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Testing the Oculus Rift

Me playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Oculus Rift

Me playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Oculus Rift

My college department purchased an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset recently and we are currently investigating how it can be used in our classes. Clearly it has use in video games, and there is quite a large range of games that support it.

Getting to grips with the system was clearly going to take some time, so I took the system home for the weekend. I left it for my teenage son to configure and after several hours of trying different settings he managed to get it working with a tech demo 3D scene. Later he managed to configure it to work with Minecraft, and after a long time spent in some online forums, got it working with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The initial reaction from people is that it is ‘amazing’. Most people audibly gasp as they move around a virtual reality scene, and that was the reaction we had from most of the students who tried out the Oculus.

My son spent a long time figuring out how to configure it, trying different settings and messing with display settings on the computer. When I eventually tried setting it up on my own PC I managed to get it working within 20 minutes, mainly because I documented the settings I tried and took a methodical approach. I think different computers will have different setting requirements – display modes, resolutions, etc, so it is clear why Oculus Rift is still a ‘Development Kit’. It’s just not ready for the casual user who would want to plug and play. That said, there are many tech demos, games, ‘experiences’ and educational apps available for the Rift that showcase some of the possibilities of the technology.

Personally I want to be able to create content that uses the headset, and particularly educational content rather than games. Unreal Development Kit has support for Oculus Rift, so this is probably the tool I’m most likely to start with. It is primarily a game engine, but can be used to create simulations and educational environments. Oculus Rift might be the device that makes Virtual Reality mainstream.

The technology has been around for many years, and my first experience of VR was back in 1993 in Hong Kong. There was a Virtual Reality arcade near the ferry terminal in Kowloon that contained 2 different games, a dogfight flying simulation and a multi-player combat arena. Back then the headsets were much bulkier and heavier than the Oculus, and the graphics were much simpler (reminded me of the Dire Straits ‘Money for Nothing’ music video). The arcade was so popular that you had to have ID to gain entry and they recorded your details so you couldn’t sneak back in on the same day to have another go. I’m sure that if we offered a free go of the Oculus we’d be flooded with people wanting to try it (and we might take it along to our college open evenings to give prospective students a glimpse of the future). I’ll keep blogging about my experiences with the Oculus, so stay tuned if you have an interest in this technology.

Donald Clark demonstrating learning with the Oculus Rift:

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  1. November 27, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Wow impressive! I can recall an Internet cafe years back in Dunfermline that used VR helmets but was mostly for playing video games like Quake. I love the use of VR for development, instruction and integrating it in an educational capacity or blended learning as mentioned. To be fully immersed into a virtual realm and experience the feeling of another reality in a 3D world would be fantastic. It gives you the sense of the simulated reality of the holodeck in Star Trek to the movies like the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic to the now cheesy 1992 film The Lawnmower Man and of course had to mention VR is brought up in the novel written by William Gibson in the book Neuromancer.

    The possibilities of VR to me are endless, it’s all left to the imagination and what developers want to integrate. Another example of this in similar concept or ideas was Project Milo that was anticipated towards Microsoft’s Kinect as an experimental development using AI created by Lionhead Studios and its creative director Peter Molyneux. Unfortunately this project was cancelled because the big world of retail couldn’t see a place for it that would gain them investment. Projects like these could work so well integrating into a VR system and why not? The closest we get to such things were PlayStation Home on the PS3, which looks also to be getting cancelled. Now what about the many fans of such ideas get left in the lurch is it back to the slow Second Life with terrible ads everywhere?

    I wish this VR technology would have advanced a bit faster by now but it progresses at a steady pace. Just imagine the possibilities… I think of being a Time Traveller transported into another dimension going back into different times and decades, how about Ancient Egypt and you could take part in being one of the Pharaohs of that time and explore the pyramids of Giza to the Great Sphinx, watch and take part in building the pyramids, learn the Egyptian hieroglyphic writings and symbols engrave them into the walls of the pyramids putting your own unique imprint in a time that wasn’t possible. Have a virtual simulation of the mummification process and help to embalm and wrap the bodies for proper and respectable burial as well as placing all their precious objects to go with them into the afterlife. This would teach people in such an interactive way that 2D books.

    How about travelling back in time to Ancient Rome exploring the Colosseum, watching the gladiators arenas engage in battle to the death, be a gladiator explore the luxurious Roman baths taking a virtual dip in the pool and experience the magic and splendour of such ideas and inventions. How they built their many buildings rich with detail and the engineering skills of that time. How they heated up water and piping systems way back then. Yet our British in war times used metal baths in front of the fire places and heating up water in buckets to bathe in yet this technology was developed decades before we saw light of such things.

    Then of course there is the Mayan and Aztec temples to Easter Island and Atlantis, imagine a simulated reality of such wonders of the World. Atlantis swimming with dolphins in an underwater city when you can never worry about drowning, explore places you have never seen or would see before.

    You could even do a Quantum Leap “Oh Boy!” and be transported into a simulated world of what the future may look like holograms, virtual games, learning while playing and investigating. I just love this whole concept. We have the power to develop, we have the power to create so taken from the words of Nike, Just do it!

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