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Oculus VR aims to do some good with virtual reality through new social initiative

Facebook-owned Oculus VR on Monday launched a new initiative called “VR for Good.” It’s a platform that seeks to build a better reality through the use of VR, and starts with two pilot VR film programs that the company hopes will inspire the next generation of VR content creators. With these programs, Oculus VR is targeting high school students, rising VR filmmakers, and nonprofit organizations.

The first program focuses on students only. Called the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, nine San Francisco Bay Area high schools will be tasked to create 360-degree films ranging in length from three to five minutes that showcase their communities. To create their films, these schools will receive a Samsung Gear VR headset, a Galaxy S6 smartphone, a Ricoh Theta S 360 camera, and exclusive access to editing software. The students will be helped by professional filmmakers and “VR film mentors” during the process.

Related: Disney agrees to use Nokia’s OZO camera for VR content related to its movies

“Students will learn new technology and production skills while they explore careers and higher education opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM),” the company announced in a blog. “At the end of the six-week program, you’ll be able to watch the student videos on Facebook and in Oculus Video.”

As for the other program, 360 Bootcamp for Nonprofits, it begins this summer and teams up 10 rising filmmakers with 10 nonprofit organizations. The objective will be to create 360-degree videos designed for VR that showcase a number of social missions. These teams will begin the project by attending a two-day boot camp at Facebook’s headquarters in July. The resulting first batch of films will be showcased during the Sundance Film Festival in 2017.

According to Oculus VR, these teams will be supplied with everything they need to create professional 360-degree videos for VR such as Nokia’s super-expensive OZO camera, a travel budget, post-production support, and one-on-one help provided by veterans in the film industry. To get into the program, nonprofits can nominate their organizations starting May 30, while filmmakers can submit an application starting on that date.

The initiative is obviously a move to show that VR isn’t just a fad where gamers are crouched in the corner, drooling from dosing themselves with a virtual environment for hours upon hours. As we’ve seen over the last several months, VR can be used to thrust viewers into real-world locations that they otherwise couldn’t visit due to financial restraints. Oculus VR even points to Clouds Over Sidra, a short 360-degree video that raised $3.8 billion for UNICEF by placing potential donating viewers in the shoes of a little girl as she explores a refugee camp.

As previously reported, the Nokia OZO camera that will be used by nonprofit organizations is capable of capturing spherical and stereoscopic video thanks to eight synchronized 2,000 x 2,000 resolution sensors. That said, the video coverage is a full spherical 360 x 180 degrees, as each lens has an angle of view of 195 degrees. The camera also has an omnidirectional audio component, bringing 360 x 360 degree full spherical sound to the viewer’s ears. The camera itself costs a whopping $60,000, which is probably why the students can only utilize the smaller (and substantially cheaper) $350 Ricoh Theta S 360 camera instead.

To be notified of when the application and nomination process starts, students, filmmakers, and nonprofit organizations can provide their email addresses for notifications here.