It’s easy to dismiss virtual reality as just another gaming fad.
After all, that’s all we hear about when we hear about VR in the news. You’ve got a friend of a friend who has a Playstation VR. Your buddy from college bought an Oculus Rift. Your favorite YouTube personality is playing a game in virtual reality and it’s the latest hot thing.
VR (and its younger brother, Augmented Reality) has all the earmarks of a fad. Is Virtual Reality just a gimmicky game setup that will go the way of the 1990s Furby? Is it this year’s fidget spinner? Or is it something a little bit more?
To find out if this tech has any sort of legitimacy, we’ll have to do a little bit of exploring.
What is VR?
Virtual reality, at its simplest definition, seeks to create a 3D environment that a human can interact with in a realistic way. Thanks to the growing availability of VR headsets and software, most people these days at least know someone who owns a VR headset, even if they don’t own one themselves.
Suffice it to say, we aren’t strolling along the holodeck on the starship Enterprise just yet, but we’re inching closer and closer to the technology every single day.
VR has two different components. It requires software to run the program, and a headset for you to put on, and see the realistic 3D environment.
What is AR?
AR, or Augmented Reality, is a little bit simpler. It takes an image or a video of a real-life scenario, and places an overlay over it to - you guessed it “augment” reality. Everyone has encountered a version of this in some form or another. One really famous example can probably be found on a lot of your phones right now! The popular game Pokemon Go uses augmented reality extensively to create an interactive fantasy experience for the user.
Where do these technologies get their origins?
If we’re going to be technical, the first origins of VR started as early as the 1800s, when huge, all-encompassing 360-degree panorama paintings were created in order to help viewers feel immersed in battles. This kind of 3D immersion stuck with us, and ever since, we’ve been trying harder and harder to crawl into scenes from our own imaginations.
As early as the 1930s, science fiction stories predicted technology that looked like modern virtual reality, and early flight simulators were created that were powered entirely by motors. By the 1960s, we had the first VR headset display for viewing movies, and motion tracking was well on its way. In the 90s, the video game industry began to develop VR headsets, such as the Sega Genesis VR headset, or the Nintendo Virtual Boy.
We’ve been perfectly the idea of virtual reality ever since, and now, in 2019, we have access to more advanced VR headsets available for widespread retail purchase, like the Playstation VR, or the more powerful Oculus Rift. We’ve gone from motor-simulated flight simulators to virtual reality headsets that can simulate fantastical game worlds and ultra-realistic surroundings that can be used to teach and learn.
The Main Players To Watch
So who is making this world of VR and AR into a reality?
At the head of the pack there is one of the biggest names in VR, Oculus. Oculus is a Facebook-owned company that makes VR headsets and software, mostly intended for virtual reality gaming.
Google, of course, has its head in the VR game, and went the opposite route of its high-ticket-item rivals by developing a VR headset that costs a mere $15! This headset, made of mostly cardboard, is assembled by the user and designed for using VR apps on Android smartphones.
Microsoft has also got its hand in the VR cookie jar, so to speak. It’s virtual reality headset, called HoloLens, also includes augmented reality aspects along with its VR functionality, where it overlays virtual images over real world input.
The complex HTC Vive is also a contender. Put in play by the Valve Corporation, the company behind the Steam gaming platform, the Vive is designed to fill an entire room. It is packaged with sensors that track movement across a much larger space than most virtual reality systems, so that the user is not stationary, but can move around in the virtual environment.
What industries use Virtual Reality?
When we think of VR and AR tech these days, we think of gaming. VR headsets are sold to the general public with promises of realistic gaming experiences inside virtual spaces. Don’t think this is just a gaming space, however. There are hundreds of applications outside entertainment that make Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality the next frontier of science and learning.
The military uses VR extensively. It’s still used for flight simulators today, and it is also used for medic training, battlefield, and vehicle simulation. VR is a great way to train soldiers without actually putting their lives in danger. They can even train in virtual boot camp!
Healthcare is one of the biggest adopters of VR technology. It can train doctors in complex medical procedures, practice in surgery simulations, allow doctors to perform robotic surgery, and perform VR diagnostics that can help eliminate the need for invasive procedures.
Virtual reality has also been massively helpful in the engineering sphere. It can be used to simulate and test designs of designs to check for faults and weaknesses. This feature creates a better product, and in engineering projects like buildings, bridges, and cars, it can save lives.
There are dozens of other uses for VR tech - education, entertainment, science - and each of them is more fascinating than the last. If you’d like to learn more, do a little research on modern VR tech - you’ll be surprised to find out what it can do!
Buzzword or Whole New World?
So now, we’ve come down to the final question: is VR just a buzzy new fad that will die out with the decade? Or is it something new and revolutionary that could change the way our lives work?
You could argue that it’s a fad, but I don’t think so. VR is popular now, but its popular because our technology is finally catching up with our imaginations. For more than a hundred years we’ve been imagining what it would be like to stand in the middle of a simulation of our own making, and we’ve just reached the level of technological ability we need to make that a reality.
As VR’s popularity grows, the more resources we’re able to devote to it. For every game of Beat Saber or Skyrim VR that’s been streamlined to perfection, we’re also creating pathways for the education, defense, and medicine. Don’t get me wrong. VR is entertainment, and high quality entertainment at that, but it is so much more.
So no, I don’t believe VR is a fad. It won’t pass, it will evolve. We’re using this to train doctors, keep soldiers alive, and enable engineers to build better and safer places for us to live our lives. Humans are creatures full of imagination, and VR is a powerful harness for that imagination, allowing us to realize our dreams in real life, and make it easier and safer to put them into the real world.
Have you ever played a VR game?
The chances are, you have a friend, or a friend of a friend, with a VR-enabled console. The technology is becoming so popular now that many households are able to afford them. Call your friend. Set up a VR night. Check out the technology that is going to revolutionize life on this planet.
VR isn’t a buzzword. VR is tomorrow.
May 06 2019