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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).
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.
Classrooms. While online courses 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 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.
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 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!