Questions to ask yourself before starting
Setup and planning are key to build an effective VR lab at your post-secondary institution. To begin, start by asking yourself some key questions:
- How many students, classes, and teachers will be using VR?
- Which VR headsets and displays should I consider?
- Have we vetted the best possible softwares available?
- What is the end-game vision I have for this VR lab?
- What is the real purpose of this VR lab?
- Do I have the physical space necessary?
- Do I have the funding necessary?
Once you’ve answered these questions and planned accordingly, it’s time to move on to your VR team.
The team to put in place to build a virtual reality lab
A software program used to create and then show a simulated 3D experience, as well as a computer processor, are at the heart of any VR environment. Ease of use, ability to build libraries of VR code, rapid application development, and compatibility are all significant aspects for evaluating such software if you and your team are conducting the development. That being said, you don’t have to go it alone.
If you don’t plan on hiring a dedicated development team and opt to use third-party software or work with a custom development agency, you’ll still need a team. We recommend aiming for the following team make up.
- Pedagogy eXpert
- Funding Decision Maker
- Industry eXperts
- IT eXpert – preferably a VR enthusiast
This team will ensure your simulation is built with learning outcomes and proper pedagogy in mind, ensure you have ample feedback throughout the build cycle and ensure you have funding to build what you need. Plus having an IT eXpert ensures you have onsite technical support once the simulation is up and running. The IT department may not have a lot of VR experience though so see if the agency you work with can offer a crash course to those involved (sidenote, we do this regularly at XpertVR!).
Which equipment to purchase for your virtual reality lab
In order to establish a working VR lab, you’ll need to buy some of the following items:
- Visual displays such as 3D walls, VR headsets, and Mixed Reality tools.
- Devices that track movement.
- Computers for rendering.
- Backpack computers.
- Input devices.
- Projectors or huge displays for watching live experiments.
- Gloves and monitors for different bodily parts.
- Sound equipment and speakers
- Sensors that measure physiological changes.
- Sensors that track eye movement.
Of all of the equipment you choose, your VR headsets are the most important. They will be the backbone tools of your VR lab. If you’re having trouble choosing, check out our eLearning headset guide!
There are a lot of options to pick from, as well as aspects to consider when deciding which headset is best for your setup. One significant distinction is whether the headset is connected to a computer or operates independently as an Android device. A PC-based VR headset, such as the Oculus Rift S or HTC VIVE Pro Eye, is suggested for the best graphical quality and experience. Plus a PC-based headset allows for much more complex simulations as well as the inclusion of VR accessories like VR gloves, eye-tracking, etc (some of these things are possible in a select few headsets).
Standalone headsets or headsets that don’t rely on a PC are best for remote use where the headset needs to be mailed or when you need to reach a large number of people. That being said there are a range of options for whatever situation you need to solve for.
Resolution, FOV, tracking system, development platforms, price, comfort, and whether you want things like eye tracking incorporated are all things to think about. Remember that VR headset resolution is constantly improving, so getting the latest top-of-the-line models may be a smart investment.
If your budget doesn’t allow for a dozen high-end VR headsets, a hybrid approach may be a better option. In a hybrid approach you create a simulation that works in VR headsets as well as on computers or through a web browser. This allows anyone with a computer to access the simulation you build while also having a headset for demos and for those that can access your physical lab.
Selecting a place for your VR laboratory is one of the first phases in the design process. VR is a wonderful resource for educators, businesses, and researchers, but it requires adequate room to function at its best. The required size of 5 square meters can be deceiving. While the VR user only requires a 5-square-meter space, a 2-meter buffer zone is required for the safety of everyone engaged.
Keeping people physically safe and keeping equipment clean
To keep your learners safe, make sure to adhere to the space requirements above. It may be beneficial to ensure someone from your team (mentioned earlier in this guide) is present for all VR lab classes to ensure no injuries or misuse. As for cleaning– all VR headsets, gloves, trackers, and other items that will be touched should be disinfected with disinfecting wipes after each use and between each class. If you have a lot of headsets/equipment it may make sense to invest in a UV ray cleaning device like a Cleanbox.