For decades now virtual reality (VR) has dangled on the fringes of technology without ever truly achieving accepted mainstream adoption or commercial success. But according to Citigroup analyst Kota Ezawa, 2016 will be the year that VR finally gains widespread recognition and approval. By 2019 the VR market is expected to top $200 billion after accounting for hardware, networks, and software and content. And with numbers like that it’s no wonder the emerging market has attracted the attention of more than just the gaming community. Virtual reality headsets are now being used and developed for many different industries as a way of training people or offering new ways to perform tasks and experience things.
Here are 12 exciting ways that VR technology is being utilized outside the gaming industry.
There are a lot of people who think that movies, rather than games, are going to be the killer app for VR headsets. Oculus has already started poaching talent from Pixar for its very own virtual reality film studio so they can start making movies that deeply immerse viewers in the storytelling experience. VR movies will be like having your very own private theater that places you inside the movie itself with entrancing imagery and sound effects. However, since traditional filmmaking techniques could be disorienting in a VR setting, animators and cinematographers will likely have to come up new methods of framing shots and transitioning between scenes to maximize engagement. Regardless of these challenges, the future of movies should be very interesting if Hollywood and indie film makers decide to embrace VR whole heartedly.
11. Live Events
For sports fans, companies like LiveLike and NextVR could be real game changers. LiveLike is a VR platform that has built a virtual stadium to bring the thrill of game-day stadium experiences to the comfort of your living room. NextVR has even bigger aspirations. The Laguna Beach-based company wants become the Netflix of virtual reality by making VR just as mainstream as streaming movies and TV shows is today. They made waves in October after creating an app that live streamed the first game of the NBA season straight from the sidelines. After the demonstration, they drew investments from Comcast and Time Warner that raised over $30 million for continued development. NextVR is also planning to virtual reality to transport users to stadium events like Cirque du Soleil and big ticket concerts.
Imagine being able to see the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Gallery all in one culture-filled afternoon. Virtual reality is aiming to make that possibility now that a number of museums have started collaborating with software developers to create virtual spaces where people can tour the museums’ famous collections. Last year, the British Museum in London provided a virtual-reality weekend and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City made some of its collections viewable virtually through Google Cardboard — enabling anyone with a smartphone and Cardboard VR headset to browse the museum.
For decades judges and jury member have had to rely on grainy, 2D photographs to identify individuals and evaluate crime scenes. But seeing a crime in 3D could give them a much more complete visualization of how events played out over time in a given space. In 2014, researchers at the University of Zurich published a paper examining the potential use of the Oculus Rift to realistically reconstruct events and scenarios discussed at trials. Their findings concluded that the use of interactive technology like VR headsets made it easier for people to understand the details of a case and make informed decisions regarding a persons suspected innocence or guilt.
8. Military Training
For years the U.S. military has been using virtual reality simulators to train soldiers for deployment. Through the use of special non-commercial developer platforms troops are placed in game-like combat simulations where teams can practice working together and using tactical equipment in accurately replicated 3D environments. The immersive aspect provided by VR headsets provides a vital training element by capturing the full attention of trainees so the lessons and skills they learn are more easily retained and recalled.
The latest industry looking to exploit VR technology is the travel business. According to analysts from the tourism market research firm Phocuswright, the biggest opportunity involves helping consumers make decisions about where they want to travel. Having the ability to explore locations and resorts from an immersive first-person perspective can be especially valuable for destinations that might not have a top-tier attraction or much name recognition. By providing people with a virtual tour, travellers will practically be able experience everything a holiday destination has to offer before booking their trip. In early 2016, Matoke Tours, a niche African travel operator, launched an app that functions a lot like a virtual travel brochure, featuring 360 degree videos of six Ugandan tourist attractions that involve experiences ranging from hot air balloon rides to close encounters with domestic wildlife. Ascape is a free app for the iPhone that offers similar virtual tours of locations such as Berlin, San Francisco and Botswana.
Hotel operators are also using VR devices to provide more experiences for their guests. Last September, Marriott Hotels launched the “VRoom Service“, allowing guests to borrow a VR device and experience immersive stories where the users can visit places like Beijing, Chile or Rwanda.
