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A first time Virtual Reality user is amazed by VR’s unbelievable experiences.(BagoGames/Flikr Commons)

A first time Virtual Reality user is amazed by VR’s unbelievable experiences.(BagoGames/Flikr Commons)

Imagine being in the same room as Einstein while he lectures about the Theory of Relativity. Atoms, planets and other images are displayed all around the room as Einstein puts into words the ideas and theories he has so vividly contained in his mind. Classmates and tutors can also pop into the experience at any time to answer any questions students might have about the wondrous experiences in front of them.

This could be the virtual reality future that our lectures become.

Virtual reality is a computer technology that replicates an environment that could be real or imagined. The user’s physical presence is simulated in the environment and allows the user to interact with it. Some VR experiences artificially create sensory experience using sight, touch, hearing and even smell.

Most VR experiences are displayed with a special virtual reality headset. Some simulations include additional sensory information and focus on real sound through speakers or headphones targeted towards VR users. Tactile information is included in some advanced haptic systems, known by most as force feedback, which is used in medical, military and gaming applications.

Input is handled through standard devices such as a mouse and keyboard and also through multimodal devices such as wired gloves or omnidirectional treadmills. The goal of VR is to create an experience that is incredibly immersive for the user.

Sony recently made a big splash by unveiling their Playstation VR headset at their recent press conference. Running in at $499 for the headset, a Playstation camera and two Playstation Move controllers, Sony has brought forth the lowest barrier to entry for Virtual Reality.

VR headsets require either a computer, game console, or phone to be able to run. Playstation VR and a Playstation 4 offers the cheapest way in, with a total price of around $848. Samsung Gear VR is the cheapest headset, only priced at $99, but requires either a Galaxy S6 or S7 which could come to about $698 for the S6 or $898 for the S7.

Occulus, the VR Kickstarter that was recently acquired by Facebook, is more of a premium product. The Occulus Rift is included with a sensor, Xbox One controller and two games, and launches at $599. The minimum specifications for a PC to run a game with Occulus Rift would cost around $949, which would bring the total to around $1,548 .

The most advanced technology around VR, the HTC Vive, is also the most expensive. The Vive, which includes two controllers and three games, costs $799 at launch. Along with a compatible PC, the total comes to around $1,748.

Virtual reality not only has a steep barrier to entry on the price side of things, but also on the user side as well. Virtual reality sickness is very similar to motion sickness and is a common reaction for new users to VR.

“Changes in velocity. Moving at speed doesn’t actually make people sick; once you’re moving and at equilibrium that’s fine,” said Palmer Luckey, founder of Occulus Rift, in an interview with MIT Tech Review. “The issue is constant deceleration and acceleration. It’s actually the duration of that change, rather than the magnitude, that makes people change.”

The physical strains of Virtual Reality can be contained through testing and knowledge of what not to do to make people sick.

“An instant acceleration from zero to 100, like truly instant, actually makes very few people ill. But slowly ramping it up and then ramping it down is a lot more uncomfortable for a lot of people,” stated Luckey. “Taking control of the camera in ways that don’t match with their vestibular system, especially very strong motions, is something you can’t do.”

The starting point of virtual reality may be extremely high, but as with all technology; parts will become cheaper, processes will become faster, and things will advance for VR to become a staple in everyone’s household.

“In defense of Luckey and Oculus, this is far from the first time a new class of computing technology started out with a high price tag,” said Laura Sydell in her article ‘Is Oculus Rift’s $600 Price Too High For Virtual Reality To Succeed?.’  “The original iPhone was $599 with a two-year contract. The first Kindle was $400. Over time, the prices decline.”

The iPhone 6 plus is still over $600, but unused older models can be purchased for much less. Brand new Kindles can be found for as low as $80.

Video games are the main focus of VR at the moment if not just for the fact that they are easier to wrap one’s mind around. Many games such as Star Wars Battlefront and Minecraft plan to add VR support to their games once the headsets launch, while others like EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale are being built from the ground up for VR.

Although VR enabled video games allow players to  immerse themselves in the game, they are not the only applications of VR. Immersive Education is a new startup dedicated to delivering educational VR experiences to students of all ages. A wide range of subjects is covered from History, to Math, to Medicine.

There are two experiences available now, the first is the Apollo 11 Experience, which puts the student in the shoes of Neil Armstrong from the point of him walking onto the Apollo 11 Rocket to his first steps on the moon. The second is titled ER VR and places the student in the ER room and faces them with a patient who has suffered in fatal car crash. It is up to the student to save them.

This kind of experience learning is a huge advancement in the education field. The retention rate for new concepts taught through lecture and reading is about 10 to 30 percent. The retention rate for new concepts taught through enacting in a simulation of a real event is around 90 percent on average.

Learning through experience is not only more fun, it’s more effective. STEM education, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, has an extremely large rate of students who drop their major. One of the common complaints for STEM education is the lack of hands on interaction, as most STEM education is based more on theory. With VR, it is finally possible to make education not only more hands on, but more fun as well.

Companies such as Ford Motor Company have been using virtual reality for creating and testing new technologies as far back as 2014. The British government recently announced that they are now training their field medics with Occulus Rift. The National Grid in Boston uses VR systems to train new engineers for safety, as their working environment is extremely dangerous.

Although virtual reality has a steep hill to climb, the incredible outcomes of the technology are certain to astound. An educational revolution is in the works. In a few years, instead of getting up at 7 in the morning, struggling to find parking for 30 minutes and falling asleep during a droning lecture, maybe we will stay in bed, slip on our headsets, and join our class in outer space.

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