Editor’s Note: This is part of a project to better connect the Daily Lobo with the University of New Mexico Communication and Journalism Department.
Students had the chance to try out a virtual reality system for themselves on Nov. 15 in conjunction with International Education Week through tours hosted by librarians at the University of New Mexico.
The VR tours were directed by tour guides who explored a location via Google Earth VR while explaining some history and tidbits about the place to the students.
Google Earth is a program that lets users view a 3-D rendered Earth created through satellite imagery.
What the tour guides saw was projected on a television screen, allowing the audience to share the VR experience. Students were shown various places around the world like Scotland, Northeastern England, Iceland and Germany — all places where the UNM librarians/tour guides visited or used to live.
Todd Quinn, a business and economics librarian, gave a quick virtual tour of Iceland. He visited the country last May and showed the group some of the scenic spots he saw there. But this was more than showing off different locations, he said.
“The idea was for us to show any audience who showed up different parts of the world from people who have visited those places, or are from those places,” he said.
Quinn said he thinks the VR system could be a good tool to use for both business and education. However, it could also be good for students who are feeling homesick or want to show their friends where they grew up, he said.
Skyler Stinson, a UNM student, said he liked how the tours were set up.
“Just to see the places and hear someone’s actual experience there is cooler than just seeing it,” he said.
While this event was created for International Education Week, it also functioned as a test drive for future events like it.
The librarians who hosted this event are hoping that these VR tours can start happening on a regular basis — perhaps monthly — starting in the spring semester, said Life Sciences Librarian Amy Jankowski. However, there is no official plan yet.
Jankowski also said potential interests students may have in VR and Google Earth could include scouting out an area before planning a trip or preparing for study abroad.
The librarians were not the only ones to get use the VR set that day — between the tours of various locations, students were also allowed to try out the VR equipment, which consisted of a VR headset and a controller for each hand, and visited any location they wanted to.
While the program does allow users to view areas in 360 degrees, there are limits.
The VR allows users to view 360-degree images by turning their head and looking around. This, however, means that the world overview is just like regular Google Earth.
The two controllers are how users “fly” around the planet and how they find various locations.
Alternatively, there is a search option on the controller that lets users type in a location. After finding a desired location, a bubble will appear above the right controller if there is a 360 photograph available. The location can then be selected, and the user will go into a 360 street view of the location.
Since it is only an image, the user cannot actually move inside it; they are stuck in a fixed position and only able to look around.
There were some image glitches that could result in people pictured in the photos missing a part of their body.
Stinson and Devin Pacheco, two UNM students who tried the VR headset with Google Earth VR, both said the controls for the VR set were difficult to use at first, but said they thought it would get easier over time.
The two said they also liked the ability to drop down in any location of their choosing.
“I thought it was pretty cool. You could pretty much go anywhere. I feel like I could be on that thing all day if I have the chance,” Pacheco said.
While they both found it entertaining, Stinson said the VR was glitchy. He also said he would probably not get a VR set for himself, because he assumed the price was rather high.
Pacheco said the money might be put to better use by actually visiting the locations you want to see on Google Earth.
It should be noted that while there are cheaper options out there that just involve VR headset for certain phones, the VR headsets used at the event cost hundreds of dollars.
However, all is not lost for those who want to try out this VR headset for themselves.
No official event has been posted online, but the Centennial Library is hoping to have a similar event for World Monuments Day on April 18. Students can reserve the VR room by accessing the UNM libraries' “Rooms and Spaces,” webpage.
Marco Woods is a UNM student enrolled in CJ375 and a guest reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MarcoBWoods.