By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Some locals may travel far and wide this summer — at least virtually.
Those who opt in can witness the migrations of colorful undersea creatures on a reef deep below the surface of the ocean, or ride a roller coaster through a desert canyon, or battle the Dark Side in the Star Wars universe with lightsaber in hand.
All this without packing a bag or leaving the community — thanks to virtual reality technology — as Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials continue to roll out their well-received VR demonstration in August.
“The residents who have participated thus far have been thrilled,” stated Katy O’Grady, RCSCW general services officer and information technology manager. “Most have never seen VR and didn’t know what to expect at all, so they were pleasantly surprised.”
The technology uses a PC computer paired with a VR headset, also called a head mounted display, or HMD, which is strapped to a viewer’s head like a big pair of goggles.
The HMD displays a 3D view within a computer-generated environment, while tracking every movement of the device and seamlessly translating that information to the viewer. It is like watching a movie or playing a video game, except participants are immersed in the action, virtually present and interacting within digitally depicted environments.
A few inexpensive products have hit that market recently, allowing the curious to try out VR using a cell phone. The full-feature VR experience, with motion tracking and high-resolution display, provides a richer, more immersive experience, according to Ms. O’Grady.
“Those who had tried it before had done so on much cheaper versions and the quality was really diminished,” she stated. “This is something else completely. Even the couple of skeptics, I think, were convinced at the end of their session that this was something to be experienced to really understand the excitement.”
The program may allow some with health and mobility challenges to “get out” more and see worlds distant in time and space, both real and imagined. Participation is open to any RCSCW member, according to Ms. O’Grady.
“That’s the beauty of the VR,” she stated. “The programming isn’t one-size-fits-all.
“It can be hands-on-interactive or just sit-back-and-enjoy-the-scenery. Either way, it’s immersive.”
Prior sessions started in late June and were conducted at R.H. Johnson Library, which closed for renovation last week. The next spate of free classes will be conducted Fridays, Aug. 4, 11 and 18 in the Acacia Room at Palm Ridge Recreation Center, 13800 W. Deer Valley Drive.
Participant may sit or stand and headphones are available. The 90-minute demonstrations start at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
“Class sizes are small to ensure the best possible experience for participants, so classes fill up quickly,” Ms. O’Grady added.
Reservations are required. Call 623-544-6120.