It didn’t seem that long ago when virtual reality (VR) technology seemed like some farfetched, sci-fi concoction. The first time I remember seeing VR represented in cinema was in the 1994 psychological thriller, Disclosure. In one of the film’s climactic scenes, Michael Douglas straps on a set of VR goggles and a data glove, and enters a 3D visualization of a database in an attempt to uncover company records that will help clear his name. As I watched Douglas’ avatar clumsily walk through the halls of the 3D database, leafing through various folders, I couldn’t help but laugh. The whole thing seemed preposterous.
Fast-forward 22 years later, not only is VR technology being used — it has taken on a wide range of exciting and innovative applications. Initially, gaming became the go-to application of this exciting new technology, but in recent years, the technology is being used in various industries for training, research and development, and customer engagement. Here are five innovative applications of virtual reality technology that are helping to change our world.
Aside from the plethora of first-person shooter games that have been making significant use of virtual reality, there are several other areas of the entertainment, including sports, music and tourism, that are actively adopting VR. For example, a virtual stadium interface offers a fully immersive way for sports fans to watch an NFL game in the comfort of their own living room. Or consider an app that allows viewers to experience the excitement of the latest Cirque du Soleil show or Coldplay concert without having to ever leave their couch. In the tourism industry, Oculus (https://www.oculus.com) has created an interactive travel experience for Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly campaign, transporting travelers virtually to an exotic tropical island within seconds.
Video production is quickly becoming a popular application of virtual reality as the audience for such content is growing at an exponential rate. We’re starting to see an influx of immersive videos — including corporate video production — made especially for VR headsets like Oculus Rift, Samsung Galaxy Gear VR (www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/wearables/gear-vr) and Google Cardboard (https://www.google.com/get/cardboard). Using these headsets, viewers are able to pan around a full 360-degree perspective by rotating their heads. Alternatively, those viewers who do not own VR headsets can watch 360-degree videos through social networks, including Facebook’s dedicated channel and YouTube’s support for playback of 360-degree spherical videos.
The healthcare industry is one of the largest adopters of VR technology, with several institutions using this technology for the purpose of research, diagnosis and treatment. Software companies like Surgical Theater (www.surgicaltheater.net) and Conquer Mobile (https://conquermobile.com) are using actual diagnostic images from CAT scans or ultrasounds to generate 3D models of an individual’s anatomy. These 3D models provide surgeons with a safe and effective way to find tumors, place surgical incisions or practice complicated procedures in advance. Meanwhile, Ask The Doctor (https://www.askthedoctor.com) — a Twisted Frame medical video production client (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwYgWJZrAro) — is currently developing an app with a VR interface design that provides comprehensive medical resources.
Scientists at NASA have adopted virtual reality technology for various research and missions projects. For example, NASA are using VR to control rovers on Mars as well as providing astronauts with an effective tactic to de-stress. In another application, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are using the Oculus Rift with motion-sensing equipment from the Kinect 2 sensor and Xbox One to control a robotic arm using their own upper body gestures.
While online shopping websites have been around since the late ‘90s, emerging virtual reality apps like Trillenium (www.trillenium.com) are helping to change the way consumers shop for products online. These VR shopping apps offer a virtual tour of the online store, providing a fully-immerse, real-time shopping experience. Shopaholics can even browse the virtual mall with their closest friends.