About 30 youth at a Best Buy Teen Tech Center in Minneapolis recently got a behind-the-headset look at how virtual reality (VR) and professional baseball can work together.
The Minnesota Twins and REM5, a Minneapolis-based immersive technology company, stopped by the Teen Tech Center at the Brian Coyle Community Center to give VR demos with a program that simulates real-life jobs.
They also showed off their recent project, Twins XR: The Art of Baseball, an immersive, 3D experience that showcases digital art and player highlights. Sponsored by Best Buy, it allows fans to explore aspects of the game in a digital world (not too unlike a wildly popular game with youngsters that involves blocks).
The event aligned well with the Best Buy Teen Tech Center program’s goal to give teens from underserved communities hands-on access to technology — like VR — that they otherwise might not get to experience.
Issa, a 15-year-old Teen Tech Center attendee, had only tried VR once before. On Thursday, he put on a headset and grabbed the controllers, twisting and reaching and moving his hands. Little did he know, jovial Twins mascot TC Bear was standing near him and mirroring his moves.
Turns out, Issa was cooking, grabbing things from a fridge and putting them in a pot on a stove. “I made soup — and a pizza,” he said. “It felt like real life.”
He said the experience felt fairly natural and that the technology had potential for lots of applications. “It could be used for seeing things from real life without having to actually be there,” he said.
That’s the kind of thinking Sisco Omar likes to see. He’s the Teen Tech Center’s coordinator and has anywhere from 100 to 200 teens walk through the door each month to check out the latest tech or work on projects. The center received VR right before the pandemic when it had to close, so teens hadn’t been able to use it much. Having the demo with the Twins and REM5 was a great opportunity to show off something new.
“A lot of our kids don’t have the access at school or home to these kinds of new technologies, so it’s great for them to get this kind of exposure,” Sisco said. “Kids can find their interests here.”
Experiencing new possibilities
The event was not only a way to show young people the newest and coolest tech, but it also showed how that tech can be applied and the careers that might come from it.
“The Twins, like Best Buy, have a commitment to the community, and we wanted to show young people that there are careers in baseball beyond being a player, especially involving technology,” said Chris Iles, senior director of brand experience and innovation for the Twins.
Twins XR: The Art of Baseball is the second such project the Twins and REM5 worked on together. The first was a virtual Twins Hall of Fame that let people tour — by themselves or with others — through a clubhouse gallery with pictures, videos, stats and artifacts for 34 players.
The XR stands for “extended reality” and is an all-encompassing term for immersive technologies that blend the physical and digital worlds, including VR, augmented reality and mixed reality.
They can be complex ideas to get our heads around, said Amir Berenjian, REM5 co-founder and CEO, but the technology is intuitive. “People know how to walk through a room or pick up something, those actions are natural,” he said. “Punching buttons on a phone isn’t.”
And while the 3D nature of immersive technologies might take some getting used to for some adults, Amir said, young people are living in that world already. “VR is a tool, and they’re the ones who will be building the future with it,” he said.
About Teen Tech Centers
Best Buy and our partners are working to help build brighter futures through technology for youth in disinvested communities across the United States.
The main way we’re addressing inequities in access to technology, internet and career opportunity is through Best Buy Teen Tech Center locations. These safe, after-school spaces give youth unparalleled access to:
- Cutting-edge technology, resources and training to make, create and innovate.
- Mentors and peers who inspire new passions and possibilities.
- Technical training and college guidance support that clear paths and open doors.
Students are encouraged to explore their interests and passions in areas such as robotics, photography, music and film production, with the ultimate goal of providing opportunities that prepare them for careers of the future.
We currently have 41 Teen Tech Centers in operation. We plan to expand that network to 100 locations by the end of 2025.
Click here to learn more about the Best Buy Teen Tech Center program.