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Virtual reality gives peek inside New England Patriots’ locker room

Sports immersion is one of the applications for a technology that many predict will impact fields from healthcare to journalism.

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    David Putney, left, and Kevin Beecroft, right, watch David's son Will Putney, center, wearing a virtual reality viewing device while tailgating in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Perhaps in the near future, football fans won’t even need to go to stadiums to immerse themselves in the game. They’ll be able to strap on goggles that virtually will put them into the maelstrom on the field alongside their favorite players.

Virtual reality has already put them inside New England Patriots’ locker room after all. Before the December 6 game between the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, 10,000 fans at Gillette Stadium near Boston donned Google’s VR "goggles," actually a cardboard box for your phone that you wear on your face, to immerse themselves in a Patriots training session through a 360-degree, 3-D video viewed on their phones.

The video, filmed by a Silicon Valley company STRIVR Labs that specializes in creating the immersive videos for footballs teams to enhance their training, took viewers into the Patriots’ locker room, gym and even onto the field for head-to-head training with the players.

Fans could turn their heads to look around the locker room or field to see the world through the eyes of their favorite football stars.

Though it was just a marketing promotion, the Cardboard giveaway at Gillette stadium is part of a push by companies like Google, STRIVR, and Facebook to make VR as ubiquitous as smartphones.

As it becomes more sophisticated, the technology has applications beyond gaming and sports immersion that industries from healthcare to journalism are starting to explore.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called it “the next major computing and communication platform,” reports MIT Technology Review. The company spent $2 billion in 2013 to acquire Oculus VR, a company developing a headset called the Rift, the commercial version of which is expected to go on sale early next year.

“Because virtual reality has the ability to put you in places in a much more real way, it has the potential to be a much better canvas,” said Oculus founder Palmer Luckey to Wired.

Mr. Luckey’s background with virtual reality traces back to University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, reports Wired, where therapists were using the technology to transport veterans back to the battlefield in an effort to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Beyond therapy, Luckey points to implications of VR for immersive storytelling, as VR can take audiences ever deeper into a story.

A UN-commissioned film called Clouds Over Sidra won numerous awards this year for offering viewers a VR tour of a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. TechCrunch called the film a “powerful, immersive and deeply moving experience,” and said “it’s definitely a harbinger of things to come.”

Last month the New York Times sent out over a million Cardboard headsets to its subscribers to promote its short VR documentary on children displaced by war.

And Google, reports Technology Review, is sending Cardboard kits to schools to allow teachers to take classes on 3D tours of coral reefs or Machu Picchu.  

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