The Wonder of Virtual Reality Shines Through at Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire

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Barnes & Noble recently held their 2nd annual Mini Maker Faire, an event that spanned more than 600 of the retailer bookseller’s locations. This two-day celebration of imagination and creative thinking showcased the latest advancements in virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, robotics, and coding for all ages. So when the store manager of our local Barnes & Noble asked me to demo the transformative power of VR to hundreds of people who’ve likely never experienced it, I jumped at the opportunity.

My gorgeous "work" PC features a Radeon 390x, so I have no choice but to use it for gaming, right?
My gorgeous “work” PC features a Radeon 390x, so I have no choice but to use it for gaming and VR, right?

Curious shoppers flowed through the doors at Barnes & Noble Henderson all day on Saturday, and one of the first sights they encountered was our HTC Vive booth, powered by a system I’m insanely lucky to call a “work PC”: a Radeon-powered Falcon Northwest Tiki.

When introducing people to VR for the first time, it’s best to avoid a learning curve and choose software that’s super accessible. That’s why Google’s Tilt Brush was our primary demo. Tilt Brush turns your dominant hand into a paintbrush, and your other hand into an artist’s toolkit full of dazzling visual effects from fire to rainbows to duct tape. You can even play your favorite music and watch as your creations pulse to the rhythm all around you.

What I observed was a non-stop procession of kids and adults alike blown away by the concept of drawing in a walkable, 360-degree space. Their faces lit up as if their worlds had suddenly changed for the better. When they realized they weren’t restricted by a flat piece of paper, realized they could physical move around in their space, it was as if a previously undiscovered door was available to step through that offered a flood of possibilities fueled by their imaginations.

A child at Barnes & Nobles' 2nd annual Mini Maker Faire is captivated by Tilt Brush on the HTC Vive.
A child at Barnes & Noble’s 2nd annual Mini Maker Faire is captivated by Tilt Brush on the HTC Vive.

For those who wanted more of an adrenaline rush, Space Pirate Trainer had the patrons dodging laser fire and blasting bots out of the sky. Most ended up reaching behind their back, donning a shield, and using the The Volton gadget (which features a sort of magnetic whip) to snatch the bots and smash them to the ground. Regardless of their methods, every single person emerged from the experience winded, enchanted, delighted, and wanting more.

I’m sure fellow VR evangelists will agree when I say, emphatically, that observing people experiencing VR for the first time is nothing short of delightful. Given a choice, I would spend all of my waking, working hours doing this.

Ian Johansen of AMD's Red Team Plus helps me calibrate calibrations.
Ian Johansen of AMD’s Red Team Plus helps me calibrate calibrations.

I asked Sharyn Jasmer, Store Manager of Barnes & Noble in Henderson, Nevada to reflect on the event, and here’s what she had to say: “We are a gateway to imagination & invention through books, educational toys & games, and music. It was amazing for us to open another venue for that same kind of creativity and invention using VR as the conduit. The feedback we got from our customers regarding their experiences with the Radeon-powered VR demonstration was both positive and hopeful. Our youngest Makers were enthused and awed. Our older ones were inspired to do more with coding and building their own computer systems.”

You know, when you’re surrounded by tech and the news cycles devoted to it on a daily basis, you risk losing a bit of perspective. For example, it’s easy to forget that the majority of people don’t know how to build their own gaming PC, or that while people do have a basic understanding of what modern virtual reality is, excellent VR brands like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are far from being household names. Obviously we’re working every day to improve that name recognition through an increasing variety of partnerships and alliances, but education and word of mouth go a long way.

So hey, if you love VR share it! Our sincerest thanks to Barnes & Noble for allowing us to do so.


Jason Evangelho is Senior Technical Marketing Specialist for the Radeon Technologies Group at AMD. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.

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