Google Cardboard is fast becoming the entry level platform for people to experience the new generation of Virtual Reality. This incredibly cost effective device, literally made out of cardboard can transform pretty much any modern smartphone into a VR Head Mounted Display and transport viewers to faraway lands. We at NSC Creative are massively excited about the democratisation and widespread possibilities that Cardboard brings to this new VR era that we are entering.
One of the latest additions to the Google Cardboard experience is Google Expeditions led by the Education division of Google. They are harnessing the unique immersive power and accessibility of the Cardboard to transport school children on virtual field trips to places they would never be able to get a school bus! There are some amazing partners and educational institutions contributing to the expeditions program which is now available for schools across the world to take part in, head over to the expeditions site to sign up now if you are an eductor.
We were asked by our friends over at the Google Lunar XPRIZE whether we could help create an expedition focused around the Moon. We worked with the Google Lunar XPRIZE team in 2013 to create and distribute the award-winning 25 minute planetarium show Back to the Moon for Good. This freely available show in immersive fulldome format is screening in 600 theatres across 60 countries in 23 languages and counting.
VR MOON TRIP
With months of research on the subject matter from the planetarium show as a starting point we constructed a 30 minute lesson plan to form the narrative of the VR experience. The basic structure of an expedition is 8 panoramic still images with multiple points of interest. At first you may thing that still images is a bit of a backwards step for VR as we already have 360 video and real-time interactive worlds. The limitation of stills in this context though is actually perfect for the classroom environment. Rather than the students going off into their own solo worlds of immersion with an all encompassing media experience the students get those quick mini-wows and remain connected to the rest of the group. As our expedition was about the moon it’s not that easy to get a Google Jump camera rig up there (yet!) so we had to rely on our computer data to generate our panoramas.
The benefit of this is that unlike current live capture techniques it’s possible to achieve very effective stereoscopic 3D panoramic imagery with not too much extra effort once you have the workflow figured out. The first panorama is the moon hanging in space amongst the stars in full 3D. The students are asked to look to their right which reveals the Earth and we start the story of our connection with the moon and how we are bound.
We did have a bit of live captured footage that we could make use of though. The Apollo astronauts took some amazing sets of photos with their Hasselblad cameras. We hunted them down in the NASA archives and stitched them together to create panoramic images that we could wrap around the viewer in VR. In one of them you can actually see the shadow of Buzz Aldrin taking the photo so hopefully that helps silence those crackpots that think we never went to the moon!
We conclude the experience with a speculative view of a future moon base where we can see astronauts living and working on the moon and it being used as a staging post for the next generation of deep space exploration to Mars and beyond.
SHARED GROUP VR EXPERIENCE
All the headsets in the class are controlled by the teachers tablet which means that everyone is in sync and the lesson can be set at the right pace and educational level for the age group. The teacher triggers the points of interest and draws attention to key bits of educational content. They can also stop and ask the group questions and refer to other media such as audio content on the classroom whiteboard, JFK’s famous speech worked well for the Moon expedition.
“It was great to take audiences back to the moon, again! We are so excited about the potential of taking the transformative immersive educational experiences we have been creating in the digital planetarium for the past 15 years and opening up this kind of experience to a whole new audience with no real barriers, all it takes is a smartphone and a bit of very special cardboard.”
Paul Mowbray, Producer
THE FUTURE OF IMMERSIVE EDUCATION
You can’t beat having 200 school kids in a planetarium with a great dome show and presenter to ask questions but it’s not always possible for everyone to get to the planetarium. Especially in some parts of the world that just don’t have the infrasturce and institutions to support this. VR devices also remove the preconception of what subject matter should be shown in a planetarium and open up all kinds of educational subjects that we can communicate using the power of immersion. We are hoping to do more expedition projects in the future but also see VR as playing a critical role in the future of education across disciplines and age levels.
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