Virtual Reality Technology for a Range of Uses
There’s no denying that virtual reality is seeing a resurrection, as new ideas emerge and developers look for new uses for this amazing technology. From its very early days to now, virtual reality has been considered for many different uses. Not only just an entertainment product these days, the uses for VR extend well into healthcare, education, and business.
Predictions regarding the future of VR, its revenues, and the companies that will make the biggest impact are all speculation at this stage. As a relatively new market, it’s hard to tell exactly where to next for developers and researchers.
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By understanding the past and current uses for virtual reality, we can begin to understand how this amazing technology can be used for future applications. Whether it’s simulated classroom learning, clinical therapy, or more immersive gaming experiences, there’s no end to where virtual reality can go.
Virtual Reality Business
There is a range of ways which companies are making use of virtual reality, either to promote their business, train new employees, or work with the design of new products. As capabilities improve, many businesses may find that the majority of their work is done in a virtual environment in the future.
Using this technology in business can be a cost-effective and efficient way for companies to test drive new ideas or detect design issues with prototypes. As some companies deal with sensitive or dangerous products, testing these out in a virtual but realistic environment is ideal.
Many companies now use a digital workplace for their employees, particular if there are many remote workers. From this virtual space, they’re able to perform training, roleplay scenarios, team meetings, and interviews, keeping costs down on transport and saving time with commuting.
VR business operations such as these will continue to increase as employers are looking to cut overhead costs by having employees work from their own space.
There are some industries which use virtual reality as a way to showcase products or spaces that they’re promoting. Real estate developers might like to offer 360 degrees, interactive tours of properties or larger companies can offer virtual tours of their environment.
The future of VR in business has discussed this technology being used to view and interact with hotel rooms before booking or check out vacation destinations. By allowing the user to immerse themselves in these environments before committing to a sale, it could change the tourism industry forever.
Virtual Reality Cinema
Aside from gaming, virtual reality cinema is the most popular area of this technology when discussing its entertainment purposes. VR cinema is still in development phase, though, although there are many trailers and shorts available for use with new systems such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
The steps need to create fully immersive content for VR can be long and arduous, which is why filmmakers have yet to release anything of real substance. However, according to Wired Magazine, by the end of 2016, we should see the first rush of these “experiences” emerging.
To create a virtual reality movie, the scenes first need to be filmed in 360 degrees with multiple cameras. Once this is done, there’s a lengthy process of stitching it all together and synchronising it so that it can be viewed as an immersive experience with a VR headset. While it may sound relatively simple, the process is lengthy considering the amount of finished product that comes from it.
With the release of new systems such as Rift and Vive, virtual reality will become more commonplace in homes. This mass ownership now makes it lucrative enough for filmmakers to sit up and take notice. Unlike the popular IMAX films which are still enjoyed by many, these filmmakers need only to worry about the production of the movies and not the building of entirely customized theatres to screen their films.
Earlier in 2016, the world’s first permanent virtual reality cinema opened in Amsterdam. Users sit in swivel chairs and wear Samsung Gear VR headsets to experience the movies, allowing them to turn around to view the movie in 360 degrees. While the selection of actual movies is limited, viewers are instead treated to around 30 minutes of VR clips which have been designed for an immersive experience.
Although virtual reality cinema is set to be huge when it becomes part of the mainstream, it’s not likely that it will replace traditional film as entertainment. This type of movie will be not just seen as a viewing platform but more of a total body experience.
Virtual Reality Gaming
Gaming has always been the area which brought virtual reality to the attention of the public. Whether it was the failed attempts at home gaming VR systems of the 1990s or the now hyped Oculus Rift and HTC Vive systems, gamers have led the push for advancements in this technology.
Current VR gaming systems including the Rift and Vive offers players the chance to immerse themselves in simulated environments. With a variety of games including arcade, puzzles, RPGs, and first-person shooters, there’s no shortage of entertainment for players.
These systems rely on the use of a headset or glasses which screen two separate images to each eye of the players, creating a 3D stereoscopic effect. The controllers that come as standard allow gamers to treat these as an extension of their own bodies and fight enemies or captain spaceships in simulated environments.
Although current models have their own issues, this generation of virtual reality gaming seems far more complex and realistic than we’ve seen in the past. As their popularity increases, consumers are hopeful that the price for these devices may lower slightly making them more available to the mainstream.
VR gaming technology looks also to cross over with adult entertainment, as some games will give users the chance to experience sexual interactions through virtual reality. Current adult entertainment can be viewed as a 3D immersive film, but with developers teaming up with those in the field of teledildonics there will soon be the opportunity to feel these encounters as well.
What this means for not only adult games, but the entire gaming industry in general, is that virtual reality will become more than just a visual and audio spectacle soon enough and players will be able to use their own bodies, or even minds, as a controller.
Virtual Reality Learning
When Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014, he envisioned a world where virtual reality could extend beyond entertainment. VR learning was one of the key things he highlighted, with hopes that students could complete their education in a virtual classroom.
While there are some forms of virtual learning being used today, the future of VR learning offers far more interaction between students and their peers or teachers. As online learning has become popularised, it is still missing the traditional interaction that occurs in a real life classroom.
