A thick envelope carrying a letter of acceptance was once the most exciting thing a college bound student could anticipate receiving in the mail. But virtual reality is changing that, and much more. For 5,000 students accepted by Savannah College of Art and Design, a package containing VR goggles may just have upstaged their acceptance letter.
VR has long been pursued as a tool for immersive storytelling. SCAD is using it to help students get an idea of what their story could be here. What they’ll see through their goggles isn’t fantasy, but a 360-degree, real-life experience. Using the gyroscope in smartphones, the goggles create a display for the left and right eye, allowing the user to feel as though they’re walking around SCAD’s locations. If you can’t visit Atlanta from California, say, VR will take you there.
The cardboard goggles, which will arrive flat packed on students' doorsteps, and their predecessor Oculus Rift, are far sleeker than the first generations of clunky VR headsets. In addition to a wider field of view and better graphics, in the case of computer-simulated environments, the release of consumer oriented, open source Google Cardboard finally made VR an affordable and real tool for all manner of applications, including education. Oculus is expected to release a more affordable version of their headset in late 2015.
Experts, including SCAD interactive design and game development professor Josephine Leong, are enthusiastic about the possibilities that fresh VR technologies can create.
What we’re starting to see is VR for the masses. I show these tools to my students because they are going to be designing for this generation. Google put it out there, but it’s up to the individual to figure out how to use it. That's what’s going to make it innovative. – Josephine Leong
Ironically, in the 1990s, a growing focus on another phenomenon that brings more utility to VR – the rise of the internet – helped scuttle remaining hope for advancement. Up until that point, VR saw 20 years or more of halting progress for medical and military research and, of course, gaming. But VR also has roots in CAD, music and interactive art, which made us realize that VR can not only help art and design students preview where they’ll study, but what they’ll study, and what they’ll make.
SCAD’s plans include expanding the targets for their goggles to high schools and teachers. The content will become more varied, too. Videos on university exhibitions and events like Chinese New Year and the university fashion show will help these experiences transcend geography and engage a wider audience, extending the classroom beyond the traditional brick and mortar.
Here’s a few more uses for VR that have our attention:
Tina O’Hailey, dean, School of Digital Media
"Google’s partnership with Disney animator Glen Keane to create the short interactive film 'Duet' for the Spotlight Stories series is exactly where we are pushing students to think: 'How else can a story be experienced?' It is very exciting."
Celeste Guichard, professor
"One difficult thing about teaching architectural history in a classroom is that the building being taught must be conveyed primarily through still, two-dimensional images limited to the size of the projection screen. With its ability to transport students from the classroom to, say, the Pantheon in Rome and give them power to navigate and explore, immersive virtual reality technology could do wonders in helping students experience and learn about a building - or a city or garden - more effectively. Teachers could structure a lesson as though they were there, in person, with their students."
Film and Television
Michael Chaney, professor
"Comparatively, cinema is a relatively young art medium. Oculus Story Studio is an exciting example of how cinema is changing and emerging as a more complex system of storytelling. This is precisely what we're doing at SCAD, encouraging our students to innovate and create beyond the margins."
Liset Robinson, professor
"Today, the interior designer can provide a walk through of the building, and evaluate it in 3D through virtual reality software. One such example is the VR walk through designed by my students using Sketchup for the Beaulieu collaborative project. The walk-through began on the outside of the building displaying the sustainable features of the design and took the client on a virtual trip through the corporate headquarters giving them a realistic preview of reality, all the way down to the details of the graphics on the glass and walls. If changes need to be made, the manipulation of the interior space is made in 3D, and this is translated into 2D drawings through the use of the software. Clients become part of the design process."
Elaine Gallagher, professor
"Phil Freelon is an architect who wields virtual reality like a magician. His team makes beautiful videos as part of the process to win projects."
Jay Song, chair
"Starting in 2010, several luxury brands engaged in limited projects that used augmented reality to create virtual try on scenarios. These innovative uses of virtual reality allowed mainstream clients to model and ‘wear’ luxury brands like Boucheron and Bulgari. Technology that can allow customers to experience jewelry or change design components with a click will revolutionize the customization of jewelry. Using product visualization solutions clearly will change jewelry buying practices, but may also impact jewelry exhibition strategies, allowing museum curators to create opportunities for the public to experience the jewelry beyond the vitrine."
The strides VR has made in just the last year alone - be they for Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Sony’s Morpheus or Samsung’s Gear VR - has popular opinion betting that this time applications like these really will get better.