual reality’ becomes a part of everyday training vocabulary, there are still common professional and industrial fields, which sound more domestically familiar than military applications, that will benefit from these new types of devices and software development projects. I’d like to take you on a tour through our societal imagination and look at fields closer to our everyday lives that we might find virtual reality training to be integrating soon.
The Everlasting Energy Industry
As our society furthers its technological advancement, the entire system of energy production will require more advanced training for harvesting raw fuel sources, and machining the devices and infrastructure for processing and distribution. The upkeep of our energy industry technology has some of the most dangerous situations workers voluntarily put themselves in. One example in the fossil fuel industry is hyperbaric wet-welding jobs for oil rigs. These repairs are not situations easy to train for without actually requiring commercial diving on-site practice. Unfortunately the environmental risks are so dangerous that training can’t be a safely controlled space for practicing without still having the possibility of fatal errors. Oculus Rift and immersive training software could provide a safe and adaptive way to simulate the necessary scenarios. The idea can be expanded to imagine VR training programs for high-power linemen, allowing them to simulate transformer disassembly and assembly with 3D interactive parts, without actually exposing themselves to the consequences of deadly mistakes.
Dangerous Recipes: Electrical and Chemical Engineering
The daily environment for electrical and chemical engineers is not a hands-on dominant job, but the dangers lurk in the implementation of the system designs. It is difficult to model large scale systems and actually understand all the potential consequences, so it is usually not until the factories are actually constructed that they can be tested. With the aid of immersive devices like Oculus Rift, factory engineers can explore their 3D designs as if they were walking through the site itself. Training new engineers on virtual reality construction programs can allow for interactive lessons and easier visualization of complex systems. Interactive problems can be created as 3-dimensionally mapped out factory settings and environments that don’t usually lend themselves to easy training access like micro-processor fabrication plants.
The futuristic horizon of the digital age is growing more and more accessible for society at large as public and private organizations continue to invest in VR technology.
With the energized backing of the California based company, Oculus VR, virtual reality is getting closer to becoming a common fact of life in a variety of industries; especially considering their recent announcement July 1, 2014: “The first batch of official DK2s have left the manufacturing facility and are making their way to our distribution centers now. We expect to ship roughly 10,000 DK2s from the factory in July…” The DK2 (Developer Kit #2) is Oculus VR’s second generation virtual reality headset, continuing the company’s vision of “immersive virtual reality technology that's wearable and affordable.” With VR developers getting greater access to the devices necessary to integrate their ideas onto a testable platform, 3D animation is going to play an essential role in taking advantage of the new technological possibilities for entertainment, education, military training, and medicine. The horizon becomes seemingly limitless when we consider the always surprising ingenuity of inventors and entrepreneurs in fields unthinkable until now.
Training with 3D Animation
Simulating effective training exercises will be a unique experience with Oculus Rift as developers explore new ways to use the technology. Training programs and methods of learning specific skills that were once limited primarily to textbook work because of high risk and/or expensive requirements for hands-on practice can begin to 3-dimensionally render virtual objects and environments once difficult to include in particular fields like medicine, high-risk construction, combat, aviation, and biologically hazardous occupation.
Oculus Rift: Military Training A couple years back I posted about Flight Simulators and the valuable role they are beginning to play in the Air Force and Navy - noting the importance that they play in developing a pilot’s situational awareness. Well in March this year, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) revealed it is developing a combat project using Oculus Rift called Plan X. Andy Greenburg’s article in Wired magazine wrote:
At the Pentagon Wednesday, the armed forces’ far-out research branch known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showed off its latest demos for Plan X, a long-gestating software platform designed to unify digital attack and defense tools into a single, easy-to-use interface for American military hackers. And for the last few months, that program has had a new toy: The agency is experimenting with using the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset to give cyber-warriors a new way to visualize three-dimensional network simulations–in some cases with the goal of better targeting them for attack. ‘Darpa Turns Oculus into a Weapon for Cyberwar’5.23.14
While Oculus Rift isn’t strapped to the head of soldiers yet, it is proving itself as a serious player in 3D animated realities. The ability for its user to actually turn around in the virtual environment by using normal body motion greatly enhances the user’s ability to interact naturally with its simulated environment.