Kyle Thoreson

Stephen F. Austin State University graduate student Kyle Thoreson is seeking to make Oklahoma state parks available to everyone through 360 video and virtual technology. Thoreson, pursuing a master of science in resource communications, is collecting 360 videos at select Oklahoma state parks as part of a pilot project to reach people unable to physically visit the parks. Thoreson hopes to expand the initiative using immersive virtual reality suites. Pictured, Thoreson, a park ranger at Oklahoma’s Osage Hills State Park, addresses visitors during an interpretive hike.

Stephen F. Austin State University graduate student Kyle Thoreson is hoping to use technology to bring the Oklahoma State Park system to people with health or mobility challenges.

Thoreson, pursuing a master of science in resource communications at SFA, serves as a park ranger at Osage Hills State Park within the Osage Nation Reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, and he wants to use virtual reality to make the park system more accessible, according to a release from SFA.

When contemplating topics for his final non-thesis project, Thoreson said he researched the growing popularity of 360 videos and how this technology can be utilized to share Oklahoma’s state parks with everyone, according to the release.

“For example, to get to the best vantage point of the falls at Natural Falls State Park, you have to go down to the very bottom so you’re looking up at the falls,” Thoreson said. “We have sort of a skyway that goes out and gives you a view from part of the way down, but it’s just not the same as being below the falls.”

By capturing 360 video and audio from this position, Thoreson said people unable to make the hike down will still have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the experience of the 77-foot waterfall.

According to the release, Thoreson presented his idea to regional managers within the Oklahoma State Park system, and he is currently collecting 360 video at select parks.

“We have to determine what things different demographics want to see and ensure it is speaking to their emotional health.”

Thoreson hopes to expand this initiative by using immersive virtual reality suites that are equipped with multiple viewers, phones and a server to allow large numbers of people to experience the footage together, the release showed. He said tools like those allow parks to expand their reach and impact by taking the footage directly to those physically unable to visit the park due to health, economic or transportation limitations.

“They can put on a viewer in the comfort of home to experience the park,” he said.