Virtual reality, or the science of computer-generated simulation of the real world that provides users with a near-realistic experience, has always been on the wish list of engineers and consumers since decades ago. But after many failed attempts, it is finally here in earnest and is showing potential to become the next big computing platform, creating new markets and disrupting existing ones.
From entertainment to traveling to healthcare, real-estate, sports and virtually every field you can think of, virtual reality is making inroads, and it is transforming and reshaping the industry in ways that were unimaginable before.
Here are some of the main industries where VR is likely to have the most impact.
Video games are naturally the first and biggest purpose of VR technology. In the 90s, Nintendo tried its hand at VR with its Virtual Boy headset – which happened to be a big failure. Others tried their luck to the same effect. Now with Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive, the dream of the past is becoming a reality. Virtual reality heightens the gaming experience by completely immersing the user in the virtual world. There are already many titles that are showing promise and have been met with a warm welcome by trigger-happy players that are looking for new horizons to blast with this new technology.
But other forms of entertainment, namely the cinema, are also about to change thanks to VR. Hollywood is a little slow to catch up, but major studios such as Paramount and Fox are experimenting the medium with well-established franchises such as The Game of Thrones. 2016 is predicted to see more VR in the movies, and the signs can be seen in major festivals such as the Sundance, where executives are seen donning VR headsets and watching innovative high-quality content created by indie producers.
It’s still not clear how the limitations of VR – the motion sickness, the solitude, and the fatigue of wearing the headset for long periods – will translate to watching long movies, but filmmakers are looking for ways to take advantage of the stomach spinning and physical experiences of VR to improve their content.
Concerts, sports events and world affairs are another venue where VR can create huge impact. Watching an event in VR can make the user feel they’re almost physically attending the event with the best seat in the house. Watching a VR stream of a concert can be a visually rich experience, much different from what you see on TV.
Political and social events such as the U.S. Presidential Debate can also become interesting when viewed in VR. Imagine watching world leaders gather at the UN General Assembly up-close and personal.
As for sports, the opportunities are huge, maybe more than any other industry. Fans of sports will be able to consume content like never before, choose the best vantage point while a game is running, see the action from unimaginable angles, and go to places that were impossible before, such as the locker rooms during the halftime break. VR is already carving itself a nice niche in professional sports, with NBA, NFL, NHL and professional soccer all taking advantage of the medium to improve the experience of their viewers.
The NBA season opener and all-star weekend, the Super Bowl and the ICC 2016 were some of the major events that were broadcast in VR last year. This year has even more to promise and offer.
With VR, finding and purchasing new homes can change from the tedious drive-around-town and look-for-houses pain into a sit-in-your-living-room and explore-the-house experience. Imagine being able to stroll around a home and look into every nook and cranny without having to go there.
This can be made possible with VR. VR Global, a New York based company, is creating virtual walkthroughs of homes in order to give potential buyers the option to visit the houses remotely. So buyers will literally be able to look at properties in New York while sitting at dinner in France.
Sotheby’s International Realty is another firm that is leading a similar effort, using VR to present and sell multimillion dollar homes in Los Angeles, Hamptons and New York. A realtor can lead a tour remotely and even see where the client is looking.
The industry has a long way to go yet. There’s still a lot of skepticism, the costs for creating the video are high, and I’m not sure buyers who don’t have a headset yet will go and buy one for the sole purpose of viewing a house they aren’t guaranteed to buy. But as VR becomes more mainstream, expect real estate VR to gain traction as well.
The potential of VR in the healthcare industry is open-ended and after years of anticipation, scientists and medical professionals finally have the tools at their disposal to train, diagnose and treat in completely new ways.
In terms of treatment and therapy, VR can help in the process of exposure therapy, where patients with diseases such as fear of flying and claustrophobia are faced with their fears in a controlled environment and are helped to gradually develop coping strategies and overcome those fears. This has already been tested by the University of Louisville with success.
The medium is also being used to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The controlled environment provided by VR gear helps patients learn to deal with situations that would otherwise lead to destructive behavior.
Training is a field where medicine can most benefit from virtual reality. Surgeons can now train in a simulated environment that rivals the real thing without causing risks to patients. Stanford University has developed a VR surgery simulator that provides haptic feedback for those doing the training.
This is just the beginning
These are just some of the industries where VR is bringing about change. We’re still at the dawn of a new age of computing. VR and its sister technologies, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality will surely continue to cause disruptive changes in our lives in the years to come.
So brace yourself and get prepared for the exciting surprises that lie ahead.