Earlier this month, it was announced that the National Geographic Explore VR app on the Oculus Quest would be receiving a free upgrade that would include both the ancient citadel Machu Picchu and well-known parts of Antarctica. As of this morning inside of the updated app, you now freely explore both platforms. 

“Walking through the settlements and creating the digitally recreated spaces gives the viewer a real sense of traveling not just in space, but also time,” explains Ballard High School teacher Laura McGinty. “The experience is peppered with historical references to explorer Hiram Bingham and photos taken during his visit. There are engaging tasks to recreate the images to see the changes in the site over time. Additionally, the co-guide, José, explains the cultural aspects of Incan life through archaeological evidence of rituals around death, home structures, social hierarchies, religion, etc. From a developmental standpoint, the experience makes something abstract appear in a much more concrete way. The shift makes it easier for students to establish neural connections.”

When projects like these are finished and available to the public, it reminds us how helpful virtual reality can be for learning and experiencing without leaving the comfort of your everyday life. 

Oculus sat down with National Geographic Partners Vice President of Visuals and Immersive Experiences Whitney Johnson to get a better insight of what this is bringing to the National Geographic app and the users. You can check out the full post on the official Oculus blog website. You can also keep scrolling for the full interview portion of the post. 

Full Oculus Interview

How do you think VR will continue to impact the future of travel and education?

Whitney Johnson: VR has the potential to make even the most extreme and far-flung places accessible in a way they’ve never been before. Many of the world’s wild or culturally-significant places are also fragile environments, and increased tourism could have a negative impact. VR gives people the opportunity to experience these sites and pristine wildernesses without leaving their homes.

We see the potential for VR to bring the world directly to the classroom, drive empathy and develop understanding, and create a lasting impact on students. We have taken the spirit of our award-winning VR theater to the classroom with our mobile VR Exploration Expedition Kits. These put our immersive experiences directly in the hands of teachers, making it possible to transport students to the places and peoples they’re learning about and bring them face-to-face with the wonder of our world.

How does VR align with National Geographic’s mission and goals?

WJ: At its core, National Geographic uses storytelling to inspire and empower people to work towards a planet in balance. We employ technology to tell impactful and engaging stories that connect with viewers and encourage empathy, and the National Geographic Explore VRexperience lets people become a part of that mission. Each level allows people to step into the shoes of a National Geographic explorer or photographer to actively see for themselves why we care so much about sharing and protecting the world.

What kind of community response have you seen to National Geographic Explore VR?

WJ: We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to this experience. At our annual Explorers Festival, we let visiting explorers and photographers experience the first level; everyone appreciated traveling to Antarctica in the height of our DC summer! The consumer response has also been strong; the game has a 4.3-star rating, and many users have commented about how exciting it felt to be participating in an expedition in VR.

Any future plans you can share?

WJ: We’re excited about augmented reality right now. We’ve been doing some experimentation in that space and are interested in its potential to elevate our storytelling. In the VR space, we’ve just launched another episodic documentary series, Into Water, featuring our women explorers.


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