News & Events

Virtual Reality becomes Real

Some of us learn best by listening, some by reading, some by watching, and others by doing. Since you’re reading this, you might like to learn by reading, like me. I’ve always thought of reading as a fairly high-bandwidth way of learning. I’ve even studied several books on speed reading….the “gigabit” of information ingestion.

Learning by doing has such a special place in our lives that we call it “experience” and it is usually the most important part of any résumé. Is there a way to gain valuable experience early in our careers? Is there a way to become experienced in new without serving a long internship?

We’re entering a time where there is such a way. Sufficiently powerful computers and networks can create virtual realities that appear to the brain to be so real that experiential learning happens naturally.

It’s not a new concept. The highest-stake professions use it routinely. Airplane pilots learn how to fly and handle emergencies in virtual reality cockpit simulators. Doctors can practice difficult surgeries in virtual reality using a patient’s own 3D scans to create the conditions the doctor will encounter in the actual surgery.

In SGC community Lafayette, LA, they’ve created a gigabit application which helps teach the management of commercial solar facilities. That management is pretty important because the electrical grid depends upon dependable and predictable solar power generation. Solving problems in virtual reality turns into experience. Professionals who spend considerable time with the solar VR application learn how to react to multiple possible situations at the solar plant. If any of them happen “for real,” the professional already has experience handling it and can proceed with confidence.

Why is VR a hot technology now? There are a combination of factors including better and more convincing headsets, more content and simulation spaces (such as that developed in Lafayette), and more ways to interact with the simulation using voice, gestures, and body motion.

Smart gigabit communities have a significant additional advantage. In SGC communities, VR can be cost-reduced by using the new breed of under-$100 headsets (like the Wearality and most recently the Google Daydream) and generating the images at a local smart community brain (like a GENI rack) and sent in convincing reality over rapid gigabit links.

With a factor of 10 cost reduction in the remote equipment, streaming VR can be applied in many more circumstances. Schools and PTAs may be able to afford the equipment, and libraries and museums may become much larger users of the technology.

I’ve recently begun making some personal purchases in the VR space to understand this phenomenon better for myself. I now have a Samsung Gear VR, a Google Cardboard, and a Wearality headset. My personal impression? Over a gigabit network, experiential may be my new favorite mode of learning.