While virtual reality (VR) headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive made a name for themselves in gaming, the technology has potential in almost every sector, from the training of astronauts to educating children.
Here are three areas in which virtual reality tech is already helping to improve businesses and people’s lives:
Most people are fortunate enough to have jobs that don’t reinforce failure with death and destruction. However, surgeons, nurses and doctors rarely get a second chance to undo a serious mistake, and so their training has to be both thorough and as close to a real-life scenario as possible.
VR could provide the healthcare industry with a middle ground between responsibility and realism in training programmes, allowing the use of real-life patient data but not the patient themselves. For example, the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University is already trialling virtual reality-powered brain surgery, which includes things like tumour removal.
The applications for VR in healthcare are almost endless. Frontiers in Neuroscience, a medical journal, recently published an article linking the use of VR to a reduction in the severity of phantom limb syndrome, a condition in which the body continues to receive signals – sometimes painful – from missing limbs.
VR could also help patients with severe post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses by allowing them to retreat to a safe or familiar place whenever their condition becomes overwhelming. The same applies for patients undergoing physical rehabilitation; Swiss company Mind Maze aims to use VR to accelerate the recovery of stroke victims, for example.
Have you ever wanted to play slots in Las Vegas or blackjack in Monte Carlo? Casino gaming is arguably one of the few areas in which VR has an established presence; there are already a number of poker websites with support for the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, and the HTC Vive. Full cash games haven’t quite made the leap to VR yet, however.
Blackjack, poker and roulette might be old, familiar games but the addition of VR support adds more of a social element (you can see your opponents) to the digital casino. The ability to ‘walk’ to a slot machine or poker table through some of the biggest venues in the world also adds a degree of immersion missing from app or website-based games.
How veteran players will react to VR poker remains to be seen (online and offline poker are notoriously different in character, and a VR melding of the two might be a strange beast indeed) but it’s hard to see the downside of a more involved poker experience, especially one you can experience without leaving the house.
If you boil it down, the notion of ‘travelling without moving’ is at the heart of most VR experiences, whether it’s exploring the seabed in a game like Ocean Rift or climbing a mountain in Crytek’s The Climb. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine VR experiences that include real-life attractions such as museums, art galleries, and university tours.
American firm YouVisit has already turned several of the latter locations – universities – into VR experiences, a development that could permanently alter the way students select their future college. The current list includes Harvard, Tel Aviv University, Princeton, the West Point Military Academy, and many others.
VR also has applications in giving potential visitors a sneak peak of an experience. For example, the tourist board of British Columbia recently took travellers on a VR hike and boat ride, while a similar experiment by the UK’s Thomas Cook saw a significant increase in bookings in three European countries.
Of course, the future of VR (and its profitability for businesses) is dependent on mainstream penetration – the technology needs to become as common in households as mobile phones and games consoles – but the price of entry in 2016 is still very steep. Its early appeal is undeniable, however.