Google’s latest VR experiment is teaching people how to make coffee

Teaching with a simulation is no new concept, but Google's Daydream Labs wants to see exactly how useful virtual reality can be for teaching people practical skills.

In a recent experiment, Google ran a simulation of an interactive espresso machine in VR. From there, it had a group of people try their virtual hand at brewing a cup of java before being tasked to make the real thing.

Meanwhile, Google also had another group attempt to learn the same skill using a more hands-off tool — YouTube videos — to compare results.

According to the findings, those who ran through the VR simulation only needed around two practice runs before feeling confident enough to use a real espresso maker, while those watching a YouTube tutorial needed about three.

On top of that, those who ran the VR simulation made fewer mistakes and took less time compared to those who watched videos, implying that VR training was the more efficient teaching tool.

Virtual reality school

While able to teach a new skill in a relatively quicker fashion, Google's research found there were still some gaps keeping VR from being the perfect learning aid.

To start, the lack of proper haptic feedback made it hard for VR to teach finer, more tactile skills. In the case of brewing coffee, for example, details like proper tamping technique or knowing how not to burn yourself were more difficult to communicate using a virtual espresso maker compared to the real deal.

Additionally, finding the right place to put instructions can prove to be difficult in a VR environment. As a subject goes about an action in a virtual space, they might miss important written information or go too fast for verbal instruction, making an effective, uniform method of instruction a challenge for Google.

Shortcomings aside, it appears VR has the potential to help us learn new skills in a controlled environment, which could prove useful in everything from demonstrating life-saving medical procedures to off-site job training to simply learning how to cook or fold laundry properly.

Still, it appears that in the end, real-life experience is the ultimate teacher to beat — even with all the help from YouTube and bleeding-edge VR, Google's taste testers said both groups in the experiment had trouble making the coffee actually taste good. Practice makes perfect, we guess.

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