4 Augmented and Virtual Reality Projects That Point to the Future of...

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4 Augmented and Virtual Reality Projects That Point to the Future of Education

By Justin Hendrix     Jan 3, 2018

4 Augmented and Virtual Reality Projects That Point to the Future of Education

This article is part of the guide: Reflections From 2017 for the Journey Ahead.

Education has been a recurring theme throughout the many programs of the NYC Media Lab, a public-private partnership where I serve as an Executive Director. How will virtual and augmented reality change the classroom? How can teachers use immersive media to educate citizens and keep our communities vibrant? In what ways can enterprises leverage innovation to better train employees and streamline workflows?

These are just a few of the top-of-mind questions that NYC Media Lab’s consortium is thinking about as we enter the next wave of media transformation.

Researchers and professionals at work across the VR/AR community in New York City are excited for what comes next. At NYC Media Lab’s recent Exploring Future Reality conference, long-time educators including Agnieszka Roginska of New York University and Columbia University’s Steven Feiner pointed to emerging media as a way to improve multi-modal learning for students and train computer systems to understand the world around us.

NYC Media Lab merges engineering and design research happening at the city’s universities with resources and opportunities from the media and technology industry—to produce new prototypes, launch new companies and advocate for the latest thinking.

In the past year, the Lab has completed dozens of rapid prototyping projects; exhibited hundreds of demos from the corporate, university and entrepreneurship communities; helped new startups make their mark; and hosted three major events, all to explore emerging media technologies and their evolving impact.

Of the many projects, collaborations and ideas to emerge from the Lab that have to do with education, a few in particular stand out:


Mobile AR

Today’s high school students are more connected than ever. Yet, schools across the globe are struggling to keep up.

Kiwi, a mobile application built by students at The School of Visual Arts and Columbia University, believes that schools and their wireless networks must be ready to support the latest technology. The logic behind Kiwi is simple: when students are using technology, they are in an active role rather than a passive role as recipients of information.

Kiwi enhances learning experiences by encouraging active participation with AR and social media. A student can use their smartphone or tablet to scan physical textbooks and unlock learning assistance tools, like highlighting, note creation and sharing, videos and AR guides—all features that encourage peer-to-peer learning. Kiwi was developed this past spring in NYC Media Lab’s yearly Connected Futures Prototyping and Talent Development program in partnership with Verizon Open Innovation.

Street Smarts VR

Training and simulations for police

Street Smarts VR is a startup that is working to provide solutions for a major issue facing America’s communities: conflicts between police officers and citizens.

The company is producing fully immersive, room scale VR experiences in an effort to change the way our police are trained. Founded at Columbia Business School by two former law officers who later completed NYC Media Lab’s Combine accelerator program, the company’s leadership is leveraging their personal experiences to move beyond traditional education.

Street Smarts VR demos are all under 10-minutes long. They’re tailored to take place in the trainee’s home precinct. These qualities make the demos more realistic while promoting proficiency through repetition and habit. Private companies that attempt to change the way public service functions may never resolve the many structural forces at play—but they can improve decision making, and in turn, save lives.

Bloomberg AR for Enterprise Fellowship

AR for the workplace

Education doesn’t stop in the classroom, and today’s media and technology executives need to understand new tools if they are to save time, motivate growth and improve employee performance.

NYC Media Lab recently collaborated with Bloomberg and the augmented reality startup Lampix on a fellowship program to envision the future of learning in the workplace. Lampix technology looks like it sounds: a lamp-like hardware that projects AR capabilities, turning any flat surface into one that can visualize data and present collaborative workflows. Participating students in the fellowship—from New York University’s CUSP, ITP and Computer Science programs as well as The School of Visual Arts—used Lampix to create new prototypes that can streamline tasks such as document processing, workflow friction and data analysis.

Successful projects included an immersive whiteboard that triggers innovation through in person or remote collaboration and a digital PDF markup system that keeps the novelty of looking at information outside the screen intact.

Calling Thunder: The Unsung History of Manhattan

Exploring the past

Immersive media is transformative in that it allows individuals to experience worlds lost to time. Calling Thunder: The Unsung History of Manhattan, a project that came out of a recent fellowship program with A+E Networks, re-imagines a time before industrialization, when the City we know now was lush with forests, freshwater ponds, and wildlife. The piece incorporates elegant sound design with narration and visuals of key locations across the island. Investing in sound technology, according to Calling Thunder producer David Al-Ibrahim, is critical for producing premium experiences as lackluster audio can easily break our sense of reality.

Al-Ibrahim hopes that with new advancements for both mobile and head-worn VR, sound, as well as other senses like smell, touch, and balance, will begin to be incorporated within immersive storytelling. These advancements will be crucial for educators as they design deeper ways to engage students with ideas and concepts.

These four very different projects point to the future of education. Virtual and augmented reality technologies will continue to become more widely adopted in 2018 — and technologists will find new opportunities and challenges at the intersection of immersive media and education.

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