Creating an App for our Virtual Reality Research

by Deborah Rodrigues Moreira, Fab Lab Berlin/ Gluck Workshops

After unpacking our VR equipment, installing and then holding a session in which the technology was tested (very well documented by our friend Anca Velicu on this post), Dylan, Justyna and me managed to organise a trial workshop in Berlin. It was back in August and we just wanted to observe reactions and develop further the ideas we have for the research.

Our idea is for children to bring an anchor inside a Virtual Reality environment. We will ask children aged 8 to create an object for their Vai Kai dolls. After that we want to use the Vive Tracker so children can bring these objects with them inside the Virtual Reality space and the research team will observe their reactions. Initial findings from a commercially-funded study being undertaken at Dubit looking at children’s interaction and engagement with VR content, suggested that young audiences (8 years-old) would like physical objects to help them transition from physical into virtual spaces. This would act as an “anchor” reminding them of where they are and where their physical body is in relation to the virtual environment.

If only it was that simple. The tracker is not commercially available and that makes our mission a little more tricky than just plugging it in the computer and playing with it. So on our first test, children were invited to try the Google VR app ‘Tilt Brush‘ (it was their first time trying VR). They had fun and they expressed themselves. The kids waiting outside could watch what was happening on the computer screen; and they would often interact with the kid playing. There was no anchor, however.

That’s what I did on my secondment in Sheffield last month. We’ve decided that the easier and most reliable way to move forward with our research was to create an app for it. That included learning Unity, in order to be able to create an environment where children could play and experiment in a Virtual Reality space carrying an object they created, and that was tracked by Vive Tracker. With a couple of online tutorials and the help of my friend Meredith Thomas and Dylan Yamada-Rice, I created this environment with characters as big as a mountain could be. In the app, you are carried away by a nest and see yourself traveling through a world full of gigantic characters, a lot like a theme park. This also gives time for children to get used to having a giant goggle on their faces.

Our idea is that kids will carry the Vai Kai dolls with them (Vai Kai is the project of our partner Justyna Zubrycka). So, they add the toy to the tracker, and then carry it with them through the whole experience. It takes around 3 minutes to complete the whole trip. After that, we will bring children to Tilt Brush so they can also create a character that will be added in our world afterwards. So, it’ll be an ever expanding experience, with lots of kids’ drawings completing the scene. This can also be distributed as a free app at the end of the research, so other people can navigate our world!

This is a video I made of the experience (it looks so much better with the VR goggles, I hope you have a chance to see it using these as well!)

We will keep you up-to-date on the project; do keep an eye on the blog for our next post!





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