What Happens When You Merge VR With Big Data

What Happens When You Merge VR With Big Data
October 29, 2016

An article in the Journal of Big Data points out that one of the most difficult challenges of combining big data with virtual reality to produce useful scientific applications is the limitation of human perception.
Virtual Reality, Big Data and Science
Researchers at Cal Tech University have taken the first step towards solving this dilemma. The first step of answering any scientific questions begins with asking the right ones. Their team set out to explore the possibility of creating virtual reality platforms consisting of both software and hardware. Those platforms would allow scientists to use immersive virtual reality for multidimensional data visualization.
If you're having a hard time visualizing that, it's because it still exists only in science fiction movies like Iron Man, in which Tony Stark uses it to create his superhero suit. In real life, it would allow scientists to interact with their data and their colleagues simultaneously within the same visual space. Researchers believe it will lead to an improved perception of geometry as well as better retention of perceived relationships between different data sets.
An article in Data Science Central points to some of the key factors converging to make the big data and virtual reality one of the most important tools for new scientific discovery. One of those factors is the decreasing cost of data storage space. Another is the advent of big data systems like Hadoop and Spark.
According to Cloudera CEO Mike Olson, the "Hadoop platform was designed to solve problems where you have a lot of data — perhaps a mixture of complex and structured data — and it doesn't fit nicely into tables. It's for situations where you want to run analytics that are deep and computationally extensive, like clustering and targeting." Soon, it may be possible for data scientists to use virtual reality in a number of scientific fields, including chemistry, engineering and astronomy.
The process of using virtual reality to create data visualizations poses some challenges. One of those challenges is presenting data in a way that can answer current scientific questions. Another is that developers must find a way to present data in an interactive way that will inspire new research questions. While much of the technology that would make this possible already exists, some of it must still be developed.
While cloud storage solves one part of the equation, it also poses constant new challenges regarding data security. Researchers at MIT participated in a successful project utilizing virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift to create big data visualizations. In 2014, Cal Tech released a study that sought to use virtual reality to visualize astronomical data sets that would normally take months to study, and even longer to analyze and understand without it. Researchers from the study concluded that the use of virtual reality was unfeasible using traditional data models.
Virtual Reality in Everyday Life
The expansion of virtual reality into the consumer market has created a number of platform choices for both business and pleasure. Oculus Rift remains the platform of choice for the large-scale corporate world. It is utilized in a number of professions. In the medical field, it can be used to provide surgical experience through viewing procedures in virtual reality. Real estate companies can provide virtual reality tours of properties a continent away.
Another increasingly popular use of virtual reality is gaming. There are a number of more affordable virtual reality devices available. The Samsung VR is one of the most consumer-friendly. It has achieved an affordable price without sacrificing any of the important features. The way this is possible is because engineers at Samsung figured a win-win situation for them: outsource the display and processing power to their smartphones like Galaxy S7, Note, and similar compatible devices that can be plugged in into VR machine. This might raise the cost, of course, since those phones are 700$ or so, but you’d pay the same for iPhone, and yet Apple has nothing similar to offer.
Virtual reality isn't just for fun and games anymore, though. It's increasing the training capabilities and the bottom lines of many businesses, both large and small. It's only a matter of time before today's technology, combined with the technology of tomorrow, results in some astounding scientific breakthroughs. That time appears to be near. While it may be too early for us to create meaningful visualizations of big data for the purposes of science, it's not too early to visualize it.

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