Virtual Reality has a long history of being associated with the video game industry, as year by year major gaming companies adapt different aspects of virtual world immersion into their various products. What started with development of POV games and went through the Nintendo Wii’s optical sensor technology, is now ready to combine with previous discoveries and hit the market with a brand new form of gaming experiences that can finally be called, a real Virtual Reality experience, for example, Capcom’s Resident Evil 7.
At the same time, there are other very lucrative and government funded industries where specialists are working on implementing VR technology into areas of our lives that traditionally have little or no room for games. The concepts they are offering promise even greater progress, and a higher value for humanity than a new gaming console, but what are they? And how much are they going to cost?
Here are 7 of the most promising fields for VR use from all the facts and rumors we’ve been hearing about, while at the same time keeping in mind what requirements, sacrifices and moral choices might meet us along the way of this technological advancement.
Everything revolves around consumers; therefore sales and marketing are often the first fields to adapt new technology and profit off of it. As it happened with Internet and smartphone revolutions, VR can change our buying behaviors and the whole nature of shopping in general.
Possibly one of the major reasons online stores haven't completely taken over the traditional retail industry yet is that the consumers are not able to see or feel the product they are interested in. Imagine if they could play a guitar they want to buy, test a new mattress or try on a jacket? VR can offer these possibilities for retailers and their customers.
However to make these ideas viable and used on a wide scale might take years due to the fact that consumers are not yet equipped with VR goggles, so the sellers can only offer in-store experiences, and only to a restricted number of customers.
The majority of people are not yet accustomed to using VR devices, and don't own any of their own. It took about 15 years for the country to get the cellphone usage rate close to 90% coverage and then 5 more years to get 75% accustomed to smartphones. Implementation of VR technology seems to be a gradual process as well, due to the psychological aspect of adapting a product that doesn’t meet an instant need. At the moment it can only come to a mass level of appeal through its entertainment value.
As of now retailers use V virtual kitchenR technology in individual marketing and branding campaigns.
Among these Retailers are companies like Ikea demonstrating a for their customers, Tom’s allowing customers to take virtual trip to visit the kids to whom they donated shoes, and North Face allowing buyers to virtually test their coats along with many others. These experiences of VR help retailers sell products and boost the brands’ value.
Virtual fitting rooms, test drives and product trials.
Imagine how much information a brand can acquire on a consumer’s behavior, as they are engaging with a product in VR. Would a regulation of personal information protection help the consumer or be ineffective in mass usage?
VR technology can potentially make customers more perceptive to a virtual world environment. Can VR be a tool in manipulating consumers into buying or staying loyal to a brand?
Experiencing a subject is a stronger tool in learning and understanding a topic than reading or watching films about it. Whether it's a historical event or a heart surgery, in VR students can experience it without any harm to themselves or others. With the existence of VR, students from Pre-K to University are opened up to a variety of new opportunities. Educational institutions can organize tours to historical places, make the learning of new activities easier, and also provide practical experiences in areas where it used to be impossible to do so. VR opens huge educational opportunities that may change the way school has been perceived in the past.
Provide enough equipment for schools so that every student has access to this technology whether it’s a private set of goggles they can use at their desk or a room that can accommodate a group activity.
The process of creating quality learning experiences in VR as of now is very time consuming and requires a team of specialists, as opposed to writing textbook or making a documentary film. To make the usage of VR in many aspects and fields of education more accessible, it would require an improvement in the entire workflow of learning experiences creation and the equipment that goes into it.
The psychological effects of VR use are still unclear; with frequent use it may be dangerous, especially for children. The technology needs to be properly researched and tested.
Despite promising obvious benefits in some disciplines, the advantages of its use in others can be doubtful. It’s very easy to see how virtual reality can help in studying engineering or architecture, but when it comes to literature or art it may become a more disruptive element.
The Discovery Channel continues on with its mission of showing its audience the world, but has now also improved this experience adding 360 videos in VR. The Jackson School in Victoria, Australia uses VR as a tool supporting studies for students with special needs, such as kids with autism. Harvard University has brought to life a 3D Egyptian Giza Plateau for people to explore at their Semitic Museum. There are also many new players in the market of VR startups.
Implementation of Virtual Reality laboratories could help to reduce space and costs for maintenance of actual school labs.
The idea that VR makes it easier to learn through experience raises a question: What if creators of such learning experiences make mistakes, would it be as easy to correct the information in the VR program and the learner’s memory?
Filmmakers, being a major part of the entertainment industry respond quickly to new inventions, but there is rarely a consensus among them. As it has happened with sound, color and digital cameras. There are always those who support the new technology and think it’s a breakthrough to new possibilities, and those who find it destructive for film as an art form. Which is the case with VR?
