What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “virtual reality?” Is it the Holodeck from Star Trek, or perhaps the ill-fated Virtual Boy? If you haven’t tried virtual reality gaming, I urge you to try — it’s an experience unlike any other. But even if you aren’t a gamer or aren’t into the idea of VR movies, virtual reality has massive implications for the rest of the world.
Various industries, educational institutions, and many other entities are using virtual reality to revolutionize the way people approach the world. Here are some of the most interesting concepts that go beyond what you probably think of when it comes to typical VR uses.
Imagine walking down the cobblestone streets of Rome, the morning sun beating down from a clear blue sky. You pass by dozens of people sitting at cafes, sipping espresso, and listen to the chatter all around you. The architecture is as amazing as you’ve ever imagined it. You feel like you could lose yourself in the city — and then you hear the call for dinner. With Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it’s possible to explore cities all over the world without ever leaving your home. The experience goes far beyond watching it in HD on a 72-inch television; through virtual reality, you feel like you’re actually there.
There are several reasons why virtual tourism is an important development. Traveling can be an expensive endeavor, and those on limited budgets (both financial and timely) can explore the places they’ve always dreamed of visiting without the need to completely shatter their wallet. Virtual tourism also frees those who may be unable to travel due to physical injury. It can also be used to explore places that someone may be unable or unwilling to travel, such as undersea caverns or active volcanoes.
Online courses are nothing new. In fact, you may be reading this article while listening to a less-than-thrilling professor drone in the background (if so, great! Virtual reality is more interesting than figuring out who sailed the ocean blue in 1492.) That said, online courses lack the social and interactive elements that can be found in an actual classroom. Virtual reality may be the key to fixing that. If classes can be live streamed, remote students can watch in real-time as the professor teaches.
Even if real-time streaming isn’t a possibility due to time zone differences, a virtual recording could be used to fully immerse the student into the classroom and help them to remain focused, combating some of the aforementioned lack of attention. If the classroom is combined with virtual tourism abilities, then virtual fieldtrips are an exciting possibility.
It’s also worth noting that there are already a few education programs out there that allow you to sit in a virtualized lecture hall where it’s possible that a teacher could stand in front and write on a VR whiteboard — but all of this is in pretty early stages at the moment. Just imagine the possibilities!
Beyond lecture-style education purposes, there’s also the possibility of interactive VR videos that walk you through important educational topics in away a traditional TV-based program couldn’t, such as what you’ll find in “The Body VR” for Oculus Rift.
Training and Simulation
There are certain occupations that are inherently dangerous. Firefighters train by rushing into controlled fires and practicing the routines they would use in a real situation. Police undergo firefight training to measure their responses to dangerous situations. Because the training is dangerous, the rate of injury is high.
Imagine using virtual reality to train. Firefighters can immerse themselves in a burning building without actual risk; if sensory input is needed, a dedicated room can be set aside with heat lamps and other simulation material. Police can practice with fake weapons in a first-person shooter environment.
Another potential use is for medical simulation. Real-world medical training is already extraordinarily effective, but the price tag is prohibitive; most can only be experienced through dedicated facilities. Universities can make the simulations available online, and the lower price tag of the Oculus Rift is an appealing option for students who want to have more time with the simulations. We’re also seeing live surgeries used not only for simulations, but also as a teaching mechanism, which kind of blends into the education category mentioned earlier.
The physiological and mental benefits of meditation are becoming better-known, but many people don’t know where to begin. App-guided meditation is a popular outlet, but the sight of a dirty bedroom can make it difficult to focus. The ability to slip on a VR headset and be whisked away to an exotic, relaxing beach with a dedicated instructor can make meditation much easier to learn.
The team at Guided Meditation VR have developed a program that works with both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to help you find the perfect meditation techniques. If you don’t know what type of meditation you want to take part in, the program can help you decide with a series of questions.
Online shopping is one of our favorite pastimes, but sometimes those 2D images just aren’t enough to show the product as it is, no matter how high the resolution may be. Virtual reality can allow you to enter a virtual store and browse the aisles just like you would in a real store, but provide you with life-size representations of the products so you know what you’re getting every time.
This could be particularly useful for certain types of shopping. Have you ever tried to buy furniture online? All those length by height by depth measurements can be hard to understand, especially when you’ve seen three-dozen in the same day. Life-size demonstrations of the furniture could be tremendously useful. Besides, there’s a certain appeal to browsing the aisles and not fighting crowds of people.
At least for now, VR shopping is still in very early stages, but were seeing more and more attempts it at from Ebay/Myer in Australia, Ikea, and others. It’s only a matter of time before entirely virtualized department stores become a thing and you’ll be able to walk around just like you would you local big-box chain, but at the same time search for select items and instantly be teleported to the right part of the store. Obviously that’s just one possibility, but you get the idea.
Are you as excited as we are about how virtual reality can change the world? What potential uses can you think of? Comment below and join in the discussion.