The virtual reality (VR) concept was first introduced in 2014, and it elicited a massive reaction from consumers. Just the idea of being able to place a headset on your face and enter a new world, escaping our own realities, was huge. It took 3D to a level we hadn’t experienced before. Everyone, not just video game lovers, were interested in experiencing this new reality that promised to be mind-blowing. Now, five years have passed since the big virtual reality boom. Some people may have tried it out several times but became bored. Others may be die-hard enthusiasts who still buy new games as soon as they are released. There are also those who have never got around to trying it out, either due to skepticism, lack of spending money to purchase the device, or lack of interest. Now that it is 2019, it is time to take a look at what’s happening with virtual reality now. Is it simply another fading fad, or is it finally on the rise and getting bigger and better than ever?
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The Oculus VR was the first virtual reality headset to emerge, and we were told it was going to be life-changing. It was founded by Palmer Luckey, who was only twenty-two years old at the time. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook paid $3 billion to bring it to market. Then Google, HTC, Sony, and Samsung hopped along for the ride, creating their own headsets. In the following years, more big companies took on the concept, but many failed because the sales just weren’t there. These included IMAX, Disney, and Google’s VR film studio. It seems as though part of the problem was that everyone was trying to make VR too big too fast. It was thought that it would explode in a matter of months, but reality hit and it looked like its success was actually years in the making. Then there was the problem with the headsets themselves. Some consumers found them bulky and uncomfortable. There are pesky wires, you need an internet connection, and you don’t have unlimited freedom when it comes to motion. Beyond that, the device will put you back hundreds of dollars, so those who have already paid top dollar for a PlayStation or Xbox may not be able to justify spending more for another gaming system.
Though there has been some failure in the past few years, there is still hope for VR. Early this year, the Oculus Quest was released. While it will still put you back $399, it is said to be the very first all-in-one headset. You don’t need a connection to a PC, and you don’t have to deal with any annoying wires. You can turn around 360 degrees and walk in any direction they wish. There are already fifty different games that are offered, and one of the games, Beat Saber, has been bought by over 1 million people. Furthermore, Zuckerberg wants to take VR beyond just gaming. He wants to make it more of a social experience. Sean Liu, the FB director of VR product management, stated, “We’re really thinking about pushing the notion of how we bring you and your avatar into VR. How do we allow you to emote and have social expression to really connect together and do different activities?” Imagine being able to use your VR headset to go anywhere around the globe and meet people from different walks of life. You can not only communicate with them through voice and facial expression, but you can also do countless different activities together. The thought is mind-boggling.
We can go even further beyond the gaming and social aspects of VR. According to CNN Business, the same kind of technology that is used for VR is now being utilized to discover new drugs and fight disease. Scientists are able to visualize the structure of complex molecules, which then helps them create drugs that can combat certain diseases. Instead of looking at molecules on a computer screen, and having to drag them around with a mouse, they can physically grab the molecule and move it around, decreasing the chance of error. They have already started developing a new drug that will treat addiction. VR has other practical applications in the medical field as well, such as simulating human anatomy for medical training and being used in preparation for surgery.
Now that you’re contemplating the idea of VR being used in hospital settings, let’s take that a step further. Imagine you’re a patient in the hospital because you broke a bone playing soccer. Maybe your grandparent is living in a nursing home. Some hospitals are now using VR as a distraction for their patients when they are in painful, uncomfortable, or boring situations. During less-than-desirable procedures, patients tend to close their eyes and try to pretend they are somewhere more relaxing or fun. Now, they can put on a headset and escape reality. Just last year, it was reported that VR has been used during childbirth, chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and wound treatment. It has been implemented by Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Center in Los Angeles.
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Even the military has adopted VR as a means for training. The Army, Navy, and Air Force use VR to train soldiers for combat situations, including flight simulation, medic training, virtual boot camps, battlefield simulation, and vehicle simulation, according to the Virtual Reality Society of the UK. While this type of training cannot substitute real-life training, nor does the military intend it to, it does save time and money, and allows the soldiers to train in dangerous environments without the real risk of getting hurt. The U.S. military has also begun using VR to simulate realistic battlefields in cities in the U.S. and North Korea. This is huge, because soldiers can now be virtually placed in areas around the world they have never been. They can become familiar with the terrain before ever actually setting foot there. The new VR platform even has the ability to fill the battlefields with millions of artificial intelligence agents, while before they only had the capacity to insert tens or hundreds of thousands. VR is taking military training to the next level.
The VR world may have seemed stagnant for a few years after its initial boom, but it looks like it is now gaining speed. 2019 seems to be the year that VR goes back on the rise, but not just in the gaming world. Not only is there hope that VR will bring different parts of the world closer by allowing us to socialize with others on a whole new level, but VR has found a home in hospitals, medical settings, and the military. Maybe someday we will see VR in our education systems as well. So, don’t put VR on the back burner just yet. This technology is a game-changer, and maybe a life-changer.
Amanda Woodman is 30 years old and has a Bachelors Degree in English. She is a full-time bartender. You will most likely find her at her Crossfit gym, an obstacle course race, or a concert. She hopes to be a senior editor for a book publishing company someday, and maybe even write a novel of her own.