A big breakthrough in film - 3D a few years ago has promised to become the new way of storytelling and possibly remove the 2D experience from its pedestal. It hasn’t happened. We don't watch everything in 3D at our homes, and don’t always watch in 3D when we go to the movies. The technology found it’s niche, and has comfortably accommodated itself to them.
However, the two camps of filmmakers with opposing views on VR haven’t been able figure out its place yet, though the technology has the potential to become a new art form, and an entirely new language. While Steven Spielberg in one of his interviews mentioned that he finds the technology dangerous and bad for storytelling, there are other filmmakers already exploring it.
The ideal in the film industry is to create more for less money, for wider a audience and in less time. VR technology right now doesn't offer any cheap substitutes to traditional filmmaking for production nor for distribution processes, it only offers more problems to solve. A film in VR would require of a whole new format of movie theaters to screen in. It would, again, require the audience to obtain personal goggles or provide them with cheap alternatives, which will have to be of good quality to make the film worth it.
Another option for delivering the film to wide audiences would be with the invention of a specialized VR screen.
The level of storytelling is more developed in traditional film. The VR creators will have to develop a new storytelling language, taking into consideration that the audience can be affected by their senses and are also able to make their own decisions in observing the environment.
The question that arises for VR films is not new, and has been applied in the past to every mainstream medium from videogames to music videos. Are VR films going to make its users more affected by violent content? Would there are be any severe effects on human perception in real life?
The 2016 Cannes Festival showed VR short films for the first time. Among them “Invasion” by Madagascar co-director Eric Darnell, “Gnomes and Goblins” by Jon Favreau, and the longest, 20-minute film “Allumette” by Eugene Chung.
Adult Film Productions are actively exploring the new territory and there are already a few films on the market, which according to reviewers is promising to be the next big thing in the scene.
Complicated operations that doctors were only able to practice in theory can be practiced in virtual life, allowing more lives to be saved, and more doctors to have rare hands on experience. VR simulations can prepare medics for real life situations and help them find the best course of action before a complication appears in real life. The technology could also provide a whole new set of opportunities for patients, for example, being able to reduce the traumatizing effects of long illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and help them to heal quicker.
For the technology to work properly in the field it will require a very thorough systematization of medical knowledge, and a system providing timely updates, as the knowledge in this field expands every day.
Also, since VR technology here will be dealing directly with the health and well-being of patients, it will have to go through many tests before it can be implemented for mass use.
Like any other remedy VR can have side effects and might not be universal for everyone.
Embodied Labs created “We are Alfred”, a program that allows young medical students to feel for themselves what it’s like to be an elderly 74 year-old individual, by letting them experience various audio and video complications. As a result the program helps young students to have a higher degree of empathy for their patients in the future.
Mind Motion Pro Swiss Mind Maze allows patients who survived a stroke to practice movements that they now have to learn again. The lift of a leg in VR might not carry the actual movement but it increases motivation in patients and prepares them for the time when their body is ready to make physical progress.
Brennan Spiegel at Cedar-Sinai hospital introduced VR worlds, helping patients to reduce the pain and negative emotions from staying at the hospital. The experiences in the worlds vary from traveling the landscapes of Iceland to swimming with whales, and working in an art studio.
VR can create environments or virtual situations that will help people to overcome PTSD. At the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Bravemind is a virtual reality exposure therapy system that has shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD with war veterans.
Will it be a commercial service only or an option accessible to everyone?
To be anywhere one would like at any given moment of their life is something everyone could appreciate. Travel the entire world, or as many people say, “see the world”. With VR you can see and explore any place on Earth or even space. Just like in real life you can choose whether to see popular sights or go to places that only locals know. Where travelling is involved, the opportunities are endless - you can travel with other VR travellers, create maps, YouTube stream your journey through some really difficult areas of the Amazon Forest, and earn bonus points.
To allow the user to be be an active traveler and explorer, there would have to be a freedom of movement for them, which could be arranged by equipping a room at home or going to a special gym.
Thinking about the possibilities of VR experiences in travel and adventure, brings to mind quite a few sci-fi movies where such technology is promised by an evil corporation and everything eventually goes downhill revealing the dystopian nature of the world the films are set in. Substituting essential experiences in human lives with virtual ones may sound horrific, but it is more a modern state of mind that makes it seem like it has to be either one or the other. In the end such VR experiences can prepare us for actual real life travel, or help us decide which country to go. Everyone seems to enjoy VR rides in Disneyland.
