NPS and Obama connect in virtual reality

Barack Obama is not only the first black president, he’s the first president to dive into virtual reality. In a new project working with National Geographic, Obama allowed himself to be projected into a 360-degree model of Yosemite National Park.


In the video, President Obama narrates both the history of the park as well as telling the story of his first trip to a National Park — Yellowstone — when he was 11.

You may be getting ahead of me here, but when you have President Obama in a National Park, you know there will be some talk about climate change. So, there’s something for everyone to love and to hate.

For those who love Obama, it’s one more reason to appreciate him before he leaves public life for good. For those who hate him, it’s a reason to decry his penchant for being in the middle of the photo op.

For those adverse to the debate over climate change, it’s a chance to shake their fists, and for those who are committed to the cause and working to support it, another touchstone to share with friends of a similar mindset.

But perhaps the biggest PR win in this is for the actual tech makers themselves. Felix & Paul Studios made the interactive video experience possible. Part promotion of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday and part ribbon cutting for the Oculus Rift VR headset, the video serves as a marker that the time so long predicted by science fiction may soon become reality. VR is here, and it can take you to some of the most incredible places on the planet. From El Capitan to the Mariposa Grove … and that’s just in Yosemite.

One of the key focuses of the video is the chance to expose children to the wonder of the National Parks, something Obama talks about when discussing his program which allows all 4th graders in the nation to enter a park free of charge. The VR technology could reach even those for whom transportation to and from a park is not feasible. As the technology grows better and cheaper, which it generally does, more people will be able to afford its benefits.

At least that’s the takeaway the producers hope people catch on to. It’s never actually said, but the wonder and amazement felt when viewing the video are supposed to enamor people to the tech as much as to the scene it sets. So far, it’s working.

David Firester is a seasoned intelligence analyst .