Residents now can enjoy a taste of the future at the Fort Frances Public Library with its newly-installed virtual reality software.
The library's “Makerspace,” which features 3D printing, machine cutting, sewing, button making, and audio/video production/editing, saw an addition back in November when the Oculus Rift and Oculus Go were deployed.
“Our most recent technology to launch is the virtual reality,” noted Jeremy Hughes, the library's information technology co-ordinator.
“It was very popular the week after we released it,” he recalled.
“I think we had about three or four [people] every day.”
Since the unveiling of the new technology, its popularity has declined slightly but there is a continual interest shown with people coming in each day to ask questions about the software.
So far, Hughes said there's generally been a very positive response from those who tried out the library's Oculus Rift headsets.
“They are blown away, absolutely blown away," he enthused. "They really like it.”
The purpose of the addition is to increase technological literacy in the community and show people what's available.
“Our primary role as a technology centre is putting technology into the hands of people that may otherwise not have access to it,” Hughes explained.
The library budgets for the purchasing of new technology each year to keep up with the industry's latest innovations.
“We are continually investing into these technologies,” Hughes noted.
“We are trying to find the leading-edge technologies that are available and then deploy them into our community.”
He said the library hopes to expand a little bit each year and if there's a radical change in technology, they will try to accommodate it.
The virtual reality station is free to access. And those with a library card can check out the stand-alone Oculus Go units and bring them home.
“The Oculus Go has more limited capabilities than the Oculus Rift," Hughes said. ”But the technology is evolving every day so eventually this will be the way forward.
“There will be more independent offerings that don't actually have a tether to a PC,” he noted.
Currently, the Oculus Rift, which is stationed at the library, provides a more powerful experience than the mobile offering.
The technology creates several different experiences, where users can view 3D movies, use 3D printing design applications, play games, or explore the world using Google Earth.
“You can literally fly around the planet, find a point you want to go to, enter street view, and then you're actually there,” Hughes said.
“It's very immersive.”
The library also offers interactive games through the Oculus Rift, such as “Merry Snowballs” in which users participate in snowball fights.
“It's one of the first person shooters I was comfortable with putting on there because it's just snowballs,” Hughes explained.
“I've leaned away from a lot of the more heavy hitting gun-related content,” he noted.
“We're not going to advocate that in the library.”
The Oculus Rift is set up on a mobile cart to make the technology easier to move around and it's connected to a 4K television to display what the virtual reality user is experiencing.
“My goal was to have it mobile so if we wanted to have public workshops . . . then we could deploy it in the Shaw Community Hub,” Hughes said.
“That's why it's on the cart, otherwise it would be on the wall, which a lot of other libraries have it as.”
The 4K television display isn't necessary to run the virtual reality but is meant to allow people to see what's going on inside the Oculus Rift headset to facilitate engagement.
It's important to note that those who wish to use the virtual reality software must go through health and safety warnings, as well as sign a waiver, which can be accessed at http://ffpltc.ca/VR or in person at the library.
“There are some concerns for people with epileptic conditions . . . that might be a health and safety concern for some people,” Hughes noted.
The library also limits users to one hour of use per day for their own healthy and safety as recommended by the makers of the Oculus Rift.
There also is an age restriction. Users need to be at least 13 and must be accompanied by a legal guardian if they're under 18.
“If you can't afford virtual reality, come to the library and experience it firsthand,” Hughes enthused.
“There is no appointment necessary for using the virtual reality," he noted. "Anytime we're open, come by.”
Hughes also encourages people to access the library's technologies as a whole.
“Come in and start using things," he remarked. "There's limitless potential in our 'Makerspace.'”