Virtual reality used to be a fictional idea that was the subject of science fiction movies but over the last few years, advances in virtual reality technology means it is no longer something we think about, it’s something we actually use. Two key factors concerning the emergence of virtual reality are 3D camera technologies and the ever-evolving smart phone technologies, both being central to making it much more widely accessible to the general public. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on the two main types of VR; smartphone VR and what I guess you would call ‘full VR’ (the one that requires its own headset).
The smartphone VR technology allows users to get a basic feel of the possibilities of VR by loading an app or video onto the phone and then putting this into a headset. In this format, the lenses convert the dual screen into a 3D experience using the smartphones internal accelerometer so the app knows where you are looking. Generally speaking, the apps are free and the headsets are relatively cheap as the main technology is already within the phone. There are many different models of the headsets, from Google Cardboard to Samsung Gear VR. The costs and aesthetics of these headsets may well vary, but the end result is more or less the same.
The full VR range is different to the smartphone technology as the actual VR technology is contained within the headset and combined with a high-end computer, making the possibilities as exciting as they are scary. So far, quite a few companies have fuelled money into this new technology but five have emerged as leading the way; Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook), HTC Vive, Sony Playstation VR, Sulon Q and Microsoft HoloLens (this is actually augmented reality and is slightly different to VR in that it projects images into the real world – but we’ll come back to that). As the majority of the companies investing in this technology are from a gaming industry background, we have seen a lot of exploration of VR gaming. Some impressive results of what these companies have already achieved can be seen in the videos below:
Of course, the uses are far from limited to gaming and in truth, the real world uses of virtual and augmented reality have only just scratched the surface. Marketing has started to begin trailing and testing its potential in the market with some great results (www.econsultancy.com/blog/66587-10-ways-marketers-can-use-virtual-reality-right-now) and VR’s potential to transform the entertainment industry and social networking has been thoroughly discussed, but the potential of more far-reaching benefits is only just starting to be understood.
Palmer Luckey (the founder of Oculus) worked at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. It was here that they uncovered something that is part of an incredible list of uses for this new technology. Working with innovative therapists, Luckey and USC have used VR to help military veterans overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder. This process, known as exposure therapy, enabled veterans to be taken back to battlefield situations using VR and guided through it by therapists to help outline and overcome their biggest fears.
Whilst VR can undoubtedly become a useful tool in the future, there is a worry of what such a giant leap in technology will do to society. Current technology makes it easy to differentiate between what is reality and what is virtual reality as it still relies on artistic interpretation. However, due to the ultra-realistic nature of VR, there is a fear that the more time spent in the virtual world could make users feel more comfortable in their virtual surroundings. Due to the influence VR technology will have on gaming, there is a very good chance that it will be much more appealing to a younger audience who are more likely to get caught up in these worlds and prefer to be immersed in them, instead of reality. It’s hard to say this early on without it being on the market for too long but careful steps need to be taken to ensure that this won’t be an issue, especially when artificial intelligence inevitably gets implemented into the technology and people will be able to interact with virtual beings.
Although they are often banded together, augmented reality is a completely different ball game to virtual reality. It has the ability to analyse your current surroundings and project holograms within it. This means that it negates the immersive issues and allows people to still be in touch with reality, whilst taking advantage of technology. Some fantastic demos have been created by Microsoft to show you how it can enhance your everyday entertainment experiences. A great example was the American football demo where you can see everything you would like from the game’s statistics to highlights of the action. The video below shows just how your viewing experience of a game could be brought to life:
The price of these current technologies are likely to put a lot of people off and therefore make it less accessible for most of us. However, that doesn’t mean your average person won’t be able to experience this technology as it has been projected that they will eventually become as accessible as smartphones and as the technology grows naturally, previous models will become cheaper.