Two high school students in Michigan have developed virtual tours to help those who can't physically hike. Inspired by their own travels, and wanting others to experience the thrill for themselves, they set out to develop a set of virtual hikes for the disabled.
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The students were inspired while trekking in the real world
A pair of students in Michigan have developed a virtual reality alternative to the traditional hike. Zak Miracle and Garrison Waugh, both seniors at Elk Rapids High School, Michigan, spent most of their current school year developing their virtual hikes.
Their VR-tours lets users "hike" around a dozen locations across the United States. You can check it out for yourself at vr-hike.weebly.com.
The pair of students developed the tours by partnering with Treadmill TV and HikingGuy.com to provide more than 50 hikes in five states.
“It’s been a lot of experimentation so far,” one of the pair, Waugh said.
According to Miracle and Waugh, the idea came to them both while exploring different parts of the world. Waugh, in particular, was blown away when he reached the summit of Kuliouou Trail in Hawaii and was rewarded with a full 360-degree view of the island.
“That’s where it sparked for me,” recalled Waugh. “I was thinking about how many people will never get that experience in their life. They’ll never be able to get out and see the beauty and nature.”
His partner in crime, Miracle, had a similar moment of inspiration while exploring Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks.
“Seeing everything and being able to take everything in was so beautiful,” Miracle said. “Knowing some people can’t do that really opened my eyes that we should do something.”
After the pair talked discussed creating a science project together, they hit upon the idea of VR-hiking to help those who had difficulty getting out and about. It was originally developed, for example, to help people with disabilities to experience these hikes without the severe physical demand of doing them for real.
They have attracted some interest with their VR hikes
Their development has found some interested parties like the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation, in partnership with Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan. These organizations have since reached out to Miracle and Waugh to see how they could work together to make that goal a reality.
“Allowing them to be able to view all of these great sights is really what this all about,” Miracle explained.
The pair were not alone. With the help of an AP chemistry teacher, Holly Zatkovic, at school, they managed to turn their dream into a reality.
“I am extremely proud of the creativity, commitment, and enthusiasm demonstrated by Garrison and Zak. They are both amazing students that are well on their way to becoming innovators and problem-solvers of the future,” Zatkovic said. “What began as an idea for an independent study project has slowly become a design reality that will have a positive impact on society.”
Their virtual reality hikes are very easy to use as well. All you need to do is browse the map for hikes, open the video on your smart device, stick on a VR headset and head off.
Waugh has hinted that they plan to flesh out a proper app at some point in the future.
Their first hike was of their own high school
Of the hikes available, the very first one created was, fittingly, of their very own high school.
They created it using a 360-degree camera on a jerry-rigged helmet of their own design. The pair are now working on a way to make their future filming more stable through integrating a gyroscope.
They also hope to add more hikes soon of the famed hiking trails of Northern Michigan, like Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Miracle and Waugh are also hoping to present their project at TCNewTech, an incubator group, sometime in March. If successful, they could be eligible for winning a $500 prize.
This, the pair said, should be enough to take their project to the next level.
“It was a passion project,” Waugh said. “We’re hoping that it just continues to grow.”