On a recent afternoon, three Florida International University journalism students stepped into Fairchild Gardens to record virtual reality videos, their second location for the day.
“It’s exciting,” said Andrea Perdomo, one of the leads on the history of Coral Gables project. “I’m getting to see what I never was able to as a kid, and to capture it in VR [virtual reality] for other people to see is way too amazing to put in words.”
Headed by Prof. Robert Gutsche, the Mobile Virtual Reality lab is the center of FIU’s contribution to the virtual reality landscape. Since summer 2016, the lab has allowed FIU students to participate and design digital immersive storytelling for citizens of South Florida.
“We’re focused on how virtual reality can influence narratives and a person’s perception of the environment around them,” he said. “I think it’s an important medium that should be used more.”
For the summer 2017 semester, students captured the history of Coral Gables by filming immersive 360-degree videos in landmark locations such as Coral Gables Museum and Fairchild Gardens.
It takes time to do these things. A lot of time,” said Sudyen Navarrete, the voice-over scriptwriter for the videos. “We’ve been out here since 11 a.m., and thankfully, the weather is on our side so far.”
Covering over 10 acres within Fairchild Gardens, they shot historic areas such as the Historic Gatehouse, the Sibley Victoria amazonica Pool and the Lougheed Spiny Forest of Madagascar.
“It’s history that we can share with everyone,” Perdomo said. “That’s the main goal of storytelling, and [VR is] going places, especially in journalism.”
According to The Verge, public interest in virtual reality resurfaced in early 2014 after Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion. Since then, other VR headsets have been released such as the Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, and the HTC VIVE. In FIU’s Mobile Virtual Reality lab, Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR are essential pieces of equipment to storytelling experience.
“I play VR games on my headset back at home. It’s crazy seeing where we are going with this,” said Damian Gordon, another lead on the Coral Gables project. “I mean, I always watched futuristic movies about playing games in headsets, but this is becoming more real.”
According to statistics by Statista – an online statistics and marketing portal with over 18,000 sources – more than 50 of people between 14 and 49 have an interest in virtual reality, including gaming, news, and technology; augmented and virtual reality’s market is expected to increase exponentially from $13.9 billion to almost $130 billion by 2020; and revenue is expected to grow $58.5 billion in the virtual reality market.
“It’s up and coming technology, and it’s coming up fast,” Perdomo said. “We’re already in the world of new media, and VR is going to push the boundaries. You just gotta be on board when the time comes.”