So many revolutionary technologies have emerged in the past half-century, and it would prove an impossible task to try to list them all. From mobile phones to genetic engineering, innovation is the propelling force that drives people forward by opening up the gates to unbelievable new possibilities.
Today we live in an amazing era. Almost weekly, we see a product announcement that holds immense life-changing potential. We frequently hear news about advancements in futuristic fields like drones, AI and robotics. But perhaps the most interesting development in recent years is virtual reality.
Theoretical physicists have long been preaching about alternate realities. And while a few decades ago it seemed hard to imagine that we would ever be able to experience an extension of our own existence, with the advent of VR, we can now let ourselves be transported into another world with the help of sensory devices.
Right now, most of these worlds are all about gaming and are driven by products like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or the HTC Vive. But as the technology progresses, more and more industries are starting to take an interest in using VR for their own purposes. Below, I discuss three that are already implementing VR successfully.
One of the most interesting applications for VR is in healthcare. One use that isn’t exactly new is to harness the power of VR for therapeutic purposes. Because VR replaces what your eyes see with something else entirely, the technology can be employed to trick the brain into rewiring its processes. The interesting thing about VR is that even though you are very much aware that what you’re seeing isn’t real, your mind and body behave as if it were.
For example, fear of heights or acrophobia can be successfully treated by VR therapy. During treatment, patients are exposed to progressively challenging situations that are eventually overcome when the sufferer realizes the danger they fear will never materialize.
Back in 2008, a meta-analysis comprised of clinical trials also revealed that VR therapy can be used to alleviate spider and flying phobias. And we’re seeing evidence that VR has the potential to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. More advanced applications will be developed.
Computer games are already some of the most powerful learning tools of our age, and since VR today is mostly about gaming, it’s easy to see how virtual reality stands to become a key player in education.
Consider this – a student might be able to better understand a concept by seeing or hearing something rather than by having a teacher explain it to them. That’s not to say that theory doesn’t have a place in the whole learning process, but occasionally students stand to benefit from being taken out of the traditional classroom environment and into an immersive world where they can watch dinosaurs roam or witness a dissection (no animals harmed).
An apt example of bringing virtual reality to the classroom is zSpace. The company has developed a VR system that allows schools to bring abstract classroom materials to life. zSpace makes use of large screens connected to PCs that teachers and students interact with by using a special pair of 3D glasses and a stylus pen. The glasses allow students to see things in 3D and the stylus lets them pick up things and see them from any perspective. As more initiatives like zSpace make it into the classroom, education as we know it – revolving around physical studying materials and note-taking – will become a thing of the past.
Tourism is another industry that has started putting VR to good use. By employing this technology, travel agencies and hospitality businesses can offer prospective travelers an idea of what they would be able to see when they reach their destinations. The experience would allow customers to decide whether taking that trip or staying at a certain hotel is worth their time and money.
Case in point: Marriott Hotels launched a VR holiday experience that allowed users to “travel” to London or Hawaii in 4D, complete with motions, sounds and even sprays of water.
With more immerse VR experiences coming, travel agencies would even be able to market VR holidays as more affordable alternatives to real-life trips.
While all these examples sound promising, it’s worth remembering that the most exciting possibilities still remain on the whiteboards of the mind. Fortunately, with billions of dollars being invested into such technologies, the best is yet to come. One day, alternative realities will allow humans to live out their hopes, dreams and fears from the comfort of their living rooms, but for the time being, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.