Google is doing exciting work in VR storytelling and platform building, but arguably one its most exciting fields is VR education and the Google Expeditions app.
This week, that app comes out of Beta testing – named the Expeditions Pioneer Program – and is available to download for free to everyone with an Android 4.4 device, with iOS support also expected to arrive soon. What that means is you’ll no longer have to enrol in a closed testing period; teachers can set up classrooms to use the app providing they have a tablet to control, Google Cardboard headsets (or other compatible devices), and phones to power them.
With all of this set up, students can be taken ‘out’ on virtual field trips. Expeditions includes a set of 360 degree and 3D images of locations from all over the world that kids can virtually step into by viewing them through a pair of Cardboard goggles. There are currently over 200 of these locations to visit, and teachers can guide their students around each with integrated descriptions, talking points and questions for them.
Obviously there’s still a lot of kit required for classrooms to utilize Expeditions, so Google has teamed up with Best Buy to offer a special package to get schools started. For $9,999 you can pre-order a kit that includes 30 ‘student devices’ and Mattel Viewmasters to go with them. It also includes a tablet, charges, a router and a case for it all.
The search engine giant has been beta testing with this concept since last September after introducing it at the 2015 edition of Google I/O, and has since reached more than one million students. This week’s news is part of a wider rollout of Google’s education initiatives, which also include introducing Google Cast for Education, and hosting quizzes on Google Forms.
As Google’s plans for VR expand, it will be interesting to see if Expeditions has any role to play in its Daydream platform for high-end mobile VR. The introduction of motion controllers would certainly allow for new possibilities, although the premium nature of the platform might make Cardboard the best option for the time being.