Major players in different segments of the travel industry like Qantas, British Airways, and Marriott have all started experimenting with VR as marketing tools. The U.S. National Parks Service allows anyone to explore Yosemite National Park in its VR project “Through The Ages”, which even features President Obama and his family who the viewers can travel along with.
Whose liability is it going to be if a virtual traveller breaks his or her leg?. Would it be of the game manufacturer, or would the VR experience manufacturers be able to get away with a disclaimer like it’s done for current video games.
Get in your desired physical shape while jogging in cosmic landscapes, chasing magical creatures or playing Quidditch in your VR gym. What takes a lot of effort in ordinary gym environment can be easier to do in a game. This general idea behind sports can be taken to a whole new level with VR technology.
You must have seen those bikes with screens in your gym that allow you to chase dragons while pedaling or race with other bikers from other gyms online. VR will just bring this idea further - there will be no screens, you’ll be able to be in a place that would help you focus on the workout and do the activities that will make it fun. Just imagine yourself as the character of your favorite game, how much more engaged you would be jumping, running, and fighting if you had an interesting story to follow. As in a real gym you can have a workout buddy or meet other people to play the exercise games with. It’s easy to imagine how far this can go.
Good graphics so users can engage with the program multiple times a week. Customizable settings in different aspects of games. Equipped rooms for VR activities or specialized machines.
There is no certainty of how popular VR machines would be among gym users, which is why building the technology into existing machines or adapting it to work with them would most likely be the first step. That means only simple movements would be possible at first, therefore providing a low engagement level, and higher restrictions for use of space.
One of the benefits of engaging in sports is giving your brain a rest from intellectual activity. In modern times it also allows us to take a break from technology and do a digital detox. But would you be able to rewire your brain during exercise when you’re just jumping from one technology to another? Unless you are really good at self-discipline and have a healthy balance in your life activities, you can easily slip into a trap. At the same time people are already on their phones while using half of the gym machines, so would it make a huge difference anyway?
STriVR Labs creator of VR experiences in sports already works with big clients likes the NFL, NBA, NHL and WNBA organizations creating virtual games of football, basketball, hockey and others that even include virtual practices with favorite teams.
VR app Holofit by Holodia offers to immerse you into various landscapes and challenges while exercising at your gym’s stationary machines. VirZOOM’s goes even further by creating sensory bikes which allow you to connect your VR exercise experience with the machine and be fully immersed in the world, so if you are riding a horse in your virtual world it would not only look like it, but feel like it as well.
Virtual competitions and players selections for real sports teams or schools.
VR can become a great tool for field training of multi-discipline specialists such as soldiers. The uses of the VR technology in all of the above industries can be combined in complicated experiences of life situations and dangerous environments that are a requirement of being in a soldier. Military specialists rely heavily on physical and psychological training. VR can prepare them to make life or death decisions in stressful situations, help to familiarize with an enemy military base or defuse a bomb. It can potentially decrease the costs of some existing military training programs, and lower the number of injuries during them. It could become one of the most effective and least risky ways to train soldiers.
Accumulating the positive advantages of VR in various disciplines and applying them to create individual multi-layered scenarios, such as releasing hostages or storming an enemy base, would at the same time accumulate all of the problems and costs that come with each discipline. For the VR to work well in the military field it would as in medicine field, require multiple tests and research to be done, and tested with real soldiers.
Since the military’s job involves dealing with the lives of real people, there are also many ethical dilemmas that would have to be overcome, like how far the training can go. How would dealing with the lives of virtual people affect things when it comes to dealing with those in real life?
It’s hard to list all of the simulators that already exist in the field: flight, combat flight, vehicle and shooting target simulators to name a few. In South Korea, DoDAAM, the creator of an automated gun turret, has a suite of different VR programs, one of which is a parachute-jumping simulator.
According to James Blake, the Army’s program executive officer for simulation, training and instrumentation, the VR training for soldiers has been effective for a while now and it even includes soldiers using their own personal avatars.
Training police, undercover work, interrogations, psychological tests for potential recruits.
To summarize, we can say that VR technology still has a way to go before it becomes mainstream and reaches into all areas of our lives. Starting with the quality of image, and stimulation of senses to standardization of equipment and determining the effects and means of the medium on human beings. We are still coping with problem of cellphone and social media addiction and its negative effects on human brain and behavior. So maybe we should sort that out first, and avoid our past mistakes by gathering more knowledge on what to expect from any new technology and making it accessible, before using it in our daily lives.
If you’d like to learn more about how we at Omega-R are using VR check out our website http://www.omega-vr.us
By Natalia Doster
Bibliography: Opposing View Points Series “Virtual Reality”, editor Susan Henneberg, 2017
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