Virtual reality becomes reality

Stephanie Vallez · Wednesday, January 24, 2018
The West Liberty Public Library is home to two new computer stations featuring virtual reality.

With the help of Jens Zalzala of Shaking Earth Digital and a Ryan Trust grant, the WLPL has installed Oculus equipment so that everyone can experience virtual reality firsthand.

This equipment requires two sensors on either side of the computer screen which follow the users actions.

The headset covers the eyes and ears, so that the user’s only sensory input is coming from the virtual world. The headset is connected with a wire, so there is no need to walk around.

This type of setup is safer than the wireless kind of headset, where the user needs an empty room with sensors in four corners.

The wired headset like those at the library ensures that the user will only need to turn their head and use their arms while remaining stationary, which is clearly safer for a person who can’t see their surroundings.

Manisha Maramreddy of the WLPL said the VR stations became available during the holidays and that use is slowly picking up.

Shaking Earth Digital is writing some custom software to program for VR within VR, something that doesn’t currently exist. According to Deb Lowman, Library director, the WLPL will be excited to use the new technology.

“We’re also going to take on that piece of software,” Lowman said, “so that if the kids are working on a project or if they want to go further working on their project they can work on traditional VR or use that custom piece of software. Either way, we’re going to keep going with that partnership.”

As for its use, Lowman said there have been a couple of users that use it quite often. “Others are beginning to see it,” Lowman said. “In the next week or two we’ll start meeting with some of the classes that are using it at the school and then it will probably take off quite quickly.”

Those meetings would have happened already, but had to be rescheduled due to illness.

Aside from video gaming opportunities, Lowman has also been making sure that the library can use VR as a tool for teaching and learning as well.

Like any good librarian, Lowman wants to use this technology to show patrons of the library a whole new view of the world.

“Both National Geographic and Smithsonian are giving out tours, so they’ve hired people who are photographers and videographers to go to historical spots and destinations,” Lowman said, “from the pyramids to other countries, even the museums hope to get something up and going.”

There has also been some talk of using the virtual reality to do modeling for the middle school’s 3D printer.

“It’s got a lot of applications in a whole new learning environment,” Lowman said, “I think it would be really attractive to people that don’t learn in the traditional way. It gives another component to taking in concepts.”

Lowman has plenty of plans and hopes for the future of this technology, but like most new technologies, the older generations may need a moment to adjust.

“It’s always fun to watch adults do the tutorial,” said Lowman.

And as a way to make sure we’re all playing safe, Lowman said the equipment is regularly cleaned and disinfected.

“We tend to be pretty vigilant around here,” Lowman said, “for our welfare and that of everybody else.”

This is a very new technology and there are lots of ideas about what we might do with it in the future and how it might impact our lives.

Right now, you can go to the West Liberty Public Library and take a virtual tour of Venice without spending a fortune on travel expenses. It will be interesting to revisit this story in the coming months.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Venice awaits.
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