Virtual reality comes to Nevada libraries

Libraries across Nevada have embarked on a program to provide students and others with hands on experience in a wide variety of subjects — without ever actually putting hands on.

Virtual Reality systems — which digitally create a three-dimensional experience — have been installed in 11 libraries in Nevada.

Mike Valenti of XR Libraries said the computerized systems allow students and others to put on a headset and literally feel as though they’re walking around inside Google Earth instead of just looking at a computer monitor or to experience the International Space Station as if they were aboard it.

He said whether it’s studying anatomy, a car engine or astronomy, VR puts the viewer inside the subject matter in a hands-on way. He said viewers can even go inside the human body or even something as small as an artery.

Valenti said the most recent study shows virtual reality has the same impact on learning as actual hands-on educational experience.

“It’s more than just a novelty,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to revolutionize the way we learn.”

Mark Anderson, president and co-founder of Lifelique, put up a 3-D representation of a shark swimming in the ocean that allows the viewer to walk right up to — and actually inside of — the shark’s body, examining organs and tissues.

He too said VR has the same power to teach as hands-on experience in the laboratory or classroom.

Anderson said the company has more than 1,300 3-D models including human and animal biology, paleontology, and anatomy.

During the recent volcanic eruption in Hawaii, he said the most popular model was of a volcano. Last year when the solar eclipse was approaching, he said the model of the eclipse was viewed multiple times by people across the nation.

“We’re focusing everything on a learning outcome,” Anderson said.

Lukas Starmer and Michelle Rebaleati of UNR’s One Digital Media lab at the Knowledge Center said they’ve used the technology to record and preserve a long list of downtown and midtown murals in Reno, giving viewers a 3-D, 360 degree way to look at the artwork. He said there are people walking by and viewers can really feel like they are there.

Rebaleati produced a burning man experience that enabled a man with serious mobility disabilities to experience Burning Man as though he was actually on the Playa.

They said their current project is even more ambitious — cataloging and recording in 3-D many of the thousands of Indian Petroglyphs in Nevada. He said there are 10,000 petroglyph sites in Nevada and with the help and contributions of Indians, scientists and others, they’ll record and make a historical record of those ancient drawings that will be accessible for all time. Starmer said they’re doing so in a way that allows viewers to actually approach the rocks, walk around them and see the petroglyphs from all angles.

Tammy Westergard of the Nevada State Library said 40 librarians from across the state were at the state library Thursday for a full day of training in how to best use the new VR systems. The equipment was paid for by SB549, which was passed by the 2017 Legislature. That measure provided $500,000 in funding including $20,000 for Emerging Technology such as Virtual Reality systems. She said XR Libraries provided all the support for just $2,000 a library and is providing the training in how to use it.

Westergard said the goal is that, not just students, but “everybody can use this stuff.”


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