ANDY BARDON_ NAT GEO59-icefall-night-crossing-750x499

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” Dr. Suess. Oh The Places You Will Go

Last year, I was invited to speak in Abu Dhabi, which for the curious means, “Father of The Gazelle.” My excitement at the invitation soon turned into multiple considerations. I have been a staunch supporter of human rights and thanks to the media I had my “impressions” of the United Arab Emirates. I voiced my concerns and the gentleman who extended the invitation replied, “I can wait for your answer but two things I want to tell you. First, I consider you a friend and I would never ask you to go against your conscience and if you decided not to come, I will still be your friend. Second, I ask you to consider that the media may be biased. I can direct you to some research.”

After three days of tough deliberation a close friend said, “As long as I have known you, you have always been about bringing people together for greater understanding. How do YOU expect anything to change without YOU gaining a greater understanding?” I soon found myself in my own “immersive experience” in Abu Dhabi, which left me with an entirely different impression and a chance to form opinions based on being there.

What if there was a way for me to immerse myself in the experiences of others before I went? Can it be that in the not too distant future consumer VR cameras and 360 upload capabilities will allow me to do this? All that will be needed is a Spericam2 camera with built in video stitching software and an upload to Vrideo. But, the opportunity is greater than VR vacation videos. It’s cultural immersion.

Does VR indeed bring the promise of greater understanding? Who needs to state the obvious? This is one of the prime reasons along with immersive journalism and documentary that I am so inspired and involved. And, yes there is a market.

While the current buzz is around gaming and entertainment, two other verticals are growing quickly- travel and education. This article from digital travel specialist Michael Coletta (@michaelcoletta) will give you an excellent overview of what’s happening in VR travel on a commercial level. On the education side Edtech Magazine’s D. Frank Smith (@dfrank) writing about this summer’s International Society in Technology and Education (ISTE) Conference declared that “VR is Facing it’s Biggest Year in Education Ever.”

You don’t have to look far to imagine the convergence of these two verticals. 360 image-based Google Street Treks is taking students to The Pyramids of Giza, Venice (in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute), the Taj Mahal and more on desktops, iOS and Android. Take a moment to visitLakpa Sonan Sherpa founder of the Sherpa Cultural Museum in Khumbu, Nepal, the home of the Sherpas, in this combination of 360 imagery and narration and you’ll see where things are headed. How about we explore Mars? With the @NASA Mars Trek you can. Oh and let me not forget to mention Mattel’s VR View-Master®- a collaboration with Google complete with VR collectible “reels” that a smart phone app will recognize- a genius migration of brand playing on the memories of grandparents and parents.

There have been some great forays into travel. Examples include Marriott’s Teleporter theQuantas tour of Hamilton’s tour of Washington, DC’s Monumentsand Atmosphaere’s Virtually There Uluwatu Surf — Suluban Beach, Bali, Indonesia

But, we can be more than VRourists. Our opportunity for greater cultural understanding through VR experiences is only limited by our imaginations. “You’re mountain is waiting.” We have already set our feet on the journey, and once again to quote Dr. Suess, “Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (983⁄4% guaranteed.)”