When Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote "Pygmalion Spectacles," he never knew he predicted the future. Or maybe he knew, and he was smug about it.
In the science fiction novel, an elfin Professor, Albert Ludwig, invented some goggles that enabled the wearer to watch a movie containing pictures and included sound, taste, smell, and touch.
The Sci-Fi novel predicted the coming of an immersive experience where technology intersects with reality. That was in 1935. Fast forward 70 years later, the first virtual reality headset was launched, the Oculus Rift headset, in 2012. The Oculus Rift kickstarted the modern-day virtual reality movement as we know it today, and the momentum is unrelenting.
What then is Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) is the ability to use computers to create three-dimensional environments where a user can explore and interact with that environment.
Experiencing VR usually involves placing special goggles over one's eyes. Through those goggles, one is immersed in a simulated environment where the digital world can be touched, heard, smelled, and even felt by hand.
In addition, the user can put on special hand gloves and hand controllers with sensors along with the headset.
With VR, one feels as if they are teleported to another world and part of it. That is the lasting beauty of the technology.
Although the world is computer-generated using 3D graphics that change in real-time, it is believable to the person experiencing it. It is as if one is in a virtual world that has intersected with the real world.
It is so spectacular and genuinely immersive. As one moves the head, the scene shifts and changes just as it would in real life. One could enter a room in a VR world and believe it is real.
Furthermore, it is interactive. You could touch a button, open a door, or even feel the air moving around you.
Many persons who have played VR games say they never believed it was a virtual world because they experienced reality with their senses.
Because of the potential of VR, it started as part of video games but has become applied to several aspects of life, including industry.
Virtual Reality Applications and Use Cases
The applications of VR and associated technology are wide-ranging. The list of uses includes the automotive industry, healthcare, retail, e-commerce, tourism, and real estate. Let's not forget to mention video games. Gaming was the mother of VR and made it become widely accepted.
The most common use case for VR is gaming. With VR, one can play several games. They range from table tennis to mountain climbing, car racing, even zombie shooting. VR gaming completely teleports the user into a different world where they experience the excitement and the adrenaline rush of a game in a virtual world.
Prototypes for vehicles are expensive to make, but with VR, engineers and designers can experience the look and build of a car before commissioning prototypes. Some companies making profitable use of this technology are BMW and Jaguar Land Rover. VR helps these companies conduct early design and engineering reviews for problems with the visual design before making any financial commitments for the physical manufacture of the vehicle's parts. These VR reviews have saved the automotive industry millions of dollars by reducing the number of expensive prototypes needed before a car is manufactured.
Medicine and Healthcare
VT has been having a significant impact on medicine and healthcare. Doctors and healthcare workers can now work on real bodies with virtual models, especially in sensitive surgery. VR has also been used to alleviate pain in cases of burn injuries. One especially notable use of VR in medicine is treating mental health issues. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy has been developed from VR technology and is widely acclaimed for treating PTSD and anxiety. Studies have shown that spending time in VR, like playing immersive games, can provide therapeutic benefits for people combating anxiety, phobias, and PTSD.
Shopping and Retail
Some people order two clothes online because they cannot try on the clothes on an online store and can return them if one doesn't fit. In other situations, some buy shoes and clothes online, hoping that they will fit their shape and size. A solution in retail and shopping for that problem has been provided through VR technology. Using body-scanning technology in VR, one can try on clothes and shoes in the virtual world and experience how fitting they would be in real life.
The future of shopping could lie in VR. Recently, eBay launched a virtual reality department store, the world's first, in partnership with Myer, an Australian retailer. Also, a European retailer, ASOS, is investing heavily in a VR company, Trillenium, to enhance its VR shopping experience.
VR is making an impact on tourism. It can allow one to try a holiday before buying it. That is a scintillating future for VR in the area of tourism. With VR in tourism, one can undertake guided virtual tours of tourist landmarks, hotels, and restaurants. One company that pioneered this is Thomas Cook. They have a "Try Before You Fly" VR tour launched in 2015. In this VR tour, potential holidaymakers visit various landmarks in different countries to experience the holidays of their dreams before actually going there. The company reported a 190% growth in New York excursion bookings after the VR tour was launched. This shows people are enthusiastic about this sort of experience.
Google Expeditions is another notable use of VR in tourism. With this product, one can travel worldwide using a smartphone or iPhone through a VR goggle. Some landmarks that can be explored with Google Expeditions include Coral Reefs and the surface of Mars.
How enticing if one can look around properties from the comfort of their home without the need for an estate agent or traveling to the location. VR has made that possible. So many persons explore houses online with VR and choose the ones they love through technology. One company pioneering this initiative is Matterport. They have already scanned millions of homes and made them accessible for exploration through VR.
Architects have been using 3D models to draw and present how homes look. But with VR technology and immersive tools like Iris VR, they can help customers see how their houses will look and feel. The technology is immersive. It also changes how architects can design and experiment with what they do. The technology has given homeowners the ability to experience a space before an architect creates and builds it. Therefore, they can make real-life changes before work begins and save everyone millions of dollars in return.
Learning and Development
VirtualSpeech is one pioneer company in VR in the learning and development industry using VR training to provide people with soft skills. Technology is opening up fast in this area. VR technology can be incorporated with any company's current learning management systems (LMS) to provide staff training. It has been reported that this technology makes training more accessible and cheaper, with increased learning retention rates.
The Future Of Virtual Reality
Many analysts say that several companies will have a VR strategy by 2030. Estimates from 2018 state that by 2022, the VR market will be worth about 20 billion dollars. But although the technology is growing and speedily gaining acceptance, there are still challenges ahead. For example, VR can produce a sickness called motion sickness in people. This is dizziness caused by people having a mismatch between what they experience in the real world and their experience in the virtual world. Research is underway to reduce or make this nonexistent. Also, many companies are looking for ways to make VR goggles that do not need cumbersome cables. Cables restrict the ability of people to experience virtual worlds intensively and limit movement.
The technology for VR headsets in 8K is now quite developed and impressive. VR is also being integrated into artificial intelligence. Qualcomm and Microsoft recently announced a collaboration to produce special chips for making VR accessible in smartphones for the metaverse. Also, the latest 5G technology has exciting scenarios for the development and evolution of VR.
One can then say that VR has come to stay and would improve the human experience. Indeed, science fiction has come to life.