Harvest of Change: Oculus VR creates virtual reality farm experience

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Maybe you’re still playing Farming Simulator, or you’re still inviting your Facebook friends to play FarmVille, but if you want an interactive look at a real American farm, “Harvest of Change” will catch your attention.

Although it’s not a game per se, “Harvest of Change” is a unique journalism project that documents a farm family in the heartland of rural America. With the right technology, the story comes to life.

Origins

Reporters at The Des Moines Register originally created the project, then teamed up with Gannett Digital to create the virtual reality portion. Gannett Digital created the farm in 3D based on photographs and video, and Total Cinema 360 was also a part of the project, supplying the 360 degree effects.

The project documents four farm families, one of which is the Dammann family. The Dammann family farm, bought in 1901, is located in Page County, Iowa. Now, four generations own and operate the farm’s 7,100 acres that stretch across six Iowa counties and three Missouri counties.

Tech-savvy

In order to experience “Harvest of Change” in 3D, you’ll need an Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that was launched in 2013 by Oculus VR.

View with Oculus Rift
Danny Dammann tells of the farm’s heritage.

Once on, the Oculus Rift allows you to see everything in the virtual world, just like it’s real life. And, it’s a high resolution, 3D experience that’s hard to find in other devices.

Oculus VR was founded in 2012 as a technology company that specializes in gaming software. Earlier this year, Facebook bought the company for $2 billion. Oculus VR has received over $93 million in funding since its inception, according to CrunchBase.

If you don’t have an Oculus Rift, a 2D version of “Harvest of Change” is available for download.

A 3D experience

“Watch isn’t the correct verb to use for “Harvest of Change.” Viewed isn’t, either. “Harvest of Change” offers authentic 3D graphics that can only compare to a real life encounter.

I put on the Oculus Rift headset and a pair of headphones, then waited for “Harvest of Change” to load. With the opening screen, it was like I was there, in Iowa, walking the grounds around the Dammann farm.

Navigating takes only the computer’s mouse and arrow keys, but that’s easier said than done. The Oculus Rift fits snugly on your face, so for the most part, it blocks out your peripherals.

Harvest of Change
View of the Dammann farm’s shop with the Oculus Rift.

Once you’re accustomed to using the mouse and arrow keys while wearing the Oculus Rift, you realize that it’s a 360 degree experience. I looked at the farmhouse from all angles — left, right, up and down. I walked along the dirt path between the buildings.

I walked into the farm’s shop buildings and looked on as one of the harvesters was repaired. I walked between rows of corn, noting the height of the stalks. I rode in a GPS-controlled tractor that knows the lay of the land. I sat in the back of a truck, watching the cows follow me across the pasture at dawn for feeding.

Cornfield
Walk through a cornfield with the Oculus Rift.

In addition to offering a virtual version of the farm, “Harvest of Change” contains a multitude of photos and videos that feature the Dammann family as they explain the farm’s history, agriculture’s importance and how farming is changing as the country changes.

One of the purposes of “Harvest of Change” is to reflect on early Iowa farming and speculate about its challenges and its future. The Dammann family speaks about themselves and the farm’s history, as well as Iowa’s agricultural roots. As farming practices have changed drastically over the decades, modern technology has replaced simple machinery. The make-up of farms is different than it was a century ago — nowadays, America is made up of diverse races and ethnicities, much unlike the face of agriculture at the turn of the twentieth century.

Value

The reality of changing demographics and a changing business come to life with the Dammann family in this project. “Harvest of Change” certainly proves educational to those who don’t know much about the agricultural sector.

It is only by walking in a farmer’s shoes — literally or virtually — that someone can understand the value of the farmer’s labor.

Experience “Harvest of Change” via The Des Moines Register.

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Katie Woods grew up in Columbiana, Ohio. Katie likes reading, writing, enjoying the outdoors and DIY projects.

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