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Google Is Using Virtual Reality To Take Your Kids On The Greatest Field Trip Since ‘The Magic School Bus’

Classroom computer screens might be hurting reading comprehension, but nobody said anything about geography! That’s what Google will be banking on with their just-announced plan to provide free smartphones to some classrooms so students can explore world landmarks in 3D virtual reality — no permission slip required.

Yesterday, the tech giant launched their Expeditions Pioneer Program, which aims to bring Google Expeditions virtual reality to select schools around the globe. The Expeditions experience uses a smartphone placed in a viewing headset known (way less excitingly than it should be) as Google Cardboard to take students on virtual field trips around the globe via 360-degree panoramas guided by their teacher.

[youtube expand=1] According to EdSurge, students will be able to visit places like “the Great Wall of China, Mars, and underwater at the Great Barrier Reef” that were previously only accessible to Ms. Frizzle. The program will not only provide ASUS smartphones, routers, Expeditions software, and viewing headsets, but will also train teachers how to be a proper virtual tour guide.

The program will start in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and eventually make its way to the United States. Google says for now it will remain completely free, though eventually, if they’re able to get “costs down to an accessible place,” they may begin charging schools for the service. Whatever they charge, it’s cheaper than sorting out that family vacation to Mars you’ve been struggling to afford. Besides, they just discovered water there — better to wait until they’ve got a functioning lazy river.