I treated myself to some catching up by New Year’s Eve to welcome 2018 with as clean a slate as possible. I finished reading seven books over the last two weeks, some of them quite difficult reads—and I did it by not turning on the Playstation 4 except for once. As everyone had parties celebrating the New Year I took a trip to the moon utilizing Immersive’s VR Education LTD fine triumph—their Apollo 11 VR experience. I’ve talked about this before and have been excited about it—but until recently hadn’t had time to get into it. The project was a big one, and was mostly funded with private Kick Starter investment that was credited at the end. It was an educational documentary virtual reality experience that put you in the left seat of the Apollo 11 launch vehicle out of Kennedy Space center and into the command module during the approach to the moon. Then landing on the moon you are in the left seat of the Lander standing next to Neil Armstrong. Once there you get to stand on the moon and have a look at the Sea of Tranquility like it’s never been shown in a museum exhibit that I’ve seen. It was simply amazing. You also get to witness the return to earth and the perspective of the astronauts as they reentered the atmosphere awaiting splashdown.
I think where the 3D environments of the Playstation VR system really shine is within cockpits, such as cars and aircraft. I have been amazed by the graphic displays of games like Battlefront VR and Driveclub where every little toggle switch is shown just as it would in a vehicle with such photorealistic display that you feel you can reach out and touch them. So the same method works brilliantly in the Apollo 11 experience. Graphics that might otherwise look terrible in 2D are easily forgivable in 3D so the ride up the elevator to the top of the rocket at the Kennedy Space Center was something I thought was also very impressive. I’ve been there several times and know what things look like and even though a lot of details were missing, the overall feel of the area was certainly captured. Getting the feel of the height and the relationship to the surrounding terrain was what mattered and once inside the Apollo capsule awaiting launch that is where the VR part of the experience really shined.
As the launch occurred you could see out the windows as the rocket blasted through the various cloud layers and watch the earth fall behind. Out the front window you could also see the sky go from a blue to black as stars gradually came into view—just as it would. You could look at all the dancing lights on the control panel and look over at the other two astronauts as they answered alarms shaking in their seats from the momentum. The radio chatter was ever-present and was synced up to the mouths of the pilots. Occasionally I’d find myself staring at their faces and they’d look you in the eye as if they knew you were there pulling you into the experience. It was all very thrilling and unexpectedly brilliant.
Questions I’ve always had like where is the moon in relation to their perspective on the actual trip and how did it look were easily confirmed by me just by looking out the windows like a kid in the car first arriving at Disney World. I was free to look out any window I could to see the relative positioning of the vessel as it plunged through space toward the moon. Once on the moon I enjoyed much more than I would have expected at looking up into the earth as it just floated there in the dark of space. I’ve seen many picture of the earth from the moon in good resolution, but the presentation in VR was so much better—because it gave depth to the craters and the mountains surrounding the landing site that pictures just couldn’t capture in any way. I’ve also heard all the recordings of this epic landing seemingly hundreds of times, but being there in a VR world was a much better way to experience them. First the speech by Kennedy at the beginning sounded like I had heard it for the first time. It was presented in a very unusual way that sounded fresh to me. Then the well-known speech of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon for the first time was particularly gripping as I was already out of the vessel watching him do it and looking all around me for perspective. Shockingly I heard the voice of Nixon as he called from the Oval Office to talk about the experience. As he spoke I was looking at the earth trying to see if Washington D.C. was pointed at us as he spoke considering the distance in between. It was very easy to get caught up in the whole thing. What this VR experience did particularly well was give depth and scale to the world we were exploring, which I think really opens up the way we can educate ourselves in the future.
Education is essentially the strength of this new VR technology. The ability to go to places from the comfort of your living room and see things on a grand scale and interact with objects of history are the keys to our future. What Immersive Education is doing I think is one of the most powerful education tools I’ve seen yet ever presented. I often advocate that there is nothing that teaches better than a good book, because reading requires work and personal investment so that the information tends to stay with you longer as a participant. Passively watching a television documentary doesn’t have the same effect. It can still be good, but it’s not as effective. However, with the kind of work Immersive Education is doing, you have no choice but to participate, because your mind actually thinks you are in those environments. Even poorly rendered graphics in VR become sellable realities because the way our eyes participate in reality lends strength to the technology. I can see the future of learning foreign languages within the countries of origin, and interaction with environments that would otherwise be exotic to be the strengths of this exciting new technology. There is real potential here that is extremely new and creates so many options.
I would have never thought that I’d be able to spend a New Year’s Eve going to the moon then still having time to usher in the New Year in the traditional way. But that is the world we are living in now. Technology brings us options that curious minds can indulge in, and I consider that a real privilege. For as many times as I’ve heard about man’s first trip to the moon, and heard the various speeches, Immersive Education managed to make it a fresh experience which was thrilling for any science buff. But for the general public it is a real gift that can be easily downloaded into any living room that has a Playstation VR device. I would go so far to say that I’d buy a Playstation VR just to take this one trip to the moon; it is that good, and revolutionary. And what thrills me more is that it is just a sign of things yet to come.
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