Google recently announced it will offer a new virtual reality simulation system known as “Expeditions” to schools free of charge. The app was introduced earlier this year at Google’s I/O developer conference, where it was described as a way for teachers to provide their students with a simulated field trip experience using Google’s virtual reality technology. Now, Google is bringing the technology to schools in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Brazil as part of a pilot program.
Expeditions makes use of Google’s virtual reality viewer “Cardboard” to allow students to participate in simulated field trips. Google has partnered with educational content providers such as the American Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian, and The Planetary Society to create virtual reality experiences for students in a variety of disciplines. The system uses photographs from Google’s Street View program to create 360-degree views and three-dimensional images for an immersive experience.
The program is currently being offered to schools free of charge, but the company may eventually charge a fee for use of the systems. The focus on education is part of a larger industry shift, say tech experts, in which companies develop products specifically targeted at schools rather than adapting existing consumer products. Facebook and Microsoft are working to develop similar products in collaboration with local schools.
So far, Google has collaborated with socials studies and science teachers to develop about 100 virtual “trips,” including visits to China’s Great Wall and Yosemite National Park. Eventually, the company envisions creating simulated college tours or professional shadowing experiences to allow students to explore higher education and career options.
Google plans to bring Expeditions to thousands of schools, and will offer a team visit to show teachers how the technology works. Teachers will be provided with starter kits that include tablets, virtual reality viewers, and routers for offline viewing. Teachers use the app to plan and guide the trips, pausing them as necessary to ask students questions or provide comments.
Expeditions will be available for classrooms of students ranging from third grade to college. Interested schools can sign up for the program online, and the Google Expeditions team will decide which schools to visit based on how many classrooms will make use of the technology in any given site.