The Virtual Arena: VR Gets Schooled
Kevin Williams is back once again to show what was to be seen at this year's British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT).
Following on from previous coverage of the Enterprise approach for VR, and VRFocus columnist Kevin Williams, looks at the latest deployment of VR into the classroom and education structure revealed during the largest education and training event in Europe.
Many of my regular followers will be familiar with the coverage I gave last year of The British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT). So, it was with much interest that a returned to BETT 2018 to see how this initial interest in virtual reality (VR) technology was impacting the scene.
The BETT event filled London’s ExCel exhibition and convention centre, with a multitude of the latest technology learning and teaching aids – ranging from electronic whiteboards, smart teaching tablets, new 3D printing platforms, and the latest in machine learning applications to track pupil and student advancement.
Regarding VR in the classroom, the deployment of the immersive technology was still trying to define its offering – but was a force for good. The biggest presence on the mammoth show floor was from AVANTIS, building on last year’s presence, promoting their ClassVR platform. ClassVR offers a tough, self-contained head mounted display (HMD) designed for education. The unique headset featuring a see-through camera, and the ability to wireless communicate.
The company’s large booth saw a lot of interest, with AVANTIS running a special enclosure that represented a World War I trench. An illustration of how the VR platform can be used as a learning experience that fits into the national syllabus. The ClassVR system offered in a multiple eight-unit case for class teaching.
Another exhibitor that demonstrated their classroom ready VR platform was Redbox VR – offering their own ruggedly designed headsets, but in this case favouring a smart phone, rather than self-contained approach. The company having partnered to support the Google Cardboard standard for teaching (Google Expeditions). This partnership has resulted in a robust offering, with learning supported by a large content library.
Google’s educational aspirations (Google for Education) were on display, with the company coming to BETT 2018 with a big booth promoting more their educational support content and smart apps than their hardware. But that was also looking at their curriculum and classroom advantage. The company did not have many Cardboard HMDs on their own booth, but were promoting their latest augmented reality (AR) tools, and how their Google Maps application married to class-based learning – Google Expeditions comprising some 700 experiences.
One of the largest of the exhibitors on the show floor with a strong VR presence was Microsoft Worldwide Education, heavily promoting their Windows Mixed Reality offering in this sector of education. A wide selection of Windows Mixed Reality partners supported the booth with their headsets, including the HP VR1000, Acer AH101 and Dell Visor. Microsoft also promoted their Hololens AR solution, offering a comprehensive immersive platform solution, supported by a class-based VR and AR curriculum.
These headsets were seen across the BETT 2018 show floor – a concentrated effort by the manufacturers to support a Enterprise approach to VR, rather than focusing, as other headset developers, on a mainly VR gaming-related business approach.
On the Acer booth the company presented several of their educational endeavours, along with putting the Acer AH101 VR headset through its paces with a number of experiences.
Asus was also at the event, partnering up with Intel showed their Asus HC120 VR headset, tied into their virtual classroom demonstration, allowing for the immersive environment to be displayed in real-time to other classmates.
Dell Technologies (also in partnership with Intel and Microsoft) had a comprehensive education presentation across their product range, promoted as part of their “Virtual Futures” initiative. Their Dell Visor VR headset in its educational colours, going through its paces as a teaching tool allowing pupils to “delve” inside their subjects, with VR-based learning.
Another of the supporters of the Windows Mixed Reality standard, Lenovo (once again in partnership with Intel) demonstrated their commitment to the VR learning opportunity, showing their Lenovo Explorer headset. But pride of place was also given to the new Lenovo Mirage Solo – freshly launched at CES that month, the Mirage supports the Google Daydream initiative.
The brand-new Lenovo Mirage Solo integrates Google’s WorldSense 6DOF positional tracking, as well as supporting a controller. Feeling more like a self-contained mobile VR application. It could be seen that Google’s Daydream has been slow out the blocks, though Lenovo were not shy in promoting their association.
Another of those supporting multiple approaches to offering a complimentary immersive solution to the educational sphere was HP. Along with their Windows Mixed Reality support, seen on the Microsoft booth, HP presented a selection of other VR solutions including an HTC Vive Backpack VR offering.
Along with HP, many other exhibitors during BETT 2018 had HTC Vive room-scale setups on their booth demonstrating the application and opportunities that this approach had to offer. With regards Oculus VR, they were only seen on two booths, such as presented by Sensory Guru, who presented their Sensory VR – offering a wide variety of the latest VR platforms for deployment in special needs and educational services for inclusive classroom engagement.
Another exhibitor that has placed a considerable global effort into the promotion of a virtual classroom experience was VEATIVE Labs – the Singapore based operation presented a classroom application using their VEATIVE All-in-One headset, as well as a wide curriculum of specially created immersive content for students with teacher control built in. The company is also able to support other headsets, but with the VEATIVE solution is able to quickly adapt schools to the learning process.
It is the creation of this immersive content to best illustrate the power of VR learning that was also on display at this year’s BETT, with exhibitor HumanEyes Technologies demonstrating the VUZE VR camera, able to offer VR video and VR photo creation, perfect to be displayed in an educational approach.
While ClickView, provider of an online platform of curriculum-mapped videos for students, was branching beyond their conventional video content to specially created 360’ experiences building on the interactive education roots – with the ability for the teacher to build into the content questions and help shape the immersive learning approach.
The appearance of HMDs in the educational landscape seemed to have stabilized at BETT 2018. With more practical solutions being promoted, rather than a feeling of just riding on the popularity of the tech trend. A novel approach seen at BETT was from exhibitors Rapid Electronics – along with their self-assembly programable robots and drones, the company also promoted their Airgineers VR googles, offering first-person view from their camera on their drone. The special wireless single offering a unique perspective, and is being employed in drone racing competitions. More an immersive display than true VR, it still offers a compelling experience – like the Live-Drive RC system reported in our IAAPA 2017 coverage.
And in conclusion it is the constant hunt for the next leading immersive technology trend that will shape the market that drives our attendance at the Enterprise industries events. BETT 2018 may have given a tantalising glimpse of the next trend on the horizon. Seen on a number of booths, the latest in projection systems – such as from Immersive Interactive, who presented a platform that can offer a immersive projected environment that is also interactive.
Projection based immersive experiences obviously benefit from the ability to have multiple users immersed in the same experience, and does without the need for cumbersome HMDs and restrictive motion tracking. Though only now gathering momentum it is an interesting technology to keep in sight.
That is the conclusion of our coverage of BETT 2018 – we saw a lot of promise for VR, but also saw a powerplay by Windows Mixed Reality towards being able to control the high-ground of VR application, while developers such as AVANTIS start to see their VR platforms deployed into real-world locations. Next Years’ education event will prove to be where the reality of this tech’s benefit for immersive learning will be revealed.
There will be more from Kevin Williams and The Virtual Arena very soon, here on VRFocus.