The future is here, and you buy it from $15 a pop.
Virtual Reality is the hottest trend in the digital world right now. Deloitte Global predicts that the VR industry will reach a billion dollars in sales this year. Samsung are literally giving their Gear VR headsets away to Galaxy S7 and S7 edge customers. The hype is real.
Getting to immerse yourself in the world of a video game is great... but other than that, it’s easy to feel cynical about the spectacle surrounding VR. Will this weird, new tech that you need to strap to your skull eventually fall out of fashion?
The answer is a resounding NO. Despite its initial marketing, VR is more than just a gaming system. Here’s five ways Virtual Reality is changing the world – besides giving us some sweet entertainment experiences.
The Expeditions Pioneer Programme, a virtual reality platform by Google, is currently in beta in classrooms around the world. Teachers can choose from over 100 school trips which include annotations for deep-dive learning. We’re not just talking about virtual visits to the world’s most famous museums here – kids can explore the bottom of the sea or even surface of Mars in a 360-degree panorama as a part of their studies. Teachers are also sent (for one day) a tablet to lead the tour and a router so the platform can run without an Internet connection.
For parents worried about needing to add an expensive VR headset to their school shopping lists, never fear. The Expeditions app can be viewed on Google Cardboard, making class trips affordable and accessible for every child.
Can virtual reality have a therapeutic application? Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson, researchers at the University of Washington Seattle, definitely thought so. From as early as 1996, they began working with Harbourview Burn Center on an immersive VR for pain control. The result was SnowWorld – a soothing, icy 3D environment where you pelt snowmen and other cute animated creatures with snowballs.
The daily treatment of severe burn patients is said to be just as excruciating as their original experience of being burned. But while wearing a water-friendly, table-mounted VR headset playing SnowWorld, patients were distracted from their suffering without the aid of drugs.
The case studies speak for themselves: both direct reports and fMRI brain scans showed that patients in VR experienced a significant reduction in pain perception during wound care.
Rather than throwing your apprentice into the deep end on their first day, simply throw them into the VR version. Virtual training can be used to simulate intense scenarios such as surgery or combat, or just a trades person’s work bench and tools. No matter the industry, it’s a much safer way to get new workers ready for the real thing.
VR can teach more than skills – it can also teach empathy. In 2013, Alzheimer’s Australia VIC launched the Virtual Dementia Experience (VDE). Creating an immersive sensory environment that simulates dementia from a first person perspective, the VDE helps carers better understand what it’s really like to live with the disorder.
Ford Motor Company is making VR a key component of developing their cars. In their Immersion Lab in Michigan, Oculus Rift headsets and an ultra high-definition “powerwall” display screen is used to simulate their vehicles in full-scale 3D. These virtual prototypes have allowed engineers and designers to inspect every element of a car – helping identifying potential issues before the manufacturing process, or experiment on design features. The prototypes are also available globally and in real time, so you don’t even have to be in Michigan to work on a car.
Needless to say, these simulations are much more cost-effective than building the physical models. So much so that Peugeot, Renault, BMW and Jaguar are now following suit with their own VR centres…
Being called up for jury duty just got interesting. The Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich have developed a “forensic holodeck” for the courtroom.
This system uses interactive VR technology to visualise forensic scans in 3D, creating an immersive virtual reconstruction of the crime scene. So instead of examining photos, maps or other limiting 2D material, now jurors can experience a defendant’s line of sight, where they or others were standing, the trajectory of a bullet moving through the space, and more. Having a fuller understanding of the forensic facts will help jurors decide on a verdict.
The other benefit of the holodeck is it can remove distracting details that may cause trauma or bias in the jury. The system intentionally uses videogame characters to populate certain reconstructions. While the figures keep relevant details such as height, posture or position, they are otherwise not clearly identifiable.
Real Estate, Retail & More
As you can see, VR is being utilised in important ways. But it can also transform our daily life.
Love online shopping? Try Trillenium, which create virtual showrooms in which you can buy and browse products from various angles. Looking for a new home? Take a photo-real VR house tour and inspect potential properties – even before they’re built. The possibilities for virtual reality are endlessly exciting.
Trillenium founder and CEO Hrvoje Prpic predicts that by 2020, the virtual reality market will be bigger than today’s TV market. With such revolutionary VR experiences as all of the above, that claim may not be as crazy as it sounds.