Virtual reality has sat on the fringes of business and entertainment for decades, with each new generation predicting a virtual revolution that never quite came. The ‘Sensorama’ of the 1960s and ‘Power Glove’ of the 80s proved too cumbersome, ineffective, and garish to capture the imagination of either consumers or serious investment.
With huge advancements in visual graphics processing, however, VR is now driving innovation across countless industries, from cinematic films and military training to healthcare and real estate. And with trillions of dollars in venture capital behind it, and accessible devices hitting the market, it’s never been a better time to embrace the technology on offer.
We paid a visit to VR World 2017, an annual exhibition and conference exploring the potential of this re-emerging technology. After gleaning insight from a host of international speakers and developers, we’ve returned to give you our glimpse of the future.
Social media will take up even more of your time
Since Facebook’s purchase of Oculus in 2014, pundits have waited eagerly for the social hub’s first VR-compatible product. The main website has supported 360-degree videos for several months now, but only in April of this year did they unveil Facebook Spaces: an interactive app for chatting, playing, and drawing with friends in virtual rooms. The animations are still a little goofy, but walking hand-in-hand with high-definition holograms can’t be too far behind.
Event coverage will get personal
Stalking celebrities will no longer be necessary, as VR cameras let you walk backstage with top Glastonbury acts or stand alongside your favourite athletes in the gym, adding new layers of depth to connecting with fanbases.
With a newly-launched VR app and development studio, broadcaster Sky is also making much of the new technology, letting you track the speed of Tour de France cyclists in real-time, or peer over José Mourinho’s shoulder in Premier League football matches – encapsulating what Creative Director Richard Nockles calls a “beyond VIP” experience.
Real estate will get less real
For those looking to move, rent, or buy in another city (or country), Presenceware’s virtual tours are set to revolutionise the property market – giving 360 tours of residential or commercial properties. Top-rate software designers Foundry, on the other hand, even offer simulated construction projects, meaning you can walk through the kitchen of your future home well before the plot has been developed.
Doing business will never be the same
Touch sensitive holograms are set to overhaul the conference call, allowing businessmen to sit across the table and even shake hands from other ends of the globe – meaning that these digital experiences become more personal than a group phone call could ever be.
And for those in manufacturing, Microsoft’s Hololens visors will let you and your colleagues grapple with 3D holograms of prototype machine parts – giving an idea of the finished product you just can’t get on paper.
Learning might actually be fun
Technology, once the bugbear of phone-confiscating teachers, is being embraced to change the way children and adults learn. Whether you’re exploring physics puzzles in 3D space, diving into simulated volcanoes, or recreating battle scenes in crumbled historical ruins, the intuitive spatial interface of VR makes this style of education more accessible for people of all ages.
The advent of smartphones and social media hugely boosted youth literacy: who knows what widespread VR could do?
Medical training will go fully digital
Haptic feedback sensors are already making waves in the med-tech community, as touch-based controllers recreate the sensations of heat, pressure, and bone density in simulated surgeries. Go Touch VR have trialled a dentistry demo with the technology, while there’s scope for doctors and nurses to practise all sorts of surgical procedures without needing a living patient.
The military is sprinting ahead
Government militias have long used video games as tools for understanding cover-based warfare, as well as cultural sensitivity training for soldiers undertaking tours in the Middle East. Now, with precise movement tracking and Omnideck treadmills (pictured) that allow high-speed sprinting in all directions, large-scale military exercises can be played out in little more than a barracks basement. And that’s just the stuff we know about.
We will enter the Matrix
VR games so far have been limited in scope, as developers slowly learn to master the hardware. For now, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR offer a host of enjoyable demos and experiences – ranging between space exploration, jump-scare horror, and droll office simulators.
But a giant, immersive virtual reality experience seems inevitable, despite fears of ultimately disconnecting from the physical world. Many look to softer alternatives like MR (Mixed Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) to keep us somewhat grounded – either way, our sense of fact and fiction is likely to blur as we seek to enhance the experience of everyday life.