You Can Explore The World With Virtual Reality
I started my Wednesday like I do most Wednesdays; I came into the office, I booted up my computer, and I stared at the computer screen wondering just what I would write my blog post for tomorrow about. Just as I was pulling up Google News in search of inspiration, I was saved by my boss walking into the work area and announcing that he had spent the evening setting up his recently purchased VIVE.
Virtual Reality! I thought to myself. Now there’s a topic! After all, I haven’t really touched on the topic since I first mentioned it back in 2015. What has been happening in the virtual world?
While researchers are still working on the whole touch element of virtual immersion, HTC has focused on eliminating the need for wires with their VIVE Focus. They’re also working on moving into the 8k video resolution content market, which is remarkable as many content creators are still just starting to work with 4k. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s clear that VR technology has been steadily improving. It seems like the equipment set-up might be a little bit unwieldy for cramped apartment dwellers compared to standard gaming consoles, but the quality has definitely reached the point where it’s worth the $400+ price tag.
All things considered, the floating head avatars that represent your friends in Plex VR may be a bit uncanny, but they’re not the weirdest thing you might encounter in the virtual world.
But even if the technology is solid, what else is there to do besides reenacting memes in VRChat?
The media streaming app, Plex, has recently announced a VR feature where you can watch movies with your friends in a virtual space and include interactive objects such as popcorn and cups. That’s right, you can throw virtual popcorn at your friend’s avatar from the comfort of your own living room. You might think I’m being cynical, but I’ve always wanted to have a popcorn fight and never done it because I didn’t want to deal with the mess.
Don’t want to just watch movies? Fable Studios is working on creating interactive stories revolving around a single character. Their story, Wolves in the Walls, is a first step towards creating “virtual personalities,” a concept that feels a bit like cross between an imaginary friend and a household generalized artificial intelligence. When you consider that hologram technology is just starting to emerge as a reality, the possibility of having our own personal Cortana’s is pretty exciting.
But entertainment and gaming purposes are not the only things VR is being used for. As the 2018 Winter Olympics start their approach, the US ski and snowboard team is using virtual reality to train. While it’s hardly the same as running the course in person, transporting the athletes all the way to South Korea isn’t exactly the most feasible option. VR runs of the course, however, gives them a way to take in the landscape and mentally prepare for the competition.
VR is being used for education in other ways as well. Many museums have created virtual tours of their campuses, such as the British Museum in London and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. NASA has also given VR users a glimpse into what it’s like to be an astronaut by creating a virtual tour of the Space Launch System.
The medical industry is also investing in virtual reality, not just to give doctors a chance to practice difficult procedures, but to help patients recover as well. For example, one study found that when patients wore a VR headset displaying soothing scenery during a visit to the dentists, they experienced less pain and stress. Similarly, the VR game “Deep” not only helps reduce stress, but it can reduce anxiety and help users manage panic attacks.
These are only a few examples of the many things being done with virtual reality today. It’s come a long way from the clunky headset of my youth with 16-bit video and limited motion. VR technology has finally become a fully immersive experience that can make you forget that you’re standing in your living room. As peripherals like the Yaw VR become more commonplace, it’ll be interesting to see just how far we can go without leaving home.