Virtual Reality for the Real World
Posted on February 22, 2017
5 min read
Its immersive nature and ability to transport the mind elsewhere has seen virtual reality (VR) take the entertainment space by storm, but just what purpose does it have beyond play for us? Rick Molinsky takes a look.
There are already 43 million active VR users worldwide and, by 2020, the market is expected to hit a cool $30 billion, but to do so, VR needs to gain a reputation beyond solely gaming. With more affordable headsets in the market its purpose has shifted from transporting users into fantasy worlds, to improving our own real world experiences in a move set to see VR become a familiar feature in our personal space. It’s been a major focus for a huge mix of brands and organisations, with the results steadily emerging across every area of our lives.
Transforming travel is Marriott Hotels’ 4D virtual journey, Teleporter, and travel story series, VR Postcards, which use a combination of 360° imagery, immersive storytelling and that all-important VR headset to give customers a preview of their next potential holiday destination. Both experiences enable customers to travel thousands of miles in minutes, whether it’s to road test a half-hour honeymoon in Maui or get a taste of Africa by kicking back with an ice cream in Rwanda.
IKEA too has capitalised on the notion of ‘try before you buy’ with its VR Kitchen Experiences. Giving people the chance to trial their dream kitchen before committing to the reality, customers can alter the visuals to view the space from a child’s perspective allowing parents to spot any hidden dangers, in a play that takes the trend of personalisation yet another step further.
The ongoing development of these experiences shows just how VR could revolutionise our buying decisions, as it becomes integrated across the full spectrum of communications tools, bringing everything from TV ads through to printed brochures, quite literally, to life.
Google, on the other hand, is focusing its VR efforts on creating ‘money can’t buy’ experiences. Bringing context to the classroom, its Expeditions tool takes students on interactive field trips around the world – and beyond. Think voyages to Mars and similarly stellar travels back in time, designed specifically to act as a physical extension of classroom learnings, with heaps of relevant educational materials built into the 360° panoramas.
Gaining serious props in the healthcare industry, VR is being used as a core training tool for medical students. In the first real-time VR surgery, more than 13,000 students watched a live operation through the eyes of the surgeon, while the launch of Alzheimer’s Australia’s Educational Dementia Immersive Experience (EDIE) is being used to offer carers unprecedented insight into dementia. In the multi-sensory experience delivered via the EDIE app and a Google Cardboard, viewers are placed directly in the shoes of a dementia sufferer as they battle the disease’s symptoms, including severe visual distortion, in a bid to complete the seemingly simple journey to the bathroom.
Patients too are benefitting from the application of VR in the care system, with pioneering institutes like Cedars-Sinai Hospital exploring its potential to improve pain levels, reduce recovery periods and lower the overall cost of care. Through the Samsung Gear headset, patients take part in traditionally calming activities, such as painting or swimming, to see whether the experience affects the patient’s overall wellbeing in a positive way.
Such research will likely form the foundations of our future healthcare, opening the door to consultations that take place in virtual surgeries; surgeries that are carried out on virtual patients prior to the real thing, and patients whose recuperation takes place in an environment found to carry the same therapeutic benefits as a hospital, but which swaps the ward for an ocean on the other side of the world.
In the media
In an ever changing media landscape it was only a matter of time before VR was used to bring a totally new perspective to digital storytelling. With video footage now viewed as an essential part of online news stories, VR is the next step on, demonstrating a capacity to place us, the readers, at the heart of breaking international news stories.
Striving not to replace traditional written content, but to add to it, The New York Times’ decision to issue 1 million Google Cardboard headsets to online subscribers back in 2015 set the tone for the role VR will play in journalism moving forwards, causing a ripple effect across the media, which saw the likes of CNN launch a VR specific app, designed for use with Google Daydream.
Photo Credit: The New York Times
And so, while our morning routines may soon involve plugging into a headset as we contemplate the day’s headlines, and our children’s homework may see us join them on a journey into the rainforest, from the comfort of the couch, this impending normalisation of VR is sure to be nothing short of extraordinary.
This is a personal post and is not an endorsement of products or services by Telstra.
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