Creating an app for our VR Research

Deborah Rodrigues 

After unpacking our VR equipment, installing and making a session of testing (very well documented by our friend Anca Velicu here), Dylan, Justyna and I managed to organise a trial workshop in Berlin. This was back in August 2017 and at that time we just wanted to observe children’s reactions to our initial ideas for the VR MakEY research project.

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Our idea is for children to bring a physical ‘anchor’ inside Virtual Reality which would consist of a physical toy that could be played with in the virtual world. To do this we asked 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 observe their reactions. Initial findings from a commercially-funded study being undertaken at Dubit looking at children’s interaction and engagement with VR content, suggest 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 was not yet commercially available and that made 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 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 would often interact with the kid playing. There was no ‘anchor’ though.

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That’s what I did on my secondment in Sheffield last month. We’ve decided that the easiest and most reliable way to move forward with our research would be to create an app for it. That included learning Unity, to be able to create an environment where children could play and experiment a Virtual Reality space, carrying an object they created, that would be tracked by the 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. 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 goggles on their faces.

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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 bring children to Tilt Brush so they can also create a character that will be added in our VR 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 on our world!

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

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