It was last November when those of us who still subscribe to the print edition of The New York Times received a relatively uninspiring cardboard insert with our Sunday papers. The instructions provided—“fold here, bend there”—were hardly different from those printed on a U-Haul cardboard packing box. But The Times promised the reward would be worth the effort.
After assembling it, downloading the smartphone app, and inserting my phone in the box, the payoff was unexpected. Before my eyes, the box and smartphone were transformed into a 21st century View-Master. But this wasn’t my mother’s stereoscope, it was an addictive immersive experience.
The virtual-reality initiative is a collaboration between The Times and Google on a project called NYT VR. More than one million Google Cardboard viewers were shipped to Times readers last year, showcasing a unique way to experience powerful storytelling.
The first story The Times delivered, “The Displaced,” captured the plight of children from South Sudan, eastern Ukraine, and Syria who were caught in the global refugee crisis. It immersed the viewer virtually inside the striking video images. You could look up to see the sky on the video or look down to see the soil. You could look back behind you or to the sides.
Other films followed, including a visual account of the candlelight vigils following the November 2015 terrorist attack on Paris. Today, NYT VR is also being used in many classrooms to help students learn about the world in visually powerful ways.
By collaborating with Google and other virtual-reality developers on this unique project, the 165-year-old newspaper, often referred to as The Gray Lady, leapfrogged online and digital storytellers. This is one of the ways, outside of the electronic gaming industry, in which the benefits of the immersive power of virtual reality has reached consumers.
For years, engineers have saved time and money using simulation and optimization software tools. These tools have brought virtual models to the screen and have fostered powerful multidisciplinary and collaborative product-development processes for designers.
The use of virtual-reality technologies, however, has been an elusive goal. But now there is a clearer understanding of what that technology can deliver. Major backing from NASA, Autodesk and Microsoft on industry research—combined with support from Apple, Facebook, and Sony on the development of lower-cost mixed reality systems—is helping to bring design and visualization closer together.
The technologies that comprise these advanced computing platforms, ranging from virtual reality to augmented or mixed reality, are beginning to rewrite the rules of product development. As our cover promises this month, we are sharing with you some of the leading developments of this transformative trend. And even if we’re not providing you with a do-it-yourself VR viewer with the magazine, the word pictures that our writers and editors have painted are sure to stimulate all your senses.