As virtual reality moves closer to mainstream adoption, the practical uses for what is usually considered to be video game technology become even more apparent.
Take, for example, the Stonehenge VR experience developed by Los Angeles-based media production company, Voyager VR. Developed for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (with a Google Cardboard version launching soon), the Stonehenge VR experience vividly and accurately transports you to Wiltshire, England to see the Neolithic monument in living pixels. Xtian Bretz, the founder of Voyager VR, explained that the 3D virtualization was created by analyzing aerial photographs of the site, 360-degree Google Maps photos, and measurements found online. The stones were modeled in Autodesk Maya and the program was built with Unreal Engine 4 technology.
Stonehenge VR is more than just a visual demo though. It includes narrated voiceovers that let you know what you are looking at, from a historical and geological perspective. It includes the ability to select the time of day or night - allowing you to view the stones during a simulated summer solstice, or in the middle of the night, or at sunset. But perhaps most importantly, it allows you to walk around and explore a monument that has been cordoned off from tourist hands since the late 70’s. It gives you a much better appreciation for the size of the stones and the mystery around how they were transported and arranged.
In their newest demo video, Voyager VR asked a friend who grew up near Stonehenge to view the virtual interpretation through a VR headset. After the 10-minute demo, Jenny is clearly impressed with the audio-visual recreation of the monument. She immediately remarks that Stonehenge VR would be good for school-age kids who might not otherwise have a chance to visit Stonehenge. This idea might be the most valuable aspect of virtual reality simulations of real places. Imagine the vast amount of knowledge that could be transferred via a VR headset in a classroom of 30 eager and active children. The ability to visit places that would otherwise be impossible to see outside of video or imagination could have amazing effects on education.
After her virtual trip to Stonehenge, Jenny makes a realization that can’t be ignored. She mentions that the demo actually “...reminded [her] of the beauty of things.” She goes on to say that she often takes beauty in the world for granted. Perhaps this is another thing virtual reality can teach us.