SCAD gives you a true virtual reality experience on a phone

I know it sounds weird, but it's true that you can now experience a full-on virtual reality through Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets. That is, if you're accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

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It's the darnedest thing I've ever seen--a fold-up, cardboard viewer that allows you to visit multiple SCAD sites around the world as if you're actually there walking around in them. All you need is the viewer, a smartphone, and acceptance to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). That last requirement might limit getting your hands on one of these little devices, but I can tell you that it's a lot of fun and a very clever idea.

The goggles are a simple, flat cutout that you fold up into the three-dimensional viewer. Once you have it folded up, open the Safari browser on your phone and point it to http://scad.edu/vr and pick a location from Atlanta, Hong Kong, Lacoste, or Savannah as shown in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: Selecting a SCAD location

Orient your phone into landscape mode, and then place your smartphone into the viewer. Close the viewer and place it on your head using the provided strap so that you can navigate just by moving your head left to right and up and down. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: SCAD Viewer Navigation Tips

If you're having problems folding, viewing, or navigating, there's live chat assistance available to you on the SCAD virtual reality site (right hand side of your browser). But, you'll have to use a computer or other device for the live chat, since your phone is now inside the viewer itself.

Check out Figure 3 as an example of what you'll see on your phone before you place it into the viewer.

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Figure 3: SCAD Atlanta.

Once inside the viewer, the goggles will cause you to see the room in three-dimensions. The blue balloon you see is the navigation portal that transports you to another site.

The whole thing takes a little getting used to, but is easy to master. Look down (Les Miserables reference?) to locate the little circle that is your navigation target. Place that circle over a portal balloon to transport. You can also locate the gallery of images to move about as well. Place the navigation circle over an image to select it.

I know it doesn't make sense unless you have a viewer, but if you have one, it's really cool. SCAD sends these out to accepted students so that they can have a virtual tour of the four SCAD sites. It's my only opportunity to go to Hong Kong.

Now, this is a cool thing, but the implications go far beyond what this demonstration shows. Think about it. You could take a virtual reality tour of the Louvre, Red Square, Antarctica, or the Mariana Trench all without leaving the comfort of your couch. No passport or travel time required.

Think of it as a teaching tool. Medical students could watch actual surgical procedures or experience examining a person with a rare, contagious disease from a safe distance.

Realtors could use it to give prospective home buyers a tour of a home before they fly across the country to see it in real life.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind for applications of this very cool and inexpensive technology. It mixes the best of analog (a fold-up viewer) and digital (a smartphone). What's more awesome than that?

Thanks to Brad Grant, VP of Information Technology, SCAD for giving me the virtual tour and for sending me a viewer. I love it. I think it's the most fun I've ever had with a cell phone.

What kinds of ideas would you have for this technology? Talk back and let me know.

[Update] YouVisit has already created VR tours for Louvre, real estate properties, and much more. You can use the links below and the SCAD Google cardboard headset to check them out!

YV virtual reality real estate: http://www.youvisit.com/real-estate

YV Louvre tour: http://www.youvisit.com/tour/louvremuseum