Virtual reality technology like Oculus Rift has huge implications in the field of education, creator Palmer Luckey said today as part of a White House Google Hangout. Luckey said the way in which field trips are currently structured is too expensive and children don't get enough out of them. But with virtual reality, these children could (virtually) travel to faraway destinations and learn about the world around them at a fraction of the cost.
"It's going to be really important for [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education. Because kids don't learn best from reading a book or looking at a chalk board," Luckey said. "We've decided, as a society, that there's some benefit in field trips; actually having hands-on experiences where we send people to do things. The problem is, it takes a lot of resources to do that. Most field trips I've been on have been mostly travelling and corralling kids, and eating lunch, and not nearly as much actual learning. And you're limited in what you can do. You can't go to a new place every day because the resources aren't there."
"I think virtual reality is going to make a lot of these experiences, like travelling to virtual locations or being able to see all of the planets to scale next to each other--it's going to take these things that are impossible to do today and make them part of everyday education," he added.
Work in the field of education-themed virtual reality is already underway. A team from Harvard University has created The Giza Project, a piece of software that allows you to travel through time and virtually explore the pyramids without leaving your home or paying for a flight to Egypt. Developers are also creating a virtual experience where you can "visit" Ancient Rome.
These kinds of initiatives stand to revolutionize education, Luckey said.
"What if you could not spend all those resources; if you could send not college students but any person of any age to go see the ruins as they exist today and as they existed during the height of the Roman Empire--that's something that's impossible to do today," he said. "You could throw as much money as you want at it and it can't happen. I think virtual reality will make that possible."
It's not just education that virtual reality could impact. Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe argued last year that virtual reality will disrupt a great many industries, including film. "Gravity was made for VR," Iribe said in October. "VR is going to have a big impact on film." The company also believes Oculus Rift will change gaming and "redefine fundamental human experiences."
If virtual reality is going to change the world in the way that Oculus believes it will, don't expect the revolution to happen anytime soon. Oculus Rift remains a developer-only prototype, and the company has made no indication as to when units will be available commercially and how much they will cost. Still, the company is preparing for a public rollout, as evidenced by the $75 million in venture capital funding it raised in December and the recent hiring of Electronic Arts veteran David DeMartini to lead a developer relations team.
At CES 2014 this week, Oculus VR showed off the latest iteration of Oculus Rift, a prototype called Crystal Cove. The head-mounted display boasts improved resolution from its 1080p OLED screen and a new real-position tracking system that utilizes an external camera.