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Wearable Tech

Google Tour Creator lets schools make their own VR stories

Instead of consuming more VR content, Google wants students to create it quickly in a web browser.

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Google's newest VR education endeavor is a creative toolkit.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Will my 9-year-old start making VR projects when he's in junior high? I think it's likely, after seeing what Google has in store with Tour Creator. The tool is a surprise announcement at this year's Google I/O conference aimed at the education market, and unlike previous educational VR efforts, this one's about creating.

Google's first educational dives into VR, years ago, were about taking magic trips to worlds other people created. Google Expeditions started with VR field trips using Google Cardboard, and expanded last year to selfie stick-enabled AR experiences, too. 

"It's been a success beyond anything we imagined," says Clay Bavor, Google's VP of Virtual and Augmented Reality in charge of Daydream. "What we realized was, students and teachers didn't just want to go on expeditions. Many of them wanted to make them themselves."

Now Google wants classrooms -- and anyone else -- to create their own.

Tour Creator aims to make it easy to knit together 360-degree photos into a VR-ready clickable guide with notes and voiceovers. "It's not just a slideshow," explains Bavor. "It can have narration, and interactive overlays, additional zoomed-in photos as part of the experience."

The Tour Creator tool is web-based, using a desktop PC browser to create the tour experiences and publish them to Google's 3D content portal, Poly. 360-degree photos can be annotated, photos attached to it to zoom into, clickable areas created. If there aren't any 360-degree photos, Tour Creator can use Google Street View for 360-degree images. The final results are published in WebXR, so they can be viewed on a Google Daydream or Cardboard VR headset, but also any phone, tablet or web browser, scrolling around in a "magic window" mode.

Google's already let some schools try out Tour Creator, including two high schools in Lancaster, PA and Chicago, and a school in Bali. Google's video, seen above, shows Lancaster's Penn Manor High School developing its tour about farming techniques. The toolkit is being aimed for businesses, too, or anyone else.

"We've been working with a number of real estate companies who have been using Tour Creator to create virtual walkthroughs of homes," says Bavor. "One of the more interesting ones is KLM Airlines, which has built a set of tours using Tour Creator to train new employees in different aircraft."

The interactive tours feel like personally annotated photo books, or even like mini-apps. Tour Creator is designed for VR at the moment, not AR. But it might be the best new way to quickly create virtual tours for very real places, whether you're a student or not.

Google I/O: All our coverage of this year's developer conference.

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