Plug in to travel without leaving home

Virtual reality is changing the travel industry

Photo: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr Virtual reality headsets like this one allow people to travel without leaving their homes.

Photo: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr
Virtual reality headsets like this one allow people to travel without leaving their homes.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

A revolution is happening in the travel industry. Predictions are that in 2016, an emerging technology will spin off new applications in commerce, education, entertainment, and media. What is this new technology that is destined to bring changes in the way we live and learn and participate? The answer is Virtual Reality!

Journalists in national media are forecasting how armchair travel in three-dimensional virtual reality (3-D) is rapidly changing how travelers are previewing or experiencing destinations. This technology is already impacting the airline industry. Quantas Airlines offer 3-D devices for first-class passengers on long flights from two Australian airports with a menu of virtual adventures.

Up to now, previewing travel destinations has largely been limited to DVDs, podcasts, narrated slide shows, or short videos on a travel agency website. Sometimes, a GoPro camera on a headband or use of a drone for overview of a place or scene are being used to bring 2-D viewers to places otherwise not possible.

For example, ABC’s Good Morning America had a series of shows over the holidays by a network reporter on a visit to Iceland that documented expert ice climbers descending into a glacier “hole” with a GoPro camera on a headband, which showed the viewing public what was happening deep in the earth as a result of climate change. A drone with a zoom camera added an overview of the scene from above.

Adventures in space allow the public to get a 2-D feel and view of NASA astronauts as if the viewer were aboard. Imagine what a space walk might be for a viewer in 3-D!

The difference in the virtual reality experience is that it is three dimensional in real time, so that with a small device over the eyes or using cardboard 3-D glasses with two different color lenses, the viewer sees the presentation as if he or she were actually in the scene. If the viewer turns his or her head to a different direction, or takes a step, the simulated reality of that place changes as if it was happening in reality.

The technology has many applications in travel as well as in enterprises, game playing, or digital storytelling. Marriott Hotels offer 3-D virtual tours to wedding planners and clients to preview and promote destinations worldwide for high-end wedding accommodations. In real estate, 3-D cameras preview homes for sale so that a virtual tour of an apartment or a home can narrow down a personal visit to a few appealing settings. Google even is rolling out virtual reality field trips, according to press reports.

In sports, the NBA Golden State Warriors live streamed their opening game with the New Orleans Pelicans last October to fans who owned a Samsung headset and downloaded an app. Likewise, NFL has explored VR streaming of training camps. The vision is that fans can watch games virtually from home by 2020.

A startup company called The Void plans to open an immersive virtual reality theme park as an “entertainment center” in Pleasant Grove, Utah, by June 2016, with hopes to expand the centers in large cities across the country and in Europe.

Probably the biggest impact of VR will be happening in the classrooms of schools. The likelihood is that charter schools will lead the initial way forward, as these schools are organized by parents for their children and complete the process of being approved officially by state educational standards. Therefore, charter schools are flexible and seek to keep pace with leading-edge tools for learning and participating in community initiatives.

Today, students with smart iPhones or iPads produce 2-D videos for websites. Step-up costs to experiencing VR in the classroom is about $5 for a cardboard device, and upwards to $20 for a more sturdy viewing mask, to just under a $100 for the 3-D Samsung sophisticated VR headset.

My belief is that progressively the elements of documentary filmmaking that produce living history enactments or real-life digital stories from social or global issues will be arm-chaired by students to bring history alive in VR from media access in their pockets or hand-held devices.

2016 will be an exciting year for revolutionary VR advances in travel, commerce, education, entertainment, and media.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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