Setting the stage for simulation

With abundant applications across the domains of education, medicine, manufacturing and more, virtual reality technology is set to be used virtually everywhere.

Virtual reality (VR) is being talked about everywhere. Many people are putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on this next evolution in human experience, and we have the entertainment industry to thank. It’s the driving force behind the development and deployment of VR.

At this point, it’s gamers who are truly reaping the benefits. Headsets equipped with more than 70 sensors track even the slightest head movement to one-tenth of a degree and replicate it in the virtual world. Room area sensors track your location as you walk around in the real world, reflecting and redirecting your movement within the virtual world. If that isn’t enough, hand controllers and sensors allow you to reach out and touch what only exists in a carefully imagined virtual realm. If you’re watching folks playing in this fantasy world, don’t be surprised to see them duck to avoid a virtual punch, dodge digital bullets, jump across virtual streams and hold objects that aren’t really there. How’s that for a surreal, immersive experience?

That said, there is room for improvement. VR headsets are big and bulky and the equipment still requires physical cables, which can jolt you back into your media room when cables wrap around your feet. Wireless is just around the corner — and that’s a good thing, not just for gamers.

Let’s take a peek at a couple of VR applications designed to enhance the way we work. For example, here’s what writing this column would look like if I used VR headgear. First, I could establish a relaxed creative environment. To my right, off in the distance, I’d have a view of the mountains. To my left, a streaming of Van Morrison’s last concert in Dublin. Then, for active work in front of me, I’d have a virtual view of this Word document, and behind me all my research documents. These views would be available to me just by turning my head. I could surround myself with information, views and sounds instead of simply relying on the six monitors I’m staring at right now.

Now, imagine reviewing a real estate broker’s available inventory. You could “walk around” each property without the inconvenience of physically travelling to see a home. Within an hour, you could visit, revisit and compare several choices at your leisure. It doesn’t stop there. You could extend this experience to travel destinations. View San Francisco from a cable car or walk in a savanna in Botswana.

VR technology also presents promising enhancements for how we learn. Training is best when you can interact with others and with the tools you are learning about. That’s what VR can facilitate. This goes well beyond simply watching a video and listening to a lecturer. For example, VR can radically change the effective training for teams that are going to be replacing all of the water meters in a small city by giving them virtual access to a range of home situations. The same is true for surgeons learning new techniques — they can practise in an environment where complications can be introduced as part of their VR experience. Via VR, distance learners can directly interact with their teacher, fellow learners and a variety of conditions of the subject matter.

When it comes to innovation, VR has the ability to deeply cut the cost of collaboration. Let’s examine the introduction of a new car model. Design specialists from several countries and cultures join a VR meeting. The product design is viewed and modified digitally, with all edits immediately reflected in the meeting. It’s definitely a long way from modelling the vehicle in clay and flying in those experts for their participation in the final modification before the vehicle’s first physical version is produced.

These are just a few of the abundant opportunities for VR. Where will it be used next? To me it’s obvious — it will be used virtually everywhere.