Even though it was super cool, I didn’t think about it much until recently when The New York Times started producing interesting VR videos around various news stories. Thus far, stories take readers to refugee zones, dive deep into the ocean, explore the surface of Pluto, and hit the campaign trail of the 2016 election.
The mission to Pluto really grabbed my attention. It is called Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart and covers new information obtained from NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft when it traveled by Pluto last year. Using data from NASA, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute, combined with terrain modeling and surface environments, the Times produced a VR video that completely engaged me.
Honestly, it felt like I was on the Magic School Bus (remember Miss Frizzle?). It was one of my favorite shows back in the day… science nerd starting early! But it made me think about other ways we could use VR technology.
Clearly, it is a great tool for education and entertainment, both of which the NY Times captures in its current content. And, Google Cardboard has an entire community devoted to educational apps and initiatives. A site worth checking out is the Expeditions Pioneers Program from Google that is built for teachers to take their classes on “field trips” to 150 locations around the world that “school buses can’t go to”.
But how could the scientific community make use of low-cost, open-source VR? Could scientific research use this tool to illustrate new findings, engaging both researchers in their field and the broader public? It could be a great tool to illustrate concepts that are difficult to explain in a paper or 2D figure, and tell a story along the way. It would be particularly engaging for science in unusual locations or at scales we don’t often think about in daily life (single atoms, cells, the entire universe?).
Others are thinking about using it for rehabilitation or studying how subjects respond to particular scenarios or environments. Thus far, researchers have looked into rehab for dysphonia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury using Google Cardboard VR.
Do you think it has a place in science? Would you use it in your research?