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“It’s just a gimmick.” That’s what people said about the Wiimote, the Kinect, and more recently Google Glass – and that’s what they’re saying about the Oculus Rift. If you’re one of them, I implore you to reconsider because the Rift is already changing the world.

Though the device has huge implications for the gaming industry, its potential stretches way beyond games. The Oculus Rift offers unprecedented levels of simulation that can be useful in nearly every core industry. It may even prove more revolutionary than the smart phone.

For Remote Interactions

The magic of Oculus Rift – and virtual reality in general – is how it grants us the ability to be present in another world. That concept can be taken and augmented by the global interconnectedness of the 21st Century to provide for some mind-blowing experiences. In some ways, the Oculus Rift can be used to project oneself to places that may not be reachable otherwise.

Virtual tourism. When Google Street View debuted in 2007, it amazed everybody. It was the natural next step after satellite map technology, and the Oculus Rift will drive that evolution one step further. Rather than simple street views, imagine virtual recreations of entire Earth locations. Imagine being able to explore those locations in real-time down to the finest details.

This is great news for those who are physically unable to travel (e.g. due to physical injury) or limited by the financial costs of travel. It could also allow us to explore places of the world that are inherently dangerous (like remote jungle areas) or impossible to reach (such as mountain ranges or undersea caverns).

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Patient care. It can be a real pain for incapacitated or unstable patients to constantly travel back and forth to doctors and therapists. At first, the Oculus Rift could provide a way for doctors and patients to meet regularly for sessions, but as the tech advances, it could even allow for remote examinations.

For Education

oculus-rift-in-the-classroom

Classrooms. While online courses 4 Tips To Finish A Boring Online Course By Being A More Engaged Learner 4 Tips To Finish A Boring Online Course By Being A More Engaged Learner Online courses are curses in disguise. In many ways, they're tough and boring. How do you complete such a dull experience without going insane? We do have a few tips that might help. Read More are nothing new, they still have a long way to go before they’ll be seen as equal to live classrooms. The Oculus Rift might be the key to providing a “better” environment for remote learners. Combined with the aforementioned virtual tourism, classrooms could embark on high-tech field trips to foreign lands for a fraction of the cost.

Creative exploration. The Rift opens up dozens of new ways for children to explore creative education. Educational Minecraft Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Parents and teachers are often wary of letting kids spend time playing video games, but a number of developers are introducing mods of popular games into the classroom and re-imagining how video games can support... Read More is gaining ground as a viable teaching tool, currently utilized in 40+ countries. How much would the experience be improved if children were equipped with these devices and allowed to explore in true hands-on fashion?

Special learning. The Rift has also shown to be an effective tool in situations that involve special needs children or kids with social anxiety:

“In the case of the Oculus Rift, there is a higher level of presence or telepresence in the psychological experience of the medium, which is good for learning because it makes people pay attention and directs attention in ways that are more deliberate.

You can use the mechanics in this world to induce attention which leads to learning.”

Rabindra Ratan, Professor

For Training and Simulation

The simulation aspect of the Oculus Rift can be put to use as a tool for training. It’s one of the more obvious non-gaming applications for the device, mostly because non-VR simulations already exist in many fields, but the quality of simulation is what’s important here.

Medicine. Modern surgery simulations are actually quite sophisticated already; in fact, they’re so sophisticated that the field doesn’t actually need a device like the Oculus Rift. However, the Rift’s price tag (~$350 USD) is extremely appealing, especially as a tool for showing student surgeons the perspective of a surgery-in-progress.

As far as Oculus demos go, the surgery isn’t a particularly advanced use of virtual reality. It’s basically just a widescreen video playing in front of your eyes, with the ability to lean in for a closer view of the action.

But compared to just watching the video on a computer screen, the Oculus video is arguably better at blocking distractions. Plus, it shows you exactly what the operating surgeon was seeing during real-world procedures.

HT: PCWorld

For Mental Therapy

Anxiety. Exposure therapy can be helpful for patients who suffer from crippling anxiety or phobias, but this kind of therapy isn’t always practical or safe. However, some therapists have been working with the Oculus Rift to improve these methods:

“Anxiety disorders and phobias are a real problem that affects one in 60 people in the US. Studies have proved that virtual reality therapy can be as effective as in-vivo exposure – being exposed to real heights, for instance – or imaginary exposure.

The person doesn’t have to be exposed to the real stressor, which is usually a barrier to entering treatment; the person can disengage immediately from the situation should it become unbearable, and the environment and conditions can be structured and tailored to each case.

Up until now, the cost of the hardware to enable these types of treatments has been prohibitive outside academic or well-funded environments. With the advent of Oculus Rift, this barrier will be completely erased, opening the door to independent professionals, mental health organizations and institutions that were previously unable to use this technology.”

