Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Virtual Reality: More Than Just Games

By Sebastian Stabinger (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This year's E3, a showcase for emerging gaming technologies, whetted the appetites of players keen on virtual reality gaming. As has been the case with previous gaming innovations, this new tech has further applications outside of video games. Diverse fields of human enterprise can be potentially revolutionized with the introduction of sophisticated VR systems.

Health Care

VR has already been used to deliver medical treatment that's superior to what was offered in the past. Phantom limb syndrome, a condition whereby people experience pain in missing limbs, can be successfully treated by using virtual reality simulations to give patients control of a limb that isn't really there. Burn victims and others undergoing painful recovery and rehabilitation can use VR as a means to escape their woes and distract their minds. Soldiers suffering from PTSD have reported improvements as they confront traumatic incidents from their pasts inside a safe, virtual environment.


Rather than dealing with rude and obnoxious cinema patrons or struggling to listen to a band in seats far away from the stage, VR may permit you to have the full movie or concert experience in the comfort of your own home. This is in addition to actual developments in the media themselves, such as movies wherein you're at the center of the action and can look in whatever direction you want rather than current films wherein all the camera angles and shots are set up in advance.


Students are somewhat limited to the four walls of their classrooms when trying to learn, but this could change in coming years. Detailed virtual models of locations around the globe could make possible virtual field trips to enhance to learning experience. Additionally, lecturers and other public speakers can reach a wider audience through the use of this technology to interact with an audience scattered around the world. While some of this is possible today with videoconferencing tools, conducting educational activities in a virtual setting may allow for greater interaction and listener satisfaction.


There are many tasks, such as handling expensive machinery or operating on human patients, wherein any errors could be catastrophic. Due to the sensitive nature of these endeavors, it's practically impossible to give those preparing for them training that includes hands-on experience. That's changing with the advent of VR. Surgeons can operate on imaginary patients, and explosives experts can defuse bombs in a consequence-free environment. Just as simulation programs have done for pilot flight training, so too can virtual reality do for many other demanding or dangerous disciplines.


Product placement has hitherto been limited in scope to objects that have a solid, physical reality or the appearance, in films and TV, of having a solid, physical reality. But there's no reason why items that exist only in virtual space cannot also be branded and thus advertised. Besides this, providers of services and other non-tangible goods can give potential buyers a sneak preview of what their service is like through the use of clever VR implementations.


Space exploration occurs in an environments that are quite different from our terrestrial environs. In order to prepare astronauts for zero-g conditions and somewhat spartan living conditions, NASA has already begun to utilize virtual reality. Furthermore, much of the exploration to be done in the coming years will likely use robotic or other unmanned systems. These can be most effectively controlled by a user donning VR gear, which can turn esoteric sensor data into a rich, detailed, visual and auditory simulation.

Although some decry virtual reality as nothing more than a toy or something of the future, the truth is that there are already serious applications for it besides games. Thanks to recent developments in fiber-optic internet and hand-tracking sensors, virtual reality is more involved with our current world than it seems. As costs decrease and the functionality becomes richer and easier to use, there's no doubt that many industries will be transformed for the better. New fields of human activity, of which we have only vague inklings and premonitions at present, will almost assuredly come into the fore as well.

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.