Virtual Reality has been around since the time of Scholastic’s Magic School Bus. Remember Ms. Frizzle, who took her students on various adventures by teleporting them to destinations in a yellow bus, to help them learn science the fun way? The concept of experiential learning introduced by this animated TV series back then is being brought into practice today, thanks to various developments in the field of virtual reality. But what exactly is VR?
Today we have different types of equipment or gears which facilitate our experience of this simulated environment. Take, for instance, the Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony Morpheus VR headset or Samsung Gear VR. All these head mounted display (HMD) devices have magnified the mass interest and hype around virtual reality, bringing it out of animated series or video games, and into our living rooms. Today, this technology and its applications are proving revolutionary for almost every industry, and the world as a whole! Let’s understand the enormous ways in which VR is transforming the world and disrupting many different industries.
The essence of Virtual Reality lies in opening doors to another physical world. Known as telepresence, this experience causes you to focus diligently on your existence inside the virtual environment and forget your physical surroundings. Scary as it may sound, telepresence is proving to be beneficial in more than one way. Let’s understand how.
Giving Education New Dimensions
Most of all virtual reality are helping teachers bridge the gap between what’s taught in the classrooms and what’s out there in the real world. Putting it into practice recently, British Museum partnered with Samsung and hosted a Virtual Reality Weekend. Families got a chance to view the museum antics using Samsung Gear VR. In fact, children above 13 were given a VR tour of the Bronze Age where they could experience a 3D depiction of life as it was back then. While this is just the beginning, Google seems to be planning for a Magic School Bus experience with its Expeditions Pioneer Program. Expeditions is a virtual reality platform which allows teachers to take kids on virtual field trips to places where buses can’t go. The program currently has more than 100 VR panoramas including those of Coral Reefs and US Financial Centers.
Taking Tourism Places
Talking about going places reminds us of tourism. VR is taking tourism places! You can now virtually experience your favorite holiday destination without worrying about flight and hotel bookings. Helmut Hlavacs has developed technology at the University of Vienna which lets people strap themselves to a VR headset and control a drone at a tourist site. This way you can visit ‘n’ number of destinations without having to go there. What’s more? If you are short on time, Virtual Reality will help you make the most of a place while sitting in your hotel room. New York Marriott Marquis and the London Marriott Park Lane recently did a Samsung VR headset trial, where travelers could enjoy local sight using VR Gear without leaving their rooms.
Virtually Enhancing Architecture
Another industry that could completely transform leveraging the telepresence experience is Real Estate. Architects can create virtual models of their building plans, and clients can walk through a structure even before it is created. This can save on the last minute design or layout adjustments and help people get their dream home.
Remodeling and Recreation
When an Irish School used the Oculus Rift headset to recreate Clonmacnoise, it revealed to the world a way to recreate and remodel what’s been long lost. The students explored the 540 AD monastery in real-time, making history readily available to the present, and future generations. And if you think this is the only actual walkthrough made possible using VR, you’re mistaken. Google Cultural Institute has already done the perfectly preserved Pompeii, along with many other world wonders, walkable. All you need to do is put on the Google Cardboard, and off you go into the world of unexplored realms. Imagine what this could do to the degree of our archeological studies! Inca, Indus, Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro – soon we might be able to see and understand their lifestyles in real-time, giving us a better perspective on how the world has evolved since then.
Creating Ripples in the Medical World
The concept of remodeling isn’t just limited to education or world history. It is creating ripples in the medical world as well. For quite some time now, Virtual Reality is being used to treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in war veterans. Using VR therapists recreate situations which the patient fears while they are still in a safe environment. Commonly known as exposure therapy, this helps soldiers in dealing with the stress endured on the during real-world war situations. USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies has been remodeling sites of Iraq and Afghanistan in virtual reality to help warriors combat PTSD. Another healing application of VR in medical is helping amputees deal with phantom pain by recreating their limbs. The Frontiers of Neuroscience journal details an experimental study wherein after seeing the virtual recreation of the limb and controlling it using electrodes attached to the base of the missing limb, and the patient could successfully deal with, and soothe, chronic phantom pain after 48 years!
In some cases, users can control what happens in the virtual environments, popularly known as simulation. Simulators have been used for pilot training for long, but with the advancement in VR technology, they are finding application in other industries as well.
Car Manufacturing Gets a Facelift
Car companies are using simulation to build virtual prototypes of any new vehicle so that these can be tested thoroughly even before a single physical part is produced. Designers now have the opportunity to make significant alterations without having to scrap the entire creation, saving both time and cost. Besides giving car manufacturing a new turnaround, VR has also created a breakthrough in the field of surgery.
Improving Surgical Procedures
Surgeons are now being trained using surgery simulators, allowing them to visualize accurately human anatomy and surgical procedures via VR headsets. Professor Yeshwanth Pulijala at the University of Huddersfield has designed a virtual reality game, SurFace, which will help dental surgical trainees get an unrestricted, 360-degree view of a surgical procedure. This, he believes, will considerably the performance of trainees during operating room sessions.
While medical training is already being simulated, fitness training isn’t far behind. Companies like Activetainment, Widerun, and VirZoom have introduced the concept of virtual cycling, which allows you to enjoy ‘outdoor cycling’ experience in any weather. This could prove revolutionary for fitness freaks, and the lazy ones like me, who can now exercise even in the comfort of their homes now. Fun, right? But VR simulation is not all about fun.
This technology is coming handy in some somber situations as well. The Los Alamos National Laboratory is using virtual setting to simulate nuclear reactors and let employees practice emergency responses. This is proving potential in reducing accidents related to handling the reactors.
Virtual Reality is most certainly changing the way industries are operating, but from a higher level perspective, it is transforming our world, for the better. With its many applications across industry verticals VR is changing the way we live, and the way future generations may live. What’s your say? Do you feel VR has the power to take the world for a spin? Or you think this might be just another technological evolution? Let us know in the comments section below.