Wouldn’t it be great if, after a long stressful day at work, you could just transport yourself to a calm, relaxing beach where all your troubles seem to instantly melt away? With the Guided Meditation VR software, users can out on an Oculus headset and become immersed in a variety of soothing environments. Vision and hearing are primary senses, and debasing them offers compelling evidence to your brain that you are actually occupying an entirely different space. Guided Meditation uses this aspect to great effect, and makes it easier than ever to get a little breathing space from your worldly woes.
Virtual-reality tech could also provide a safe environment for patients suffering from phobias to come in contact with the things they fear, while remaining in a safe, controlled environment. In a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it was shown that this kind of VR exposure therapy was effective when used on a group of war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Healthcare providers have been some of the earliest adopters of virtual reality. In the past, the technology has been used in skills training, surgery simulation, robotic surgery, and phobia treatment. VR allows healthcare professionals to practice new skills and refresh existing ones in a safe environment without posing any risk to patients. Virtual-reality simulations, such as those created by Surgical Theater and Conquer Mobile, use real diagnostic images from CAT scans and ultrasounds to create incredibly detailed 3D models of a patient’s anatomy. Surgeons can use these virtual models to determine the safest and most efficient way to locate tumors, make surgical incisions, and carry out complicated procedures. Furthermore, virtual reality could serve as an engaging and effective tool for rehabilitation. In Europe, a company called MindMaze is assisting patients suffering from brain injuries by using an immersive virtual-reality therapy that helps them regain motor and cognitive function faster than with traditional physical therapy. According to the company, the virtual exercises and real-time feedback in MindMaze are made to feel like games and help motivate patients to practice the activities they’ll need to perform in everyday life.
4. Automotive Manufacturing
Enormous sums of money are spent on research and development in the automotive industry. Virtual reality allows for companies to test new designs in various scenarios and get a feel for a products performance even before a prototype has been created.
In Ford’s Immersion Lab in Dearborn, Michigan employees can put on a VR headset and examine every nook and cranny of a car before it’s manufactured. The technology links directly to Ford’s Autodesk computer aided design (CAD) system and allows engineers to scrutinize different design elements such as the engine or dashboard, and identify potential issues before they become complications, or worse, result in a costly recall.
At this year’s CES, NASA used VR to share with the public the experience of being on board a number of different space vessels. Attendees go the chance to see what an astronaut does when they do things like climb into the new Orion capsule, which is scheduled for completion in 2018.
Better yet, by combining the Oculus Rift with motion-sensing hardware from the Xbox One’s Kinect 2 sensor, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory devised a method for controlling a robotic arm through the operator’s motions and gestures. It’s thought that the approach could one day be used to manipulate rovers or other instruments located millions of miles away from earth.
An advanced simulation was also created using a Virtuix Omni treadmill and VR headset running software designed to prepare astronauts for a Mars surface landing.
2. Shopping and E-Commerce
Trillenium is a start-up that creates virtual stores for brands. Their aim is to merge the experience of real-life shopping with the convenience of e-commerce. The app improves on traditional online shopping by providing virtual tours of entire stores. Rather than looking through pages of flat text and pictures on a website, users can engage in a real-time shopping experience and even invite friends to join them. Since its announcement in 2015, the app has grabbed the attention of some big name retailers including online British fashion and beauty store ASOS. Shoppers can tour the virtual store by focusing their gaze on various items, look at products from different angles and socialize with other patrons. Trillenium is confident there will be no shortage of companies looking to get in on the virtual shopping experience. According to the London-based market research Mintel, British online retail sales are expected to increase 64 percent to 71.2 billion pounds ($110 billion) between now and 2020.
In 2015, Google launched its Expeditions Pioneer program in which thousands of schools were introduced to a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take their class on a virtual trip: Asus smartphones, a tablet for the teacher to direct the tour, a router that allows Expeditions to run without an internet connection, and a library of over 100 virtual trips that can transport students anywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the Great Wall of China.
New platforms like LectureVR and AltspaceVR are also hoping to bring new teaching possibilities to educators of all sorts by providing them the technology to create avatars and conduct “multi-player” sessions with an unparalleled level of interaction and socialization. Toyota is already using Oculus headsets as part of its TeenDrive365 campaign designed to educate teenagers and parents about the dangers of distracted driving. The company believes the immersive experiences offered by VR headsets have the potential to revolutionize all fields of education.