Virtual classrooms are set to combine both online learning and the real classroom experience, taking the best from both worlds to create a fully immersive and educational method of teaching.
With the use of various VR technologies, virtual classrooms will become a lot more hands-on and interactive for everyone involved meaning more students are motivated to learn. Teachers may employ the use of holographs or interactive workspaces that allow students to connect from around the globe.
Much of this type of technology has been cost effective for businesses and so the same can be speculated for education.
Companies such as EON Reality specialise in interactive and 3D learning experiences which can be brought to classrooms. Their studies claim that by using virtual reality in the education space, students had an increase of 92% in their attention levels.
This company has created and developed prototypes for a range of virtual learning tools including tabletop displays that let students interact with various objects, holographic images, and other real-time experiences.
As our future generations become more reliant on electronics and technology, VR learning could very well replace some or all of the traditional classroom methods we know today. The education sector must adapt to the changing world of technology to ensure it captures the attention of students.
Virtual Reality Rides
Before this technology was able to be enjoyed from the comfort of our homes, VR rides were very popular in the 1990s. Found in arcades and malls across the world, users were able to hop aboard a simulator style contraption and enjoy a lifelike virtual reality ride.
Since then, these types of VR rides have progressed and can still be found in various locations. Their ability to become even more realistic and immersive makes them far more enjoyable than the early creations.
Some rides also feature effects beyond 3D, with sight, sound, motion, movement, and special effects such as wind and water. This type of virtual reality is what game developers are hopeful for in the years to come for those playing at home.
In 2016, this popular form of entertainment is making a comeback on the large scale. Popular theme park Six Flags is unveiling their Superman Virtual Reality Rollercoaster which treats users to a blend of both real life action with a virtual world.
The Superman ride will have users wearing either Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift headsets as they strap into a real rollercoaster. As they experience the thrills of the drops and turns, their headsets will allow them to enter a virtual comic book world which synchronizes with the real-life movements of the rollercoaster.
Although these larger virtual reality rides may be popular for theme parks and arcades, their popularity will likely never be enough to influence any real updates in technology like smaller mainstream VR systems can.
Virtual Reality Simulators
One of the oldest uses for virtual reality comes in the form of simulators. Although there are simulators used in VR rides, as discussed earlier, this mode of simulator relates to those used for training and educational purposes.
A VR simulator can take the form of any number of situations whether it’s an army recruit taking part in a virtual boot camp or a dentistry student learning how to perform precise procedures on a patient. These are just a few of the ways that virtual reality is being used outside of the entertainment arena.
Flight simulation is one of the earliest forms of virtual reality, dating back to the early 1930s with the Link Trainer. These simulators were developed as a safe, effective, and affordable way to train pilots in a setting that resembled a real life aircraft.
Since their initial invention, flight simulators have progressed significantly. Current models of this device can now simulate blimps, aircraft, and military planes to offer a wide range of training for pilots and staff.
In addition to flight training for the military, there are also other ways in which virtual reality simulators have helped those in combat. By using VR, soldiers can train in dangerous and intense situations without ever needing to leave the base, readying them for real life combat encounters.
For those in health professions, virtual reality simulators are also an invaluable training tool for medical and surgical situations. As doctors and health staff work with life-threatening illnesses and must provide on-the-spot decision making, it can be hard to get enough practical hours in on these tougher procedures.
Virtual reality simulators can allow doctors and surgeons to practice crucial surgeries in simulated environments, or even offer a chance to train on patient cues so that they can connect better with those they care for. As a relatively new area of training, there are countless ways which training methods can be improved for health staff with the use of VR.
Many industries that involve hazardous or time restricted training seminars will also look to virtual reality simulators to teach their staff. Electronics brand Siemens are currently working with various professions, such as oil riggers, to create realistic and immersive situations that require workers to think on their feet in a safe environment.
By providing such intensive training exercises as this, employers and industries can be sure that the training and lessons are effective in reaching their staff. Similar to the way that secondary and higher education looks to one day be replaced by virtual classrooms, staff training will also need to incorporate this style of training to remain current.
Virtual Reality Treatments
Using virtual reality for clinical therapy is an idea that dates back almost 30 years. As the public gains access to VR systems, we are likely to see a surge in the range of clinical treatments available for users to complete therapy sessions in their own home.
Perhaps the most common form of psychological treatment is for sufferers of posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This disorder is a result of being exposed to a traumatic event such as combat, abuse, or terrorist attacks. The effects can be crippling to both body and mind, and so finding a suitable treatment is extremely important.
Virtual reality has been a successful way to treat patients with PTSD with exposure therapy, which involves placing the patients in situations or confronting them with images which may trigger anxiety. However, as this form of therapy can be confronting it is more comfortable for the patient when done in a simulated environment.
While the patients understand that what they are viewing is not real, their subconscious is still tricked into believing it due to the believable nature of virtual reality. This allows for them to face their fears head on and try to find ways to deal with troubling situations.
