The term ‘Virtual Reality’ instantly brings to mind thoughts of a futuristic society with robots and hover cars. It sounds like something you’d only read about in sci-fi novels and it’s almost ludicrous to think of it as serious topic of discussion between today’s ‘techies’.
Nevertheless, VR isn’t a futuristic technology at all. It exists here and now.
Back in 2012 the company Oculus VR held a Kickstarter campaign that went on to raise 2.4 million USD, instantly transforming ‘Oculus’ into the biggest name in VR. Eventually, in 2014, they were acquired by the giant Facebook for an incredible 2 billion USD. And they’re not alone - other huge companies have also jumped on board such as Google and their ‘Cardboard’ project, which consists of small DIY headsets meant to be used with your mobile device for a portable VR experience. This has led the way for other VR companies and enthusiasts to strive, resulting in a healthy revival of the technology at hand.
This is just the beginning.
VR has been tried and has failed many times in the past, but in its current situation and with corporations so unimaginably huge backing it there’s simply no way it will fall again. The impact has already been made with the wide release of Betas and even nearly complete products, that will be shipping for consumer release in 2016. Nothing can stop it now.
VR, how does it work?
VR technology may seem like magic, but it’s actually a rather simple idea and has been in the works for much longer than you may think - even in primitive forms such as the anaglyph 3D glasses you may have used as a child (red/blue lenses). The only real difference between then and now is how powerful computers have become - allowing for much smoother head tracking, more detailed graphics, and high pixel density; which increases immersion and decreases motion sickness.
In the real world each of our eyes can see the same image, but due to their offset position (gap between them) we can judge things like distance and size (relative to surroundings). Virtual Reality headsets mimic this behaviour effectively by using a blinder to separate your eyes’ field of vision and the headset itself is used to block disturbances from the outside world. Two angles of the same 3D world are displayed on a screen in the headset, one to each of your respective eyes. Add a little head tracking and boom - immersive VR.
What does this mean for our future?
Whilst ‘Virtual Reality Addiction’ is already a concern, the benefits of the technology are staggering to comprehend. The improvements it will bring to gaming are already easy to see but instead try to imagine the following real world situations:
A teacher has a class of 30 students, who have all joined remotely of course (invalidating the need to run an expensive school building). They are learning about Rome. Of course, they could read through textbooks and look at pictures of great monuments such as the Coliseum and the Pantheon (boring). Or, they could travel there within the VR world and explore the city themselves, learning as they go (through complete immersion). How about a trip through the human body to see how it works? The teaching potential is endless.
On the other hand think of a surgeon who could perform life-saving surgery from across the world using nothing more than a 3D camera, a VR headset, and motion controls - all things which exist today.
Finally, how about meeting up with family and friends from all over the world? Of course you could use a video service such as Skype, but they only seems to lower interaction when you don’t really feel ‘there’; together. VR breaks that wall by allowing us to interact freely, perhaps with something so simple as walking around the virtual world together or being sat in a faux living room. Much like how the internet has brought us together, VR will not separate us into our own little world as it is easy to imagine - instead it will allow us to interact more than ever before.
It opens a truly limitless realm.