An Augmented and Virtual Reality Science Experience
The folks from ReTrak sent me one of their new Utopia 360° “STEM based learning experience” products to check out. I think we're going to see a lot of products like this emerge in the next few years. VR and AR, and combined VR/AR experiences, referred to as “Mixed Reality”, hold a lot of promise for education, but high end experiences are still not very affordable.
This ReTrak product offers a reasonably good experience at an affordable price. Bundles like this sell in the $30 to $40 range. Currently, the Utopia 360° product line consists of three different bundles of STEM-focused content: Space Exploration, Animal Zoo, and Dinosaur Experience. I tried the Space Exploration offering.
I liked the idea of a nice sized set of Augmented Reality cards. The Space Exploration card deck included a couple dozen cards showing the solar system, planets, comets, etc., and numerous space exploration vehicles. The experience with each card was relatively limited making them more interactive could really enhance the product. For example, the Rover and some of the other vehicles could be driven, and that certainly added to the experience. And the moons revolving around the planets were kind of cool too.
One interesting thing I stumbled across by accident was that the app could recognize more than one image at a time, which would seem to open some interesting possibilities. Is that an asteroid I see hurtling towards Jupiter?
As for the Virtual Reality aspect of the product, well I honestly have yet to see an inexpensive VR product that resulted in an experience that impressed me. The Space Exploration version of Utopia 360° offers two options – being on the International Space Station, or being in space. It seemed all you could really do was look around.
One mode the product offered that was also interesting was a “VR/AR” mode that produced a more fully 3D feel when looking at the AR experience through the headset. Another mode that looked really cool was a holographic mode, but this requires a simple holographic “projection” tool that I did not have (these can be made with an exacto knife and a clear CD case – I wrote about this a while back in this post).
Combining AR and VR in an affordable bundle like this is nice, and I think elementary school science classrooms, labs, or libraries could certainly benefit from owning the Utopia 360° product. Kids should enjoy learning about and experiencing aspects of space, dinosaurs, and animals in this immersive, multidimensional environment.
Learn more about these bundles at www.utopia360vr.com, where they can be purchased. They are also for sale at Barnes and Noble, Staples, and Walmart.