This type of therapy has also proven useful for patients with other fears and anxieties. Many software developers are now working on ways to treat fears such as spiders, flying, public speaking, and storms.
There are also future plans for clinical therapy patients to undertake sessions in virtual settings, whether they are with computerized specialists or not. However, the technology is still quite far off from creating an artificial character which can assist as much as a human psychologist can.
For those without any specific fears or disorders, virtual reality can also be used to provide guided meditation or other relaxation activities. Some applications can even take users to a sandy beach to allow them to unwind, so even though the long-term benefits of VR therapy have yet to be proven there are still significant positive impacts that can be felt immediately with this technology.
Although virtual reality for entertainment seems to be the largest revenue maker, the short and long term benefits that this technology can have on mental health and providing care can truly be a game changer for this industry.
Virtual Reality Audio
When people think about virtual reality, they’re often more concerned with the visual aspects of this technology. However, VR audio is just as crucial as the visual elements to ensure a truly immersive experience for the viewer.
Virtual reality audio itself has made amazing advancements over time, with technology now capturing 3D sound using a few different methods.Firstly, binaural audio is captured by using a dummy head that has microphones for ears, which captures exactly where the sound is coming from. Ambisonics is another form of this recording which extends further to capture sounds above and below the user.
The most common way to create audio for 3D experiences such as gaming, though, is with the use of a rendering engine. This invention was first created by Dolby Studios and can attach sounds to different objects as they move through a setting. This can give different levels to each item, making them either appear further away or up close.
Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland and co-founder of VisiSonics, Ramani Duraiswami, has explained just how important the audio component is when it comes to virtual reality. His study has shown that our brains work like a map, meaning that when we hear sounds coming from different directions which are consistent with geometry it can trick our minds into believing it’s real.
Using this type of technology means that when we experience virtual reality, the sound alone is enough to create an immersive feel that transports users to another time and place. Without audio to match the images, the brain cannot be tricked into believing these encounters are real.
Virtual Reality Research
As a burgeoning technology with multiple uses, it makes sense that virtual reality development is now an important sector of many labs, universities, and learning spaces. With VR research in place, this current trend can extend well beyond a form of entertainment.
VR development spaces, such as USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, utilise a wide range of technologies as they research and create the latest in virtual advancements. Drones, head mounted displays, body scans and more are all developed in this amazing dome-like environment, with many more like it across the world.
As the most important virtual reality technologies are created in these labs, their importance is now more vital than ever. Researchers work with professionals in health and science fields, game developers, and military and other training providers to come up with new and exciting ways to incorporate virtual reality into everyday life.
Virtual Reality Conferences
A place for developers and researchers to come together and share their ideas and creations is virtual reality conferences. As the technology grows, the conferences are becoming bigger and better with each company trying to outdo the last in their product’s technology and capabilities.
Events such as the Vision Summit conference, held annually in California, showcase the latest and greatest trends and launches to hit the world of virtual reality. This VR conference had an impressive lineup of keynote speakers at its 2016 event, including Palmer Luckey, inventor of Oculus Rift, and Gabe Newell of Valve.
A virtual reality conference is an ideal space to launch new products and create hype, as was done with the now popular HTC Vive, Google Cardboard, and PlayStation 4 VR some time ago. These events are integral to the virtual reality research and development community and for those interested in the latest and greatest gadgets.
Future of the Virtual Reality Market
Although hard to analyse as it’s still a relatively new market, there seem to be clear signs that the VR market is set to boom in the next few years. A prediction by Digi-Capital states that both augmented and virtual reality could bring in revenue of $150billion by 2020. Although augmented reality is predicted to take a bigger slice, VR companies still look set to make a massive $30billion for the year.
The primary VR market looks to encompass gaming and entertainment, including cinema, adult industries, games, and theme parks. With the launch of more affordable and accessible home systems, the future of VR could become a mainstream technology.
VR companies who are currently main contenders in this industry will further shape how things progress. As Google appeared to have learned from their mistakes with Glass and created something more accessible with Cardboard, there’s no telling where they might go next with their virtual endeavours.
Early criticisms of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will likely be addressed, however, there may be a need for these brands to begin involving the world of augmented reality in their designs if they want to take a bigger part of the revenue.
There’s no denying that this current trend of virtual reality has been far more successful already than the many failed, previous attempts to bring it to the public on a larger scale.
As technologies now seem to be working with the public to create accessible and affordable devices that let them enter virtual worlds without leaving their house, this may finally be the time where virtual reality breaks through into the mainstream.
Virtual reality technology knows no limits, as we are introduced daily to an astounding array of new gadgets, systems, and research which change the way we look at this creation.
While there may be many uses for VR programming outside of the entertainment arena, there’s no denying that gaming and cinema are two of the most popular virtual reality uses which push for further advancements.
As virtual reality continues to be a strain on many resources for developers, including time and money, there is an increasing importance on the need to use a universal virtual reality programming language, similar to HTML coding.
Once the technology becomes easier to create thanks to advancements in hardware and programming, virtual reality uses may increase faster and with more effectiveness. However, considering the advancements made in just the last 50 years, VR uses such as health, education, and entertainment are impressive enough on their own.