Education

Czech school holds first virtual reality classes

 

A teacher is talking to the class about Alexander the Great’s battles against the Persian Empire. He starts to describe the Battle of Issus. I put on the virtual reality goggles and am immediately immersed in the action. As I roam around the ancient battlefield, I look at the weaponry and consider the tactics involved. There are merciless duels going on all around me. I can see Alexander the Great marching in his full suit of armor, as well as the defeated Persian king. All I can think about as I leave the class is that battle scene.

Next up is a biology class. The teacher is explaining how the human brain and neurons and their networks work. Putting on the virtual reality goggles, I can see a human in a simulated environment. I take the skull and put it to one side. The brain remains in place. I examine it thoroughly from every angle and use the control to zoom in to the level of individual neurons and their connections with other neurons. I watch the electrical signals going from the visual system to the neurons’ dendrites and wait eagerly to see the neuron “flashing.” Its axon transmits the signal to the other neurons’ dendrites. I’ve never seen anything like this before.

I then move on to the mechatronics class. My task is to assemble a mechanical robot that will lift and move a load. I put on the virtual reality goggles and learn how to set up the robot in a model environment. First I attach the individual parts one at a time, secure the moving parts and then plug in and attach the control unit. I don’t start assembling a real robot until the virtual one can successfully lift and move the loads. Having achieved this, I now start to assemble my real robot based on my virtual reality experience — and the real robot is ready in no time.

As shown in the video from the class, all kinds of different scenarios can become a reality with the aid of virtual reality.

The first-ever virtual reality high school class took place at the Mendel Gymnasium in Opava in the Czech Republic on October 20, 2014. The classes, which provide first-hand experience in 3D, had students at the Gymnasium and nearby schools absolutely mesmerized. All this wouldn’t be possible without the Oculus Rift DK2 goggles and Leap Motion technology. This technology can trace hand movements, allowing the user to control the experience and the virtual reality scenes.

Current virtual reality technology has three levels. The first level—mobile virtual reality—is priced at CZK 100. This technology is based on the special Google Cardboard goggles. Once a smartphone is inserted into the goggles, the virtual reality app divides the phone display into two stereoscopic halves — one for each eye. These goggles are now available to buy in the Czech Republic. They transform Google Earth into a virtual reality and allow you to wander through European capitals and landmarks in 3D.

The second level—Oculus Rift DK2 goggles with one display—is the technology used in Opava, and costs around CZK 8000. To work, these goggles need to be connected to a computer with powerful graphics (MSI GTX 970 GAMING 4G or better). Because there aren’t any special requirements for the other PC components, the technology runs smoothly on Intel Core processors. A beta version of the goggles is now available.

The third—professional—level refers to virtual reality goggles with two displays. VR UNION, a Czech company, is in the final stages of developing their virtual reality headset, which is currently the best on the market. The headset costs around CZK 20,000.

VR_2

Solirax plans to launch a Czech virtual reality app editor in the near future, making these kinds of apps much easier to develop. The aim of the editor is to enable at least first and second-level virtual reality to be integrated into primary school and high school curriculums. It is also designed to allow teachers, students and other users to write virtual reality apps. The Mendel Gymnasium in Opava has been part of a breakthrough experiment in this respect, which could even come to have the same impact as the first manned moon landing.

Bostrom’s Simulation Argument examines why the universe is life-friendly. One of the three arguments presented is that humans are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. And when it comes to virtual reality, this may well come to be true — in school classes of the future, at least.

The photos are courtesy of the Mendel Gymnasium in Opava.

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