The following is a guest post.
Virtual reality, long consigned to the category of things that sound cool but are impractical, is actually coming into its own now. Recent developments have made it a viable technology for use in gaming and the entertainment industry. As the devices on the market improve and become cheaper and easier to program for, we’ll start to see VR being used in a diverse range of industries and not purely for entertainment purposes.
A few halting steps were made in the direction of virtual reality during the ’50s and ’60s, but the equipment available at that time was woefully inadequate. By the time home computers and video game consoles became commonplace in the ’90s, several VR products began hitting the market. Unfortunately, they were too difficult to operate and could not establish realistic imaginary worlds with sufficient detail to capture users’ interest resulting in a lack of interest and the products failing at market.
Today, we’re finally seeing the possibility of high-resolution, constantly updated, fully immersive virtual playgrounds. The Oculus Rift, which began development in 2012, kicked off the current generation of headsets. Designed to work with PCs, the Rift technology was bought by Facebook in 2014. It will face competition from Sony’s Project Morpheus which will be compatible with the electronic giant’s line of PlayStation gaming consoles. Even Microsoft is getting in on the action with its HoloLens: a system that will add holographic elements to the user’s normal field of vision in an arrangement called “augmented reality.” Other manufacturers are eager to get involved in this rapidly burgeoning field as well, with Samsung releasing an Oculus-based solution dubbed Gear VR that will work with Samsung-branded smartphones.
Clearly, these new headsets will usher in a world of more realistic and captivating gameplay especially when we consider that many models will feature gaze tracking and motion sensing capabilities. Movies and music will also change as people will be able to tune in to three-dimensional representations of creative works, not to mention the possibility of virtually attending premiers. But this is just the beginning for VR.
Health care studies have already identified a number of conditions that can be treated with the judicious use of VR. People with phantom limb syndrome, who experience pain and discomfort in place of limbs that have been lost or amputated, can relieve their symptoms through grasping and releasing objects in an imaginary setting. Post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorders are a couple of other areas wherein virtual reality has a role to play in treatment. Previous uses of virtual treatments required investments in specialized equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars, but Oculus Rift and other systems are expected to come in under $500, making their use in medicine more affordable.
The Stanford University Human Interaction Lab has also been experimenting with the applications of virtual reality. Researchers have found that environmental topics, such as the effects of acid rain and deforestation, can be illustrated in a way that changes participants’ behavior for the better even weeks after taking part in virtual simulations. The British Museum has created an exhibit that transports viewers back 4,000 years into the Bronze Age, hinting at the possibility of virtual field trips and remote lesson attendance, which could revolutionize the classroom and the education field entirely.
The corporate world will undoubtedly find many uses for these innovations. Staff meetings could take place among participants located all around the globe, and advertisers will be able to craft unique virtual experiences allowing consumers to see what they’re paying for before forking over their dollars. New employees could be brought up to speed using VR training simulations without having to grant them access to expensive equipment or sensitive company data until they’ve demonstrated their competence. But not only great for corporate training, a variety of VR tech is already in use in training programs for high-intensity situations faced by the military and police officers in the field.
These are only a few of the purposes and industries for which VR is likely to be in high demand. Virtual real estate tours, home automation devices that let you stand in your living room while physically being elsewhere and security setups that use virtual environments to identify safety or control issues are all on the drawing boards.
Now the province of hardcore gamers, virtual reality shows such promise that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a mainstream fixture in homes and offices around the world. Just as computers aren’t strictly used by statisticians and scientists anymore, and mobile phones aren’t the exclusive domain of executives who need to be available at all times, so too will VR headsets soon outstrip their modest gaming beginnings.
Beth Kelly is a blogger for homesecuritytown.com. Currently based in Chicago, she is a writer specializing in tech and home automation topics, as well as a freelance photographer. In her free time she trains for triathlons.