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An image for the VR film "I Am A Man." Photo courtesy of Derek Ham

New virtual and "augmented" reality technology is allowing users to experience 1960s civil rights marches, the agony of segregation for Black Americans, or life in a Japanese American internment camp.

Why it matters: For now, this is largely a tool for educators seeking new ways to teach young Americans about the legacy of slavery and racism. But there's growing commercial potential as more people become comfortable using technology to expand their horizons.

  • Shipments of VR headsets are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 48% from 2020 to 2024, the International Data Corporation reports.
  • The augmented reality market is estimated to jump from $10.7 billion in 2019 to $72.7 billion by 2024, according to ReportLinker.

Details: Projects created in universities and private labs forces users to walk in the shoes of people who faced (and still face) discrimination by recreating historic events.

  • I Am A Man VR Experience places participants at the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike and events leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Traveling While Black takes users to Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington as travelers show the difficulties African Americans experienced in the U.S. during Jim Crow.
  • Mapping Amache allows users to visit virtual remodeling of Camp Amache in Granada, Colo., that detained Japanese Americans during WWII. The models were created by drones and VR technology.

How it works: Projects can be downloaded or watched via 360 video on VR headsets. Users feel as if they are in the moment.

  • Participants can interact with controllers but their hands on those of people of color.
  • Those without pricey VR headsets can experience most projects by using 360 videos on laptops or phones.
  • Users engaged with AR projects by pointing smartphones at sites (or at home) that recreate models of locations.

What’s next: "I Am A Man" creator Derek Ham is designing a new VR project based on the Negro Baseball Leagues. "You can get struck out by Satchel Paige, then see him having a hard time getting a hotel room."

  • Martinez is developing a digital map of forgotten Mexican Americans lynched in Texas that will include their names and planned VR recreation of sites.
  • Columbia University Social Work professor Courtney D. Cogburn, the lead creator of 1000 Cut Journey, forces participants to embody a Black male via VR from a child to an adolescent, then an adult.
  • Start-up Vantage Point is developing a VR project to help companies fight racial discrimination and gender inequality through interaction.

What they’re saying: "This is a powerful medium that allows you to experience the perspective of another person, and maybe, just maybe, you'll change your own perspective [on] how people experienced life as a Black person," said Ham.

  • "It took us five years to get four historic markers that memorialized Mexican Americans lynched in Texas," said Refusing to Forget member and University of Texas history professor Monica Muñoz Martinez.
  • "These new technologies allow us to circumvent those who refuse to acknowledge this history."

Go deeper

58 mins ago - Health

CDC panel recommends Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: The approval is the near-final step in making the booster shots available to tens of millions of Americans, and comes a day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups. CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the recommendation.

DHS temporarily suspends use of horse patrol in Del Rio

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in Del Rio, Texas a DHS spokesperson confirmed.

Why it matters: The suspension comes after images showing border patrol agents whipping at and charging their horses at migrants surfaced earlier in the week, prompting widespread criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border.

Southwest drought is worst on record, NOAA finds

In a stark new report, a team of NOAA and independent researchers found the 2020-2021 drought across the Southwest is the worst in the instrumental record, which dates to 1895.

Why it matters: They also concluded that global warming is making it far more severe, primarily by increasing average temperatures, which boosts evaporation.