Imagine standing on one of the world’s tallest peaks, turning 360 degrees to take in the stunning beauty and majesty surrounding you. Or in the driver’s seat of a NASCAR, zooming around Talladega or Daytona at mind-numbing speeds with crowds cheering you on. Then imagine you take off your headset and you’re back in the room where these adventures happened. Welcome to the world of VR or virtual reality.
The history of VR goes back to the 1830’s when Charles Wheatstone discovered our eyes produce a two-dimensional image the brain then turns into a three-dimensional view. Looking at two side-by-side images in an old-time stereoscope gave the viewer a feeling of depth and the popular View-Master many of us had as kids took this concept to the next level. The first head-mounted display, or HMD, debuted in 1960, but the term “virtual reality” wasn’t coined until 1987. Companies like Sony & Nintendo as well as Hollywood movies took VR to the next levels and today smartphones allow users to turn side-by-side images into an interactive experience in conjunction with a head-mounted display device.
Here are just a few of the industries that have turned VR into everyday reality:
- Health Care: Surgeons use VR to practice surgery prior to an actual operation and med schools use it to train new doctors. Rehab facilities have found it beneficial in helping patients regain motor and cognitive skills after strokes or brain injury.
- Automotive: Car manufacturers have been using VR for decades to aid in the design of new vehicles and spot potential problems prior to manufacturing. Auto dealers like Ford, Volvo and Hyundai are also using VR to let potential buyers “test drive” a car from the comfort of their home through an app on a smartphone.
- Resorts: Watching a video of a hotel or property you’re considering vacationing at is OK, but imagine looking at these properties in an immersive experience to make you feel as though you are actually on-site. This can be done with a VR headset and 360-degree videos that are online or through an app. Cruise lines give potential travelers a tour of their ships that almost rivals actually being onboard.
- Real Estate: You can walk-through homes for sale from the comfort of your realtor’s office to narrow your choices before you actually step foot into one. Architects and home builders use VR to help design buildings and homes and to ensure the various elements work well together.
- Courtrooms: Rather than looking at two-dimensional pictures of a crime scene, jurors can see these same scenes in 3D through VR to better understand how people and objects, such as bullets, move through space and interact with one another.
- Athletics: STriVR Labs creates VR experiences to train athletes in the NFL using real video of their teammates and their playbook before they even step on the field. Or imagine riding in the driver’s seat of a NASCAR to experience the feeling of what it’s like to drive 150 or 200 miles-per-hour.
As with most new technologies, there are concerns including VR becoming addictive (wouldn’t you rather be flying effortlessly above a beautiful mountain range than sitting in a dreary apartment or paying bills?) and its effects, if any, on young people is still unknown. Nausea, headaches and eyestrain can be a problem and in a Wall Street Journal article, Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson said his 15 years of research have consistently shown virtual reality can change how a user thinks and behaves, in part because it is so realistic.
Over time, the good and bad will be sorted out, but what is certain is that virtual reality is here to stay. Ben Schachter, an analyst for Macquarie Capital has noted, “Over the short-term, there are challenges. But over the long-term, we think it’s going to change every industry on the planet.” Want to stay ahead of your competition? Virtual Reality could be just the ticket. I’ll be writing more on this in future blogs as the technology gains a foothold in our real and virtual world.