Virginia Tech® home

Virtual solar system launches young learners into orbit

Loading player for
Category: campus experience Video duration: Virtual solar system launches young learners into orbit
A team of developers with the Applied Research in Immersive Experiences and Simulations (ARIES) program in University Libraries is using virtual reality technology to develop an interactive solar system. 

The virtual experience is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2024, and will then become an exhibit at the Science Museum of Western Virginia.
The Virtual Solar System Project is an immersive environment that we developed for young children to experience the solar system in a way that they normally wouldn't be able to experience in their everyday lives. This experience allows them to have fun with it and go at their own pace around the solar system, see different sides of it that they normally wouldn't be able to see and really find a true love for the solar system. The ARIES program here at University Libraries is partnering with faculty across computer science and industrial systems engineering. In addition, we're working with ICAT and the Science Museum of Western Virginia, which will house the virtual solar system as a permanent exhibit. I was one of the developers mainly focusing on developing the physics engine to run the planets through their orbits using accurate math. And also help develop all the different scenes developing the content that we intended to show the children. The sun is massive, like you could fit a million earths into the sun. One of the scenes that we start the students in is the actual scale of the solar system. Showing them how small everything is truly and scaling it to the room size that they're currently walking around in. We wanted to keep everything as accurate to how it works in the real world. However, scaling everything to orbits that are a bit more conducive to learning for the students. We have virtual reality towers set up in four corners around the room. This creates the space that the kids can explore in. And then we have tablets for each kid, and they have Vive trackers on them. This allows the technology to track where they are in the room, and it allows the tablet to serve as a type of window into this virtual environment. We wanted the learners to be able to use normal social interaction as part of the learning experience. So that was a very important aspect about the project for us and why we wanted to create a virtual environment that was very accessible. This project has been really cool for me because early on, these are not technologies that I can usually get my hands on outside of areas like this. And being able to work with our technologies and devices that I wouldn't normally get my hands on has been very rewarding for not only my own learning, but able to produce the best product that the kids can enjoy. I became really interested in the development of this project and the immense amount of work that goes into it. And I really found a true love for building virtual environments and I'm really thankful for the opportunity to be able to do that.