A man in a black hoodie wearing a VR headset and being amazed

There’s more to virtual reality than fun and games

  • Health care – virtual practise makes perfect
  • Virtual crime scenes in the courtroom
  • Public speaking – fear no more
  • A virtual walk on the art side
  • Google brings world heritage sites into your living room
  • Collaborative and holistic automotive manufacturing
  • Game-style VR simulations to prepare military troops for battle

Virtual reality is the hottest thing since sliced bread; gaming and movies have a whole new immersive dimension when watched through a VR headset. There is however so much more to virtual reality than just fun and games. This incredible technology is already being used in various other industries beyond gaming and provides a whole new way of experiencing work, leisure and life in general.

Health care – virtual practise makes perfect

Healthcare has been an early adopter of VR; particularly for diagnostic and surgical purposes. Ultrasound or CAT scan images are used to generate three-dimensional models of patients that surgeons of all experience levels can virtually navigate. These virtual models enable them to decide on the most efficient and safest methods to reach disease locations in the body of the patient. The technology also helps surgeons and their medical assistants to plan and practise complicated procedures before the actual surgery takes place. Another medical area in which virtual reality has already proven beneficial is in rehabilitation, both physical as well as psychological. Regaining cognitive and motor function after brain injuries or strokes has been proven more successful with immersive virtual reality therapy compared to traditional therapies. According to European startup MindMazeto, the game-like exercises and real-time feedback in their virtual rehabilitation programs help motivate patients with practicing their real-life activities and tasks.

Virtual crime scenes in the courtroom

In the not too distant future, using virtual reality in the courtroom may just become common practice. Members of the jury will no longer have to rely on mere photographs and witness accounts in order to evaluate a crime scene. Watching a crime scene with virtual reality could help jurors get a proper perspective on how objects like bullets move through space. In the journal of Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology, researchers at the University of Zurich published a paper in which they examined the use of virtual reality to reconstruct crime scenes at trials. The researchers found that the use of virtual reality made it easier for people to understand the particulars of a case and less complicated to reach a decision on whether or not an accused was guilty of a crime.

A courtroom with the jury blurred in the background
Watching a crime scene with virtual reality could help jurors get a proper perspective on how objects like bullets move through space.

Public speaking – fear no more

The fear of public speaking can really only be overcome by… practising public speaking. But what if you could practise public speaking in a safe environment first, without having to face the crowds until you are ready? There’s a simple app that can do just that. The soft murmur of conversation from the ‘audience’ in front of you, the lighting and even the materials used give you a real sense of presence. The app can help with very relatable visualisation techniques such as picturing yourself as a giant speaker, rising above an audience of virtual people. It also offers various worst-case scenarios such as a hostile or disinterested audience. It’s a basic yet effective virtual reality application which helps you boost your public speaking confidence.

Fantastic intergalactic

Thanks to the Virgin Atlantics of this world, the possibility of interstellar travel for non-astronauts is getting closer and closer. You do however need quite a substantial bank balance and there are a number of risks associated with such an intergalactic trip. Therefore, not too many of us will make it to outer space in this lifetime. For those who just won’t take no for an answer, there’s always the virtual space travel option. Not too long ago, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum held an exhibit where people keen to venture into space could virtually travel on the Ranger spacecraft from the movie Interstellar. Virtual reality technology is also great for real astronauts on long haul space journeys among the stars; for those who are homesick, virtual travel back to familiar earth destinations is a great solution. NASA recently donated over $1.5 million to the Digital Arts Leadership and Innovation Lab at the Dartmouth University to research the mental and emotional benefits of simulating familiar environments for astronauts on life-long space journeys.

A virtual walk on the art side

Always wanted to explore the Acropolis in Athens, the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or the Guggenheim in New York – all in one day? It is all possible with virtual reality. All you need is your smartphone and a VR headset. Quite a number of museums have already gone into partnerships with developers so that they can offer visitors from all over the world the virtual opportunity to experience the museum’s physical art collections. And the best thing is that these virtual museums never close. Some of the many museums that offer virtual tours are the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Museum of the History of Science in Italy and many more.

Google brings world heritage sites into your living room

Anyone with a keen interest in history and culture but with time and budget restraints can now walk through historical sites anywhere in the world – from the comfort of their own home. With Street View Technology, boasting panoramic street-level images, the Google Cultural Institute enables you to virtually navigate around some of the most incredible world heritage sites. This way, you can experience beautiful places as if you were actually there. Explore the hundreds of kilometres of the magnificent Australian Shark Bay, wander around the perfectly preserved archaeological site of Pompeii or visit the Hiroshima Memorial Dome in Japan. All you need to do is strap on your VR headset and away you go.

Cooking up a virtual storm

If you want to upgrade your culinary skills and try your own hand at different recipes without having to fork out money for ingredients, CyberCook may be just the right solution for you. Trying out a recipe in virtual reality is much more effective than merely watching a video on how to cook a certain dish. Getting hands on experience virtually will make it easier to apply your acquired skills in real life. There are many recipes to choose from and the CyberCook app enables you to select your ingredients, cut them on the cutting board and use cooking appliances such as the oven and the stove. After having acquired the necessary skills to showcase your culinary mastery, the app also enables you to buy real-world cooking equipment and ingredients so that your new skills can be put to the test in your own kitchen.

A tablet on a countertop, surrounded by vegetables and nuts
Trying out a recipe in virtual reality is much more effective than merely watching a video on how to cook a certain dish.

Collaborative and holistic automotive manufacturing

Vehicle manufacturers are no stranger to high-tech simulation technology; they have been using virtual reality for their design processes and prototypes for decades. Ford has even made virtual reality pivotal to its automotive development and uses it to help develop autonomous vehicle technologies. In its Research and Innovation Centre in California as well as its Immersion Lab in