Getting used to technologies that seemed fantastic about a decade ago is now something everyone has to do. Technological progress is so rapid that technologies become obsolete in a couple of years after they appear. One of the best examples of this thesis would be laser compact disks. Who now listens to music on CD players? VHS and cassettes are now returning as something vintage–like vinyl discs did–but CDs? It does not seem likely they will ever return.
Anyway, as a piece of technology becomes outdated, another one appears on the market. Cloud computing and gaming, augmented reality, new generations of microprocessors and CMOS chips, folding gadgets–these are just some of the wonders of modernity. And perhaps the most astonishing one is virtual reality. Its idea has been around for a long time–perhaps starting from Philip K. Dick’s and William Gibson’s novels. But its practical realization had to wait until now.
What is virtual reality in the first place?
Following the etymology of the words comprising the term, virtual reality is something resembling the real world, but recreated with the help of artificial means. In a narrower sense, virtual reality is a three-dimensional simulation of a real world, generated with the help of computer programs. This simulation can be interacted with, and may include environments, objects, people, animals, physical phenomenons, and so on (WhatIs). The simplest example of virtual reality is any 360-degree photography from Google Earth or any other similar service. Each of them represents a sphere—the inner surface of which is covered with an image. A viewer is “inside” of the photo, which creates the illusion of being present within a certain environment.
More complex virtual reality simulations include programs for education, training, gaming, and whatever. In fact, the potential this technology possesses opens a number of wonderful possibilities to humanity. So far, it has mostly been seen as something entertaining: VR technology has been quickly adopted by video game developers, cinema, and even the pornography industry. However, it has many more applications, some of which may be surprising. Let us take a closer look at the beneficial and creative ways VR can be used.
Virtual reality can save lives. This bold statement requires elaboration, and the best example that can be provided in this regard is emergency preparedness. When an emergency situation occurs–be it a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a technogenic catastrophe, or whatever–few people know how to act in order to save themselves and those nearby. Despite all the drills, when an emergency breaks out, many people panic instead of acting constructively. How can virtual reality help?
First of all, with its help, one can put employees in a situation of an almost real danger. During regular drills–for instance, when practicing an escape during a fire in a skyscraper–people know there is no real danger. They do what they are expected to do, use emergency exits, and then return back to their workplaces. However, if you ask employees to wear VR headgear emulating a real fire, you will be surprised by how different their behavior can become. For a brain, there is often no big difference between reality and imagination. A person will remember he or she is wearing a VR helmet, but his or her brain will be signalizing real danger. So, without putting their lives at risk, employees will be able to practice their survival skills in almost real stressful situations. They will have a chance to learn how to cope with tasks when under strong pressure and/or stress, and even if they fail, virtual reality will make it easier for them to obtain new skills (eLearning Industry).
Secondly, VR can be extremely helpful for all those working in the healthcare industry. It can be used for creating three-dimensional images of the human body, on which both students and experienced doctors will be able to practice complicated surgeries, diagnoses, and new methods of treatment. Virtual reality will also allow patients recovering from illnesses affecting neural system to regain their motor and cognitive skills faster (Live Science). Despite traditional therapy being effective, VR can make the process of recreation more fun and motivating due to the gamification and constant real-time feedback on users’ progress.
Virtual reality can also be a great help for urban designers and architects in the matter of projecting cities and buildings. In real life, the problem often is that there is no way an architect can test his or her project. Building a test simulation would be pointless, and in addition would cost a lot. At the same time, mistakes during project development can endanger the lives of people who will be using the building later. The cases of the Husky Stadium in the United States, Hangzhou subway tunnel in China, and the Viale Giotto 120 building in Italy (as well as many other tragedies that occurred because of projecting mistakes) support this statement (Complex). Virtual reality, on the other hand, allows architects to no only design buildings and city infrastructure in the tiniest details, but also to create emulations of how their projects will “behave” in real life, or how they will fit into existing infrastructure and cityscape. In other words, virtual reality makes the process of designing urban environments easier, and contributes to their safety for citizens (Disruption Hub).
As it can be seen, virtual reality is not only about games and entertainment. Despite it being a new technology, it has already proved itself useful in different areas. In particular, it can be used to save people’s lives in emergency situations: by practicing survival skills in VR, people can better react to real-life dangers. Doctors and medical students can use VR to improve their skills, and patients recovering from neurological diseases may find it easier to progress with various VR applications aimed at helping them regain their cognitive and motor skills faster. Architects and urban designers can use VR to find potential mistakes in their calculations and projects, and test them in advance. Overall, VR will definitely continue developing, and the number of areas in which it can be applied will grow exponentially.
“What Is Virtual Reality?” WhatIs.com, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/virtual-reality.
Pappas, Christopher. “8 Innovative Ways To Use AR/VR Technologies In Online Training.” ELearning Industry, ELearning Industry, 7 May 2018, elearningindustry.com/innovative-ways-use-ar-vr-technologies-online-training.
Sheikh, Knvul. “Beyond Gaming: 10 Other Fascinating Uses for Virtual-Reality Tech.” LiveScience, Purch, 19 Jan. 2016, www.livescience.com/53392-virtual-reality-tech-uses-beyond-gaming.html.
Fishman, Julie. “The 50 Worst Architecture Fails Giotto.” Complex, Complex, 20 Oct. 2016, www.complex.com/style/2011/12/the-50-worst-architecture-fails/26.
“5 Business Uses Of Virtual Reality.” Disruption Hub, 4 May 2018, disruptionhub.com/business-virtual-reality-5-uses/.
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