Article - IT

What is Virtual Reality?

Historically, we’ve relegated virtual reality to the realms of science fiction. A concept of the far-future; it’s a tool that’s become synonymous with technological maturity and digital escapism. In recent years though, great strides have been made in the field and though we’ve not entered the Matrix just yet, few can contest the intrinsic promise of virtual reality in 2022.

Defining Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has risen in ubiquity in direct proportion to its practicality, however, implementation still evades many companies and sectors. For those in these spaces then, it’s important that we define what we mean when we talk about VR.

Virtual Reality – or VR – describes any computer-generated simulation that looks to either imitate reality or deviate from it entirely. In either case, these simulations will often feature scenes or objects that help immerse the user in the process. In order to perceive these digital worlds the user must use a Virtual Reality headset or helmet.

The History of Virtual Reality

If our current projections are to be believed, virtual reality has a promising future ahead of it. With current estimates that the VR market will reach $26,860 million by 2027, from $7,719.6 million in 2020, it’s clear that many of us are banking on VR. However, although we’re swept up in its future, it’s pertinent that we also understand VR’s deep and surprising past. In fact, as we can see below, it’s taken nearly 100 years to move from fiction to reality.

‘History of Virtual Reality’: G2

The first murmurings of virtual reality can be found in 1935’s Pygmalion’s Spectacles. Written by Stanley Weinbaum, the book provides the first comprehensive description for what VR could be. However, it wasn’t until fifty years later that the actual term ‘Virtual Reality’ came to the fore after it was coined by Jaron Lanier, founder of VPL research.

However, it’s in the last decade that we’ve seen VR’s success snowball, and it’s thanks to substantial investment in the gaming industry. For example, since 2013, companies like Sony, HTC and Valve have been working to design tailor-made VR experiences. Thanks to flagship titles like Half-Life: Alyx and other virtual experiences, videogame publishers and developers have been critical to the popularization of VR in the mainstream. Due to this investment, and from other industry titans like Meta, VR will soon be a household name. This goes doubly so once the metaverse is fully delivered.

Virtual Reality Use Cases

Few technologies are as versatile as virtual reality. With seemingly limitless possibility and impact on its side, its difficult to know where to begin and how to invest. However, there are three areas in which we can expect it to have substantial effect.

  • Entertainment: As one of the earliest adopters of the technology, the entertainment sector has hit the ground running with VR. Obviously, there are the aforementioned experiences in gaming, but successes in the sector aren’t limited to them. Already we’ve seen, virtual concerts and theme parks arise, global travel with Google Earth, and even virtual meditation with Liminal.
  • Education: Due to it’s immersive qualities, there’s immense didactic potential in VR. These new virtual worlds mean that anyone, of any age, can jump into a digital classroom or seminar to learn. Virtual learning opportunities include immersive school trips via Google Expeditions, and language learning from Mondly.
  • Business: There is no industry that cannot benefit from VR in some way in 2022. In construction, architects can get a sense not only for what they’re building but how it feels. In healthcare, we can train new staff and even potentially offer remote care. In oil and gas, we can walk people through any potential occupational health and safety risks. If you have an issue in your business, chances are, VR can help ease it.

Advantages

As we start to surface the potential of virtual reality, numerous advantages will come with it. Here are just some of them.

  • Engaging: We sit at the cutting edge of innovation so naturally, we always want to try out the devices of tomorrow. The advantage of this is that new technology is essentially engaging by design, we want to take part and invest. Pair this with the immersive qualities of VR and it’s clear that engagement won’t be an issue.
  • Connection: For those separated by linguistic, financial, or geographical constraints, VR offers meaningful opportunities to connect. Digital chatrooms offer spaces for friends to catch up, whilst virtual workrooms enable collaboration outside of the office.
  • Applications: Virtual experiences aren’t bound by reality, but imagination. As such, they’re industry agnostic and could feasibly have practical application in any business. Again, we could use it to familiarise construction and real estate staff with the risks in the roles. Equally, we could use it in retail stores to provide virtual spaces to try out new products.

Disadvantages

Though it will change the experiences available to us, virtual reality isn’t without the negatives.

  • Price: Though the price of virtual reality headsets has fallen in recent years, they still aren’t cheap. Though less expensive options are commercially available, they may not be compatible with the experiences we’re looking for. As a result, VR just isn’t financially feasible for many.
  • Discomfort: Generally, virtual reality is a window into another reality, one in which expectation and experience can be overwhelmed. For others, it’s a window into nausea and eyestrain. Unfortunately, there is no real way to know if you can tolerate VR until you’re in the headset, naturally, that’s an experience that could prove memorable for all the wrong reasons if you’re in the latter camp.
  • Depersonalization: Whilst VR can transport us into new virtual worlds, they can also separate us from our sense of self. Similar to social media, we can be depersonalized when interacting virtually. This could open the door to cyberbullying and even fraudulent activity from malicious actors.

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