In the News: Mattel Makes Virtual Reality Kid’s Play

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my View-Master. It was so cool to be able to peer through a view-finder and suddenly explore a new world, be it under-sea adventures, a story starring my favorite cartoon character, or even a trip to Disneyland.

View Master

The finished concept for the virtual reality new View-Master. http://bit.ly/1vUx6EK

Mattel recently announced a new toy that takes this classic toy and thrusts it into the 21st century. It’s a reinvention of the View Master built on the Google Cardboard concept. The new View Master will be a shell that a smart phone (or like device) is placed into. It will run an app that recognizes cardboard discs that look like the classic View Master discs and creates an immersive, 3D, augmented reality experience experience.

Here’s a preview video from Mattel that provides a glimpse into what the experience will be like:

It’s More Than Just a Toy

The new View Master is scheduled to be released this fall at $29.99 for the View Master itself, and $14.99 for each disc. I expect it will be a hot seller during that 2015 Holiday season. I know when I saw the video, my reaction was the common internet meme: “Just shut up and take my money”.

While the View Master is literally a toy, I see this product as much more than that. I see it as a milestone in the mainstreaming of virtual reality.

Virtual reality has historically had a sci-fi feel to it; it was something that existed, but wasn’t common, and certainly not something that was easily accessible as a tool for learning and education.

A price point under $50 for a virtual reality experience changes that. It shows that the technology to create these types of experiences is more affordable, and it starts to make experiencing virtual reality a more common experience at the consumer level.

And when technology changes mainstream consumer behavior, it usually affects educational and learning behaviors in turn.

Simple Learning Applications

While the animated video from Mattel was just showing the concept of what the new View Master can do, it had one moment that triggered how this simple “toy” can help support learning. It was towards the end of the video, at the 0:43 mark. The view centers in an “I”, or “Information” icon, and a popup appears in view providing contextual information about what was being viewed. It was essentially a “Learn More” option embedded into the experience.

This simple interface could be used to explore lots of things in a simple Virtual Reality experience. Mattel’s new “toy” provides a glimpse into the future of accessible virtual reality. The price of this hardware isn’t out of reach for most organizations and institutions.

Virtual Reality Within Reach

Developing a case that holds a smart phone that can create a virtual reality experience is the easy part. Developing the software and apps that drive virtual reality is something different, and that’s still not accessible to most learning professionals.

But that may not be the case for long; not if you look around at the technologies available to us today and connect the dots.

The RICOH THETA http://bit.ly/1vUxVgW

The RICOH THETA http://bit.ly/1vUxVgW

Consider RICOH’S THETA camera. I tried it out at a recent Engadget event and was very impressed at it’s simplicity. It’s a simple and affordable camera that takes high-definition 360 degree pictures and video – the types of media needed for an immerse VR-like experience. Shortly after taking the pic, you could explore the picture on your phone simply by swiping around the screen.

Take that picture or video and plug it into a virtual reality display, substitute the swiping for gyroscope controls, and suddenly you can explore the view simply by looking around.

Interactivity? Well, have you every watch a YouTube video and seen annotations pop up? The same basic functionality could be applied in this case to mimic the experience shown in the Mattel video: place annotations, or hot spots, to use contextual language, around the image that trigger events.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying the example, but the premise is still true. The bones are already there, and it won’t be long before someone puts the pieces together into a tool that is accessible to the masses.

The new View Master is a sign of things to  come.

Related:
Mattel’s new virtual-reality headset is a modern take on a classic toy via Daily Dot
View-Master by Mattel

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