Here’s a novel approach to getting high-end virtual reality to the public: Make it free.
That’s what Oculus is doing in California with an initiative that will place 100 Oculus Rift headsets and VR-ready PC systems in 90 libraries throughout the state.
Making high-end VR available through local libraries isn’t just a brilliant bit of marketing by Oculus, it’s also something of a library tradition.
Although many computer users in the U.S. have easy access PCs today, a couple of decades ago, when the internet still fairly new to the mainstream, libraries and schools often offered the only free access many users had to the emerging platform.
In the same way, by providing high-end VR access to California residents who may not have $1,500 to buy a Rift and a VR-ready PC, Oculus is seeding the VR market by creation legions of new fans who will use VR for everything from gaming to education at their local library.
“Many industries are starting to transform through AR and VR technologies, and as that increases, career opportunities will evolve,” said Cindy Ball, Oculus’ education program manager, in a statement. “If we want everyone to have a shot at participating in those new VR-based roles and economies, it’s important that we help people see what’s coming.”
The VR systems, which will be rolled out over the next three months, will come pre-loaded with educational VR titles including Google Earth VR, The Body VR, Apollo 11, Mars Odyssey, and Through the Ages, as well as various nature and gaming VR titles.
“The 100 headsets we’re providing cover less than 10 percent of the branches,” Ball says of the pilot program. “Hopefully the experience with the first 100 devices will generate sufficient interest for the state to drive further expansion.”
However, because developing for VR and AR takes more than mere access to an end user device like the Rift, this program probably won’t directly lead to an aspiring Unity or Unreal Engine coder founding a successful VR or AR company in the near future.
Nevertheless, exposing more of the general public to top tier VR will help remove the mystery for many, potentially leading to innovations and approaches to VR and AR we haven’t even thought of yet.