Fernando Tarnogol, Psychologist

Military. Here’s another application for soldiers which hinges on an issue that’s been a hot topic for the past decade: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment involves a complex mixture of counseling and therapy but the Oculus Rift has proven useful for accelerating the recovery process.

With the Rift, virtual reality can be used to reconstruct traumatic events in a controlled environment to help patients confront and overcome their symptoms.

For Architecture and Modeling

While the exploration of fantasy environments is an obvious selling point for the Oculus Rift, some are using the device to explore environments before they’re constructed in the real world.

Architecture. A lot of resources are expended when designing and prototyping buildings, but the Oculus Rift allows architects to build and explore their creations in a virtual environment without the need for any physical resources. As it turns out, this can be extremely convenient.

Modeling. Virtual sculpting is another way in which the Rift provides an outlet for creative exploration. As the above video shows, the virtual environment allows for a unique approach to 3D modeling, which has implications for digital art (though it probably won’t catch on until precision and workflow are improved).

To take it one step further, the resulting models could be used in conjunction with 3D printers 5 Amazing 3D Printing Applications You Have to See to Believe 5 Amazing 3D Printing Applications You Have to See to Believe What would you do with a 3D printer? If the people developing these applications have anything to say about it, you might be surprised. Read More to turn virtual sculptures into actual sculptures.

For Impossible Experiences

If nothing else, the Oculus Rift could simply work as an augmented visual medium. Imagine the kind of events that are currently televised or projected onto screens: sports, graduations, award ceremonies, security footage, etc.

Instead of watching a flat image of a football game, what if you could view the action from the sidelines without ever having to leave your home? What about first-row perspective of a concert or award show? Basically, the experience of any real-time event could be made better by watching it through the Rift.

Or how about this for real-time streaming: you pair up with a member of the opposite sex, both equip Oculus Rift headsets, and each explores the other’s perspective? That’s the idea behind the Gender Swap Experiment and it’s certainly an interesting take on virtual reality. Check out the above video to see what it’s about.

Do you still think Oculus Rift is just a gimmick? Or do you think there are more cool ideas that we’ve yet to discover? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credit: Industrial workers Via Shutterstock, Woman Wearing Oculus Rift Via Shutterstock

  1. Thomas Moore (the saint)
    May 3, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Oculus Rift can be used for things beyond beyond, if you know what i mean ( ?° ?? ?°)

  2. rbhebron
    December 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

    ..right now, VR is still a single purpose role playing device.. at most, its an accessory to your gaming gear.. for education, training and movie watching & entertainment, its the best gear, since its eliminates the distractions of the ambient world.. but for healthcare, architecture, engineering, industry.. its still is a long shot.. unless VR can evolve from a single role playing device to a multi-role using device, its use will be quite limited.. forget the hype, look at its current and future applications, and you will realize that VR is just another gear for your gaming gear..

    however, AR or augmented reality applications are more suited for multi-role use.. since you can superimpose VR with reality, it becomes a multi-role device.. microsofts Hololens is a great example.. this product will sweep the real world beyond just VR.. hopefully, occulus and the rest of the high-profile VR guys will soon realize these..

    • Scott Juhnke
      March 15, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      We use it successfully in Design, Architecture and home building here in Minnesota.
      In many different roles.

  3. Apps Farm
    September 26, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Interesting VR classroom experiment focused on short sessions.
    The report is detailed and provides tangible results in my opinion.
    http://exopclab.blogspot.ca/2015/09/experimeting-virtual-reality-in.html

  4. vijay
    November 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    even if you should give a etimate, what do you think it would be... I just need a near about... I´m trying to find a bit more about this, I have a client who is intersted in this for his buliding...

  5. vijay
    November 24, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Anyone know how much it will cost to make a virtual tour of a appartment for Oculus-Rift

    • Joel Lee
      November 25, 2014 at 5:52 am

      It's an interesting question but I think it's too early to speculate. I couldn't name a price point even if I wanted to!

      • Scott Juhnke
        March 15, 2016 at 6:04 pm

        We give a sq foot price for new construction. Simonson Design Studios in Minnesota. We can come up with a price for you all if you want to give us more details.

  6. Maryon Jeane
    October 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I've always loved and been a proponent of the idea of virtual reality and have envisaged all of the above and more. It seems ludicrous that we move our bodies around the planet day after day, wasting the limited resources of that planet, when what we actually want is to interact with our minds and parts of us which are not necessarily anchored to the body.

    The one caveat is that we are still, at base, rather primitive and our minds do have problems sorting fact and 'reality' from imagined scenarios and 'presented' scenarios (such as by way of film, for example). As someone who suffered depression and something very like PTSD in adolescence from reading some particular books (I stayed well away from horror movies, hallucinogenic drugs etc. for that reason), I would be very wary indeed of allowing vulnerable people total exposure to virtual reality - and we all know how teenagers love to experiment with the boundaries of experience.

