Virtual Reality is older than you might think. Brave pioneers have been trying to craft the perfect computer simulated world for decades. In 1968, MIT computer scientist Ivan Sutherland created the first VR and AR head-mounted display system designed to help helicopter pilots land at night by synchronizing low-light cameras and head movements. The technology, aptly dubbed ‘The Sword of Damocles’, was so heavy it needed to be attached to the ceiling with a mechanical arm. The Sword of Damocles and all its innovative but equally unpractical successors quickly faded into obscurity.
Despite the early attempts to harness the power of VR for professional purposes, VR only really gained traction when it made its first foray into gaming. In 1991, the Japanese video developer company Sega announced the Sega VR headset for arcade games. Causing headaches and motion sickness, the headset wasn’t as successful as Sega had hoped. Other gaming and entertainment companies, however, quickly picked up where Sega left off, developing increasingly advanced hardware that ultimately culminated in the release of the Oculus Rift on March 28, 2016. Since then, investments by tech giants like Facebook, Google and Sony have propelled VR to one of the most talked about consumer entertainment technologies in 2016.
However, VR is now heading into real business, research and education applications. Over the next two decades, VR will revolutionise the way we learn and work to such an extent that its origins in games will merely be recalled as a fond curiosity. VR is not unique in this respect: there are multiple technologies that are undergoing a similar transformation and only reach their full potential once they have been successfully adapted by other markets. Take for example the blockchain, the technology underpinning the bitcoin digital currency infamously associated with the drug trade, arms trafficking, pornography, and gambling, which in its second generation is hailed as a new universal banking system by Wall Street professionals.
At Weird Science Lab, we see education as on of the most important applications for VR. The benefits VR can bring to education are endless: curriculum expansion, a reduction of the cost per student associated with the traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum, increased student motivation, increased interaction, truly immersive experiences and the ability to bring top-quality education to disadvantaged students across the world.
VR’s effectiveness in education is already proven by countless successful pilot projects. Examples include the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, which employs the world’s first fully interactive virtual reality medical training simulator to provide its students with a real immersive trauma room experience and schools in Florida that offer virtual field trip lessons to sites like the ancient pyramids of Egypt, Mars, and patriotic U.S landmarks.
While VR in education is still the exception rather than the rule, there are clear signals that VR is about to explode. Weird Science Lab works with Oxford University Press (OUP) to free their traditional STEM curriculum for secondary and higher education from the 15th-century shackles of the Gutenberg printing press by providing third generation Virtual and Augmented Reality lessons.
OUP alone reaches millions of students from India to Nigeria and dominates the STEM and humanities curriculums from secondary school to higher education. It’s only a matter of time before OUP’s competitors will follow suit and partner with VR companies to transform their curriculum. The global distribution of VR content together with the economic scaling of the VR headsets means hundreds of millions of students across the globe will soon be walking on the moon’s surface and carrying out zero-gravity experiments in virtual labs.