When personal computers became widely available in the 1980s, most of the people who snapped them up weren’t thinking about the ways that small, ever-more-powerful computers would eventually change the world. All they were thinking about was games and sex, because you can take the people out of the caves and give them a Mac, but they’ll end up doing the same things.
Virtual reality is today’s equivalent. The media waxes poetic about the wonders of VR, but almost all of the focus is on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PS VR – and now that Google Cardboard has largely failed – Google Daydream and a new category on Pornhub.
However, much like those early PCs there’s a whole level of revolutionary potential within VR that’s ready to be unlocked. Here are 5 ways that virtual reality could change the world. In fact, it’s already happening, it’s just that most of us haven’t realised it yet.
Planning and Design
For centuries, designers and planners have relied on drawings and their own imaginations. More recently, photos, video and computer modelling have been added to designer’s toolkits to help them work more easily and accurately.
Virtual reality will take things to an entirely new level. Forget the simulation of Grand Designs, city planners will soon be able to give politicians and voters a realistic look at proposed developments, giving them a full understanding of the plans and their possible benefits! Complicated factories and manufacturing plants will be “mocked out” in advance, letting companies fully gauge the effectiveness of the layouts and any logistical problems which might arise.
The same process will allow medical facilities to not only test the setups of operating and emergency rooms, but will let them plan the intelligent flow of patients, caregivers and support personnel. And virtual reality will bring landmark changes to the way that products from automobiles to home goods are designed. And this isn’t just blue-sky thinking. VR has already been used to help plan a new cycling route through London and a surgical suite in Santa Cruz, CA. Ford and BMW use virtual reality to design cars and test prototypes.
You can even take a virtual tour of the house you want to buy with sites like Rooomy.com assist realtors with staging and selling their properties.
Learning and Training
It’s scary to learn a foreign language before heading off on a trip overseas. It’s intimidating to study a complicated discipline like physics or medicine. For some people, it’s scary and intimidating to start a new job which requires constant interaction with customers or clients.
Virtual reality will allow people to learn or train in a realistic environment before they have to deal with a real-life situation, practicing their new language with “virtual foreigners” or their personal skills with “virtual customers.” Walmart already uses this technique to train their associates.
For those engineering and medical students who get wrecked every Friday, things are going to get a lot easier as VR will have the added benefit of letting them “practice before doing.” They will be more sure-handed if they have been able to virtually simulate a medical procedure before actually performing it. Thanks to VR there’ll be no more Wednesday morning botch jobs in labs! The same benefits will be available to student pilots and many others learning challenging tasks. Educators are also getting on board and has begun experimenting with virtual reality to provide more effective instruction for students with learning disabilities.
Psychologists are excited about the ways that virtual reality will allow them to connect with and help their patients. That’s because many common psychological issues stem from scenarios which are difficult to replicate in the doctor’s office. A therapist, however, would be able to gently guide a patient afraid of flying or heights through a VR experience which will help them deal with and conquer their fears. The process could be easier, faster and more successful than months or years of talk therapy. It also sounds way more expensive than just pushing your kid in the pool but hey!
Studies are already underway on how virtual reality could be used to treat other psychological issues like depression, but there are real-world examples of issues which are now being simulated in a virtual environment. One example comes from the University of Southern California, where VR has been used to help veterans suffering with PTSD. We saw the benefits of augmented reality when Pokemon Go encouraged anxious people to leave their homes. That’s only the beginning.
Virtual reality will change the way we shop in the near future, and that revolution has begun. We’ve briefly mentioned shopping for houses that have been virtually staged; a merger of 360° online home tours and VR isn’t far behind.
On a broader scale, though, virtual showrooms will allow the display of a nearly-endless number of products in small spaces and give the shopper a view of all their features from any angle. Want to see how that might look? It’s already being done in Australia, where Ikea has opened a virtual store. And online virtual reality shopping has come to China, where Alibaba launched the site Buy+ where you can use a VR headset to wander around virtual stores and add items to your cart.
You may not have to wait much longer to have that experience. Amazon is working on ways to add virtual reality online to their store. Soon we will never have to leave our house for anything! Yay for capitalism!
Leisure and Entertainment
Yes, VR gaming will continue to get more and more realistic as time goes on. But many other types of leisure-time entertainment will be completely revolutionised as well.
People will always want to take vacations, until all holiday destinations become submerged. For the time or budget-challenged, however, would-be travellers will be able to visit almost anywhere in the world via their virtual reality systems. Eventually, any era in history and even other planets may be virtually accessible. That certainly has educational implications, but it will also be just plain fun, like Westworld without any of the crazy robo-moral implications.
3D movie technology has improved over the years, but it won’t come close to the cinematic experience of seeing a movie in virtual reality. There are consumer VR cameras on the market, of course, with plenty of “virtual reality” videos available on YouTube and other sites. Several companies (including Paramount) have built cinemas where they show enhanced 3D films viewable only through VR headsets, and true virtual reality films have been screened at film festivals. But manufacturers and filmmakers are actively working to perfect virtual reality “Hollywood” movies, which should make a trip to the thearter better than ever – but what will this mean for the dating world? Maybe Odeon will start offering virtual companions for lonely movie-goers.
The world of THEATRE is on track for a dramatic change thanks to VR too. Our latest project Somnai is a theatre experience that uses VR to create a truly immersive play. Home entertainment could be more exciting, too, as VR roller coaster and other theme park rides are on the drawing board. Adult VR experiences are definitely on the way too, along with the host of legal quandaries that they will entail or so we hear…
Other important uses for virtual reality may be too far in the future to anticipate right now, but judging by everything that already happened, there will be many more. There’s no telling what additional virtual reality applications will change the world.