No other consumer electronics segment is going to see such an exponential and meteoric rise than virtual reality, it’s such a hot space to be in right now. While a lot of the emphasis is centering how it’s reshaping today’s gaming landscape, there’s more to virtual reality than that – leading me to look beyond gaming, to see what other areas it’s affecting.
I attended the Virtual Reality Summit in New York City not long ago, expecting to see what other advancements and innovations the segment has in store for us. Even though the majority of the summit was dedicated to various keynotes talking about virtual reality’s presence in gaming, advertisement, and marketing, there were actually two areas that I felt to be more intriguing prospects; health and education. This is especially crucial, mainly because virtual reality is more than just an immersive experience meant to transport us to this “alternate” reality of sorts, but rather, it’s a developing ecosystem that will drive us to better understand how it can one day directly affect our health and interactions.
Virtual Reality in education
It’s certainly not going to happen overnight, more so when you factor in the costly investment of these early virtual reality systems, but already we’re seeing how VR is taking education to the next level. Educators in classrooms around the country know that the biggest hurdle to overcome with students is the way information is being absorbed, whether it’s by pure lecturing or something else a bit more hands-on. The approach is arguably the most difficult thing about educating students, but I managed to see an interesting setup that makes the art of learning even more engaging.
Enter zSpace, a company that was showing off its new VR system that integrates the traditional desktop computing experience with VR – allowing students to “learn by doing.” The system itself consists of an all-in-one desktop computer with a large high-definition stereopsis display, integrated head tracking, and a precision interactive stylus. The collaboration between these devices enables the zSpace system to offer an unparalleled learning experience, one that’s more interactive than ever before.
The system itself, minus the software, sells for approximately $3100 we’re told – and that’s not including the license for the learning software that the company also manages. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this new way of learning is going to be a costly one, but at the same time, the pricing is kind of reasonable given the fact that VR commercially is still in its infancy. If we’re to consider the hardware here, a 24-inch 1080p LCD with built-in tracking sensors, stylus with 3-buttons and integrated infrared LED, and the polarized passive eyewear, $3100 seems like an adequate yield.
The VR dissecting table
Besides education, another area that achieved a meaningful level of presence at the VR Summit was health. In particular, the folks over at The Emerging Analytics Center (EAC) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock showed off an interesting VR experience that allowed us to explore the human anatomy on this virtual reality dissecting table of sorts.
Similar in premise to zSpace’s implementation, the one here relies on a user wearing passive eyewear to view the human specimen on a table – referred to as the Immersive VR Table. Using the companion joystick, I was able able to navigate and extract specific organs, muscle groups, and much more with this experience. This, of course, gives us a totally new way of visualizing the human body, as I’m able to rotate, manipulate, and see everything I’m doing in real-time with this VR Table.
Without question, this implementation is better able to visualize the human body than something static. Learning about the human body and its system through reading a book or seeing it plastered on a projection can only go so far, however, with the help of VR, it’s going to enhance that experience – and this is certainly on that path. Just for clarification, though, we weren’t told about its pricing, which I imagine to easily be more than what zSpace sells its system for.
It’s not cheap, but early adopters know that
Okay, so VR isn’t cheap! That’s a certainty we should all know, given that VR as a whole still doesn’t have a huge adoption rate. More is obviously going to be needed to bring the prices and services of VR to a level where it can infiltrate vast demographics. In the near term, VR in gaming will undoubtedly see the most dramatic shifts in terms of pricing for systems, but for health and education, it’s still going to be a good while before they get to the same level.
Then again, the VR gaming systems that are launching now can potentially integrate these health and education services. It’ll be intriguing to see VR’s progression into these areas. Down the road, I can totally envision doctors collaborating together in diagnosing and coming up with a plan of action using VR. For example, these systems can accurately recreate an MRI scan into virtual reality – where doctors can then fully manipulate things to better visualize a patient’s diagnosis. Additionally, I can see another scenario that involves a student performing a mock operation in virtual reality.
These are all plausible, but it’s going to take more time before VR’s presence becomes commonplace in schools, universities, hospitals, and much more. We’re just at the beginning, so we can expect to see significant advances in such a short period of time in these areas pertaining to VR.