    However, Pandora's jar is open and we can only hope...

    • Joel Lee
      October 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Very good point. Oculus Rift is helpful in treating PTSD, but I hadn't considered the scenarios where the Rift could contribute to causing PTSD. Online trolling and online bullying are two topics that may be amplified beyond control if an Oculus-driven virtual world becomes as big as Facebook. Putting up with trolls/bullies in VR would be a massive pain.

  7. Finnen
    October 24, 2014 at 6:19 am

    I'm very excited about remote interactions and social aspects, even more than gaming itself. That is partly why I wasn't that mad when Facebook got Oculus. Imagine how great it would be if you could travel together with your friends as avatars through some great jungle, mountains or simply hangout in the weirdest places imaginable :D Sure, there are always people saying "why would you meet in virtual world when you can meet in real one?" but the thing is, meeting in RL is not always possible because of time / work / kids / other things. It's easier to just wear Oculus and hang out together for an hour or so without having to go through all the traffic in the streets. It's also not always possible to meet people in RL - I have lots of friends from other parts of the world and it's very unlikely I will meet them because of the distance and money involved in such a travel. And finally, as Joel said, it opens possibility to see things together that you wouldn't see in real life - who wouldn't like to hang out (literally) with friends in the middle of space and have a casual chat? :D Just... amazing :) Can't wait for it, so much fun.

    Education also seems wonderful. I would like to go back to learning Japanese after I graduated but my job is taking most of my time and learning by myself is not as productive and fun (let's be honest - you need to learn language by talking to other people). While I don't really have much strength and time to sign myself up for some classes right after work hours, I'd LOVE to just wear Oculus and enter virtual classroom where I can see other people's avatars and make conversations with teacher. 1.5 hour class and then I take off my "helmet" and I'm back in my place - no need for waiting another 1.5 hour in traffic. It just offers possibility to saves sooo much time so you can do more and still have a free time for yourself :)

    • Joel Lee
      October 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Lots of good points, Finnen! In particular, I think "it's just easier to wear Oculus Rift" is going to be one of the strongest motivations for people to adopt (as long as developers can produce Oculus-compatible software that's worthwhile).

  8. Gerry
    October 24, 2014 at 1:36 am

    The headline refers to ways people ARE USING Oculus rift, but the article is mostly about the woulds and coulds of how possibly people might someday maybe use it. It's an interesting topic, but the headline is misleading.

  9. Slashee the Cow
    October 23, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Don't forget trying to fix peoples' eyesight!
    (For certain problems, of course)
    diplopiagame.com
    (Full disclosure: I did back that on Indiegogo)

  10. DonGateley
    October 23, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    You've hit the nail on the head. Gaming may have been the initial motivator because of the size of the existing audience but gaming is only the top layer of atoms at the tip of the iceberg of VR application.

    • Joel Lee
      October 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      It's going to be exciting to see how many innovative uses the Rift picks up in coming years. Do you have any speculations?

    • DonGateley
      October 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      @Joel: a simple example of what I'm thinking of is an unguided tour of the Temple in Jerusulem at around 0 C.E. complete with detail, artifacts and people. Reza Aslan does an amazing job describing what may have existed in his fascinating book "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" and I've been thinking about a VR fleshing-out of that description ever since. I wouldn't terribly surprised if Aslan could be recruited to assist such an effort.

      That's just an example of something that would get a few dollars from me.

      As I was writing my first post I got to thinking about creating a reddit/r/vrconcepts or some such thing where people could post their imaginings. Implementers and tool masters aren't always the best imaginers and this is _all_ about imagination. I wonder if such a subreddit would attract any interest. It also might be a good place to match up imaginers with makers. (I'd love to find a place for doing that with smartphone app ideas too.)

    • DonGateley
      October 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Oh, the concept class that would cover my imagining above might be Anthroplogical Tours. There are many such places I'd dearly love to visit.

  11. Rama
    October 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    @Joel Lee - Have you forgotten how people were cheated? http://kotaku.com/oculus-kickstarter-backers-are-demanding-refunds-1552041702

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1523379957/oculus-rift-step-into-the-game They sold out, but still kept the money people pledged to help this product grow.. instead saying they were donations.

    When you ask people for money, then flip and sell out for $2 billion (USD), it follows that you should return the paltry $2.4USD (which is pocket change compared to the $2 billion).

    Why are you giving the Oculus Rift product free advertising on Mashable? (Or are they paying for the advertising?)

    • Joel Lee
      October 23, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Hi Rama. The issue is that Kickstarter backers are NOT investors. By backing a project on Kickstarter, you are simply showing your support of the project through a monetary contribution, which IS essentially a donation. For this reason, I don't think Oculus has an obligation to return the funding that they raised through Kickstarter.

      Oculus Rift did not pay me anything to write this article. Also, we are MakeUseOf, not Mashable. :)

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