Preston County 4-H introduces members — and Preston Commission — to VR technology

KINGWOOD — Have you ever wanted to walk the streets of Paris, see a planet surface close-up or to come face to face with a dinosaur?

All of this and more is possible through virtual reality (VR), according to WVU 4-H Extension Agent David Hartley.

Virtual reality, also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, is computer technology that simulates a realistic environment. A VR headset fits over the user’s head and eyes, visually separating them from the space they are physically occupying. Hartley said the 4-H VR program is part of a Computer Science Pathways National 4-H Grant in partnership with Google Expedition.

He said the program is a learning tool that gives young people a chance to visit distant places around the world.

“If we decide to visit Mount Rushmore, everyone can see the same place. You can look up and down or behind you,” Hartley said.

Preston County Commissioner Dave Price said Hartley brought VR devices to a recent meeting.

“I only had a couple of minutes, but what I saw was amazing,” Price said. He said his VR experience was flying over the Grand Canyon.

“I wish I wouldn’t have been in a meeting. I would liked to have seen more,” Price said.  He said he believed VR would be a good educational tool because the experience is so close to reality. “It’s like you are actually there,” Price said.

Hartley said kids in Preston County rarely get to see the Aurora Borealis.

“VR lets you see a realistic point of view of what you are looking at,” he said about the Aurora Borealis in VR.

Hartley said there are many applications for the use of VR.

“The National 4-H put together a VR program to show some of the unique things the different 4-H groups do,” he said.

“Big Stone Lake is doing aquatics and working with local fisheries. They made a robot that goes out and looks at the environment,” Hartley said about the VR tour.

He said the 4-H program in Minnesota has a recording center where 4-Hers can create music and do voice-overs.

“I believe the potential for VR is unlimited. What we are looking at now is just the beginning,” Hartley said. “VR may become a standard tool to learn. We don’t know where this will go. We try to provide newer things like VR so kids can use it and explore it.”

“My (VR) experience is hard to describe,” Price said. “It was like standing on the middle of a mountain and looking around. If you haven’t tried it, you need to put the glasses on and experience it.”