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VR vs. Childhood, Parenthood & The Chain

Kevin E has been thinking about the possibility of becoming a Dad someday, and how the changing technology will mean any child will be seeing things very differently to him.

All good things must come to an end, mustn’t they? No, I’m not suddenly upping sticks and going; I am in fact returning. Yesterday marked the last day off I’ve got before the Christmas period begins and the end to a November in which I spent a good portion of it off enjoying myself. And not before time too.

Oh I’ve been popping in here, there and everywhere. Fixing this, writing that and generally keeping busy but in a far more casual way.  I’ve also spent a fair chunk of the time off thinking over some personal things about my future. For a very long time I’ve thought the idea of raising kids was off the table for me.  For as long I can recall I’ve loved the idea of being a Dad. Of taking responsibility for a kid and leading them into an ever changing planet, showing them what I’ve learned and helping them go out into the world and make it a better place. Our children are our legacy after all. I’m at the age where many of my friends have children or are considering children. Most of my friendship base is younger than me so you can imagine I’ve felt the clock ticking somewhat. Especially now I’m 34 and rapidly closing on being a positively ancient 35. (Seriouly, I honestly thought growing up I’d be dead at this point.)  Now though, I’m not so sure anymore as the magical concept of being a parent is no longer beyond my reach. While the prospect is still years away – a lot of things need to happen before the idea can be focused on properly – I can’t help but be a little excited by it all.

It all got me thinking back to my own childhood and the relationships with my parents. The experiences, what I’ve learned from them and how the world has changed since I was at school, college, and even at University. Things I learned and knew are no longer so. (Sorry Pluto.) How I learned things also has changed. Long gone are the days of scraping together a couple of hours a week at the desk where stood the singular BBC Micro or as I got older the might that was the Acorn Archimedes A3020.

Now I look at the future that my children could grow up in and think, wow, imagine how they’ll be learning by the time they’re eight or ten years old. That reference in The Simpsons episode Marge Vs. The Monorail where Lisa envisions a history lesson in virtual reality (VR) led by Genghis Khan might not be that far fetched now. I loved learning about history. Had certain things gone a different way I’d’ve happily gone into a career involving it. Though Future-Me may have to step in if the school starts giving my kids lessons on defiling and cannibalism at such an age.

Not only that but I’ve been thinking of how growing up I latched onto various things, how they inspired me as a kid and left me with a sense of awe. How will technology change that feeling now?

So it’s pretty interesting timing that there’s been story in the last few days about how from next season 360 degree cameras might very well be a standard feature throughout the Formula 1 grid. This is, in itself not that surprising. Liberty Media, the American-based owners of Formula 1 (and creator of pretty duff looking new logos) said back in February that they would be considering immersive technologies in the future. Also there’s the fact that the majority of the teams have already used 360 degree video at some point in time and we’ve covered most of those on VRFocus: Red Bull, Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari all have. Williams, Toro Rosso, Sauber have been having some fun with the tech too – but we’ve yet to feature them. In fact, the only team I can’t find having experimented with 360 degree video is Force India. Come on you Pink Panthers, sort it out!

Growing up there if there was one thing I was totally hooked on it was Formula 1. At a young ages I had the privilege of watching the likes of Senna, Piquet, Prost and Mansell battling wheel-to-wheel. Nothing got me more excited than my Mum (usually) reminding us things were about to begin, switching over to the BBC just at the iconic bass line of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, a song now synonymous with the sport thanks to its use by the BBC and now Channel 4 as well in the UK, burst out of the speakers followed swiftly by the iconic commentary of the great Murray Walker.

I remember seeing live so many of the iconic images of the sport at that time. The coming together of Prost and Senna in Suzuka two years in a row. Mansell giving Senna a lift back to the pits after his McLaren had come to a halt (and Senna kicking off a fussy marshal much to the amusement of all) and that iconic image of the two of them side-by-side, seemingly forever, down the straight in Spain with sparks flying off both cars. Absolutely nothing in it.

Seeing the action from onboard cameras, daring passes and even the accidents. It thrilled me, it entertained me and it inspired me.

I threw myself into finding out everything I could about the new season before it began. The teams, the drivers, the circuits. My Dad and I had a ritual that every season we’d head down to the garage and paint up a selection of toy f1-style racing cars, Matchbox, Corgi, etc in the new liveries of the teams.  Then every Sunday there was a race I’d follow the action and keep the line-up of who was in what position up to date on a mat which had a street scene on it. Graphics weren’t half as useful then as they were now and not only was it fun for a young me it was actually pretty helpful! But it was more about the father-son ritual to me than the racing.

The technology of the then time did have some drawbacks, of course. For example, whenever the car went under a bridge the picture was partly lost from the onboard camera.  A television producer would have to be on their toes if they were following from the driver’s viewpoint at say Monaco, and the car then turned into the legendary tunnel sequence. Quick! Cut to the hard camera behind the barriers!

This has improved continuously over time, but one factor that will likely change things up further is the new addition of the Halo system will affect the on-board view. a 360 degree camera partly negates any issues called by that. If this is being introduced now, when I sit down and enjoy a future F1 race with my son or daughter I wonder how things will have changed by that point.  If I was a kid again and I had the chance to actually be in the car as opposed to the flat screen view it would’ve blown my mind. Soon it could be a possibility we’ll have the commentators be saying that we’re not just “onboard with Lewis Hamilton” but that we’re “racing with Lewis Hamilton”.

The phrasing on paper is not that different but the experience promises to be a very different kettle of fish. Can you imagine being able to watch live any of those moments I mentioned above? What about the Hill-Schumacher crash at Australia in 1994, being in the Benetton as it went up on two wheels. Or maybe for a more recent example Mark Webber’s overtake of Fernando Alonso into Eau Rouge at Spa in 2011. Seeing any of those in a 360 format would be astounding.

I wonder what gems the next generation of racing fans will get to enjoy as they ride with their heroes, and how their parents will enjoy it with them.


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