Virtual reality is taking over the world of gaming. With many big franchises including VR options in their latest games, and an increasing number of affordable headsets, it’s quickly becoming a mainstay of the gaming community. But there’s a lot more to VR than blasting through space more realistically.
Here are eight places virtual reality is making a difference outside of your game room.
The HumanSim line of simulations helps train medical professionals. From sedation to combat trauma to triage, the HumanSim “games” put trainees in tough situations. Simulating the stress of a critically injured patient isn’t easy, but virtual reality helps doctors, nurses, and medics become more immersed in the training.
By combining real-world environments with advanced physiology engines, these simulations give medical professionals the chance to practice difficult, stressful procedures in an environment that more accurately simulates what they’ll face in the real world.
Defusing a roadside bomb is much more difficult when an enemy patrol is just over the next hill. Bandaging a wound might be a simple process, but when bullets are screaming overhead and mortar shells are raining down, it’s difficult to concentrate even on simple tasks.
These are the sorts of situations where virtual reality can make a huge difference in military training. Learning about various activities in a classroom and actually living them out in VR are totally different things.
Virtual Heroes, the company behind the HumanSim games, is working on a series of expansive war simulation programs. By combining advanced video game technology (like the Unreal Engine) with their VR prowess, preparing for battle is starting to look very different from its incarnation in recent years.
Landing a parachute, sniping targets from distance, and post-attack reconnaissance are all being taught with VR. It takes the term “tactical shooter” to an entirely different level.
Ford has been using its VR-enabled immersion lab for several years to allow employees to experience a car before it’s been built. Looking at surprisingly minute details (like the placement of interior lights) can give engineers a better idea of customer experience. And by getting this type of feedback before prototypes have even been built, Ford can update its designs more quickly than ever.
Range Rover also uses virtual reality in its design process. A system called CAVE (Computer-Aided Virtual Environment) lets users look at and even interact with vehicles before prototypes have been designed. Interior configuration, storage space, aerodynamics, and crash performance can all be tested in virtual reality without taking the time or money to build a model.
Burn rehabilitation is a painful process. Wound cleaning, physical therapy, and skin stretching are all excruciating — and even painkilling drugs aren’t completely effective. But a virtual reality game that lets burn victims throw snowballs at penguins while listening to Paul Simon? That’s effective. In fact, MRI studies showed that not only do patients report less pain, but their brains actually register less pain.
It’s not just physical pain that VR helps, though. Exposure-based therapy (EBT) is a common method for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers. EBT encourages the patient to talk through their experience, essentially reliving it and learning to cope.
Virtual reality allows patients to come much closer to reliving the experience. And while studies have been equivocal, a 2015 meta-analysis indicated that the technology is promising and that users of VR in EBT have high satisfaction rates.
A fascinating game called Deep uses a custom controller to allow players to control their exploration of the sea with breathing techniques. The benefit? It teaches them yogic breathing that helps relieve stress and anxiety, giving them the tools they need to deal with anxiety attacks.
As you might expect, VR is proving to be a great tool for educators around the world. Unimersiv, a company that offers educational VR experiences, lets students tour ancient Rome, explore the International Space Station, check out the Acropolis, explore the Titanic, and more.
The possibilities are absolutely endless. Immersive VR Education offers a simulation of the Apollo 11 mission. Several companies are working on astronomy apps that let students visit the planets of our solar system and the stars beyond. Explore the human body. Watch three-dimensional, 360-degree documentaries.
If any sector stands to gain as much as gaming from virtual reality, it’s education.
Architecture and Urban Planning
It’s not easy to imagine what a building will look like when it’s still in the planning stage. Drawings and renderings from artists can help, but what if you could actually walk around the inside and outside of the building to get a feel for how the angles interact, how it relates to the skyline, or which types of wood best suit the walls? VR in architecture is already giving people the chance to do these things.
From customizing a home before it’s built to seeing exactly where the sun will shine through windows, VR for architecture is a powerful visualization tool.
The same is true of urban planning. The city of Minneapolis recently partnered with the University of Minnesota to employ virtual reality technologies in planning the redevelopment of an area of downtown Minneapolis.
Being immersed in a 3D simulation of a newly planned city gives an entirely different view than a simple model.
Not sure where to go on your vacation? VR lets you experience a few different destinations in short order so you can make a decision. Travelers can visit New York, Rhodes, and Cyprus in Thomas Cook’s experimental Try Before You Fly demos.
And, of course, VR users can travel around the world to visit far-away places that they’d never be able to go. Maybe it’s too expensive. Or the political situation is prohibitive. Maybe you just want to see a bunch of things that aren’t actually in the same place in the real world, like Google’s collection of famous art. Whatever the reason, virtual reality will get you there.
Always pushing the envelope of modern technology, it’s no surprise that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is using virtual reality. From the design phase to actual exploration, VR is helping scientists there gain a better understanding of the universe. Engineers can design new craft in VR, for example, giving them a better view of the actual size of the object.
In 2016, Jeff Norris, leader of mission operations at JPL, told Engadget that using mixed reality in the construction of spacecraft allowed engineers to use their “natural abilities” in the design process. These abilities are much more difficult to apply to blueprints.
And beyond the design process, VR can aid scientists in exploration. Back in 2013, NASA was using the Oculus Rift and Xbox Kinect to control a robot from afar. While the transmission delays of several minutes to Mars detract from the feeling of being there, the environmental immersion certainly makes for a more holistic experience of what’s happening.
They even hooked up a treadmill to let scientists walk around the surface of Mars around the rover.
A New (Virtual) Reality
The uses of VR beyond gaming are nearly infinite. From education to engineering, and from travel to training, the way we experience the world is changing. In many ways, VR is accelerating the processes we go through every day. Whether it’s increasing the efficacy of learning to perform surgery or helping scientists design spacecraft, VR is changing the way we experience the universe.
What do you see for the future of VR? What will we be using it for next? Share your predictions in the comments below!