Virtual reality has been around since the 1950s and you have probably at least heard about the term. The basic concept of VR is to create a 3D digital environment with the aim to immerse the user in an experience passing for that of waking reality.
Of course there is a common association of virtual reality with video games. Although a large and growing demand for virtual reality in this sector, the possibilities continue to expand with the prospect of a bright future in many fields. For an introduction about (the future of) VR, you might want to see the following insightful TED Talk.
Heightening the Sensory Experience
Like the leap from radio to television was a big deal, so will be the jump to VR. Why is it a big deal you may be asking yourself? For example, imagine the difficulty of securing tickets to a world-class symphony orchestra or going to the world’s biggest music festival. Getting steeply priced tickets, traveling, etc – all have to be taken into consideration in the real world.
With VR you’re not getting mono or stereo, you’ll be able to experience individual points of music coming at you from multiple angles as though it were live.
Want to experience the crescendo of the bass? Move closer.
“Harmon Audio” is one company working with developers to bring you an audio-visual experience that sounds and looks as good as the real thing. Now this is surrounded sound on a whole new level.
The whole point here is to create the sensation of “being there”, being in the moment creates a visceral connection to the events taking place in the here and now. As social creatures, we need the feeling of being surrounded by people like us who do the things that we like doing – VR will create the social circles in which we can be physically present with those people. Unlike any media which tries to convey meaning, VR will stand in a class of its own. The sense of empathy generated from the experience will allow you to experience a scene as though you were there.
The Kinesthetic Experience
Humans are intrinsically a sensory species. It isn’t enough for us to simply see something to be tricked into believing it. We have to feel it to believe it. At the moment we’re in the early stages of our sensory journey. Early versions of “haptic feedback” gloves are not too far away.
Think of these like you would of a PS4 controller. When there is action on the screen, the control will shake giving the user a greater element of realness. Although we are a while away from creating something that will make us feel as though we’re touching a physical object, sensations such as heating and cooling and vibrations are technologies that in a short time will be the new norm.
It’s easy to imagine how impactful this technology will be when it begins to take off at a significant rate. With the potential to completely express the human real-life experience, we’ll be pushed from the age of information to the age of experience. The only barrier will then be the limit of our personal creative imagination.
The Educational Experience
Methods of traditional education will be transcended in favor of understanding data on a new level. The way in which we engage with information today is sufficiently slow. With VR we’ll have the opportunity to engage with data in novel and meaningful ways.
Approximately 92% of communication is non-verbal. Reading from a screen or watching a 2d image doesn’t convey nearly enough information for us to fully digest the content we’re trying to learn.
With the help of VR environments, we’ll be able to erode this boundary, allowing better face to face communication – expression of emotion and collaboration, without worry of taking up physical space.
Practical Uses of VR in Sciences
While we’re glad that there seems to be so many areas of immersive recreation geared for VR, there remains a practical side that will significantly improve technology in the medical sector. At the moment VR is being used to simulate surgeries. This gives doctors the ability to perform experimental surgeries, and teach residents without the risk of bringing harm to the patient.
Beyond this development of current applications, VR has the potential to perform surgery on a completely new level – microsurgery and nanosurgery. Initial application of VR was used to create large scale robots which would carry out actions in hazardous environments.
Future developments will see a team of skilled operators outfitted with VR equipment that will carry out such delicate surgeries. Luckily this may not be too far away. Currently a German based company has produced a “micro-submarine”. Powered by an induction motor; at 650 μm in diameter and 4mm in length, this size allows it to pass through a hypodermic needle. This looks to bring a bright future fort therapeutic and diagnostic applications.
Current Limitations to Visual Interfacing
Although these strides in VR are fully possible within the next few decades there are still some hurdles that have to be overcome in order to realize the future that we envision for VR. Here are some weaknesses that need to be solved:
- Improved visual screen display, with higher resolution
- Horizontal and vertical fields of vision that mimic human vision
- Eye tracking
- Improved freedom of movement via removal of cables
It could be many years until the developers are able to create something that is good enough to pass for the real thing. The issue here is one of belief. When we’re able to create something with enough screen display resolution to pass for the real thing, we’ll be more inclined to spend more time in this environment, therefore creating more simulations for people to explore.
With the lowest price models of wearable VR headsets coming in just under $200 and ranging all the way up to $1000 (PcMag), it will take some time for VR to fully catch on as a household amenity. But then again – radios, phones, and computers were initially overpriced and only the wealthy or technologically minded had access. Like with most technology the price will eventually decrease and we’ll start seeing more and more of these in homes around the globe.
Will VR turn us into a more crazed version of screen addicted maniacs that we already are? Our will the many benefits of virtual worlds allow us to have a more rich experience within our lives. Like most things things VR isn’t inherently good or bad.
It’s up to us to make the sensible decisions with our best interests at heart. The one thing that is for certain (so long as things continue to go well) is that VR is here to stay. So we better learn to live with it.