Playstation VR. Oculus Rift. HTC Vive. Samsung Gear VR. Microsoft Hololens. These days, the Virtual Reality scene is exploding with unprecedented vigour. As technologies evolve and fantasies slowly morph into tangible reality, a long-awaited pinnacle of immersive experience seems to be slowly, but surely coming into existence. In order not to be left behind by the frenzied storm of innovation that seems to be inundating us, let’s take a look at the state of things as of now, before we get overwhelmed and unable to keep up..
VR and Movies
Media entertainment is almost always synonymous, to a large extent, with movies. The experience provided by flashy special effects on a movie theatre screen is not something that can be replicated in our homes for heightened enjoyment. But what of living the movie as though you were part of it? Short of directly experiencing sensations from the content provided, how much further can immersion go? Oculus Rift has launched a few short movies intended specifically for its product. Some are meant to be viewed as is, and some are actually 360 degree movies, meaning that people would have to turn around to see what’s behind them.
But how exactly is this achieved?
This might sound confusing at first, but it actually works thanks to an ingenious system of tiny microphones positioned at each corner of the room to track the user’s movements and coordinate them with the image being displayed. The product that seems to have nailed this down to perfection is Vive, courtesy of HTC, that goes on retail in April of this year. The headset alone sports 37 sensors, and including the ones on the other parts such as the controllers, we have 70 sensors in total, excluding the microphones placed at each corner of the room in order tot rack the user’s movements in space. Although it has largely only been tested in Video-gaming environments, it’s easy to see how endless the applications can be. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s first take a look at gaming.
VR and Games
According to Fortune, magazine video games are expected to drive the explosion of VR and generate an approximate $5.1 worldwide by the end of the year. This isn’t such a surprising conclusion, considering that interactive VR takes it a step further than movies that allow only for output and no input from the user. The feeling of being immersed in another world and being able to influence outcomes is probably the best way VR can demonstrate its qualities. HTC Vive blew minds away with their demo of Secret Shop, based on Valve’s Dota 2. Considering that entire games will eventually be released based on these kinds of experiences, one can imagine what lies in store for the future. Where are the limits? Space battles? War simulations? On-the-field football experience? Breakneck-pace racing? Let’s wait and see how creative the developers will get. for my part, I can’t wait to meet Bowser in person. I’ve always wondered if he really was as impressive as he seemed.
Other VR Applications
But beyond the most obvious and prominent uses for VR, there are other quite interesting and useful applications that are already being implemented to take advantage of the new technology. Let’s take a look at a few of those.
VR and Healthcare
This is probably one of the most beneficial uses for VR out there. Software companies, such as Surgical Theater, construct 3D model’s of a patient’s anatomy based on real CAT scans. This allows surgeons to train beforehand at practicing incisions, locating tutors and the likes.
It can also help in terms of rehabilitation therapy, as the immersive VR therapy created by MindMaze can help stroke and brain injury patients recover cognitive functions faster than with traditional physical therapy, for instance.
Beyond that, other applications, such as immersive peaceful environments for meditation and safe, controlled environments for treating phobias and PTSD are also making great headway.
VR and Computers
We have all become accustomed to using computers in a straightforward manner, but Microsoft’s Hololens just might revolutionise all of that. This is another form of virtual reality that functions by projecting holograms into your real-life environment. Other forms of VR rely on total immersion into another environment, but with Hololens, the blend of real and illusory just might be what the future of computing might look like. Feel like looking at your bike design in real-life 3D? No problem. Hands-on tutorials at a distance? Handled. Let’s see how this evolves in the future, but the potential certainly is mind-boggling.
VR and Education
Learning is a process that has so many different ways of working, depending on how the process is being applied. Thanks to VR, there are now new and innovative ways to to do just that. Unimersiv and Cerevrum are apps that provide VR educational content, from a host of categories, ranging from astronomy, to biology, to languages and much more. If you ever thought learning was a boring process, these might just be the tools you need in order to break out from that mindset.
Toyota has also launched TeenDrive365 as an interactive way to educate teenagers and parents about the risks of distracted driving. Other educational applications are sure to appear down the line.
VR and The Military
Training soldiers in a life-like environment without the potential risks and complications attached to such an endeavour is now a possibility thanks to VR. Teams can now practice their coordination and response to situations in a much more life-like manner prior to deployment. This might be pretty important, considering that on the battlefield, quick responses are key and a split-second of indecision can often be the difference between life and death.
VR and Other Forms of Entertainment
Obviously, the possibilities related to the application of VR are limitless. Currently there is already a VR rollercoaster ride preparing to launch in the UK. Add to that museums, virtual sports stadiums, tourism, the list is near-endless and these are not far-off dreams. They are currently taking place!
What Next For VR?
VR is already here. And it’s rapidly expanding and gaining in popularity. How far can it go? It seems like the only limits will be our own creativity and willingness to push past established, yet obsolete boundaries. But things seem to be progressing in that direction at a steady pace already. All that’s left is to sit back and observe as the world around us changes, blurring the lines between the imaginative and the concrete.