Ever wanted to get into the pilot seat of an X-wing starfighter from Star Wars and jet around open space, dodging enemy lasers and gazing into the beyond? You might think such experiences are limited to the realm of science fiction, but all you need to do is head down to the library.
The Warwick Public Library is now the first library in Rhode Island to offer a bona-fide virtual reality experience, thanks to a Studio Rhode grant from the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services, and patrons can sign up on the library’s website for 30-minute intervals using a fully immersive virtual reality kit.
The approximately $3,000 setup, complete with motion trackers, action joysticks and an HTC Vive headset, was on display for the first time Wednesday at the Warwick Public Library, and gave curious library attendees the opportunity to view 360-degree panoramic, virtual reality videos from major Disney motion pictures such as the aforementioned Star Wars and other favorites such as Marvel superheroes. It is only available to those 13 years old and up, as per the device’s recommendation.
“I think a year from now this technology is going to be everywhere,” said Jana Stevenson, deputy director for the Warwick Public Library. “So I think it’s important to be able to give our patrons a chance to have an exposure to it before that happens.”
While virtual reality is already widely commercially available through dedicated ritual reality kits such as the Oculus Rift and the Playstation VR video game set, the steep price tag makes it difficult at this time for those casually interested in the technology to break into the field.
“The idea is that this is something not everybody can afford to have in their living room, but here it can be available to anybody,” Stevenson said. “In certain circles it’s already a big thing but having it at the library will expose it to more of the general public.”
Stevenson said the opportunities for expanding the virtual reality program are numerous. Everything from visiting a tropical beach during these cold and snowy days, to walking around in a virtual version of the book you just read could be possible. She also talked about starting a “creation camp” over April vacation, where students can create a virtual world of their own that they will then be able to interact with.
Virtual reality technology can expose people to situations, cultures and places they may have otherwise never experienced, which Stevenson hopes can help better deliver the library’s mission of expanding access to information and satisfying the curiosity of its patrons.
“We bring ‘the other’ to you so it opens your world a little bit more,” she said.