A French company is using VR to create the next generation of educational space simulators.
From outlandish ideas involving sensory deprivation chambers housed inside a Burning Man art installation and a location-based VR experience launched as a partnership between NASA and Samsung in commemoration of the Apollo program’s 50th anniversary, to multiplayer moonwalks and actual astronaut training simulation tools, there’s no doubt space-based VR experiences are on the rise.
VR is often at its best when it allows you to experience something that would be impossible otherwise, and free-floating through the rings of Saturn certainly fits into that category.
I was doing just that this morning whilst trying out Overview, an immersive experience that takes you on a 30-minute journey to the limits of our galaxy and beyond, all narrated in a soothing and informative documentary style.
It was produced by Orbital Views, a virtual reality studio based in Paris, France, with a strong emphasis on research, science and education. In 2016, they became the first company to use VR headsets in parabolic flights, for both private passengers as well as professional astronauts.
Overview features several interactive activities, allowing viewers to scale away from planet Earth all the way to the outer confines of the known universe. Players are able to fly through a fully accurate model of our solar system, including known planets, moons, asteroids and comets all moving within their accurate orbits.
After demoing it myself, I was able to get my seven-year-old niece try it, and even though by now she’s a bit of a VR veteran (using your family members as guinea pigs is standard practice in my household), the experience still had her shouting out in excitement, and – most tellingly – incorporating space exploration themes into her play afterward. It is clear that such tools have an important role to play in sparking interest in STEM subjects, as it brings a sense of fun and a real connection to the science.
Written and directed by up-and-coming French VR Director Paul Mezier, Overview has been available since March on HTC Vive, but has now launched on the Oculus Rift as well. Download the educational experience now via the Oculus Store, Viveport or Steam for $9.99. It has since been shown at festivals such as Cannes.
The content was created and produced by Amaury Solignac, who has a PhD in Submarine, Antarctic and Space Psychology. Solignac used to lecture at NASA and the European Space Agency and was most recently on the selection board of the latest group of European astronauts.
“Featuring data and photorealistic images from NASA, ESA and other scientific agencies, Overview is the most accurate representation of space in Virtual Reality available today,” says Solignac.
“This unprecedented representation of cosmic scale is intended to create a sensation of awe in the mind and eye of each and every viewer,” adds Mezier.
It’s not surprising that they were awarded “Best Education Experience” at this year’s GDC in San Francisco. Other VR applications developed by Orbital Views include lunar gravity simulators, professional training systems and VR-based physical rehabilitation tools.
Judging by my niece’s reaction, Overview a great way to ensure that we also get girls inspired by connecting them with a sense of wonder for the universe we live in. I think most of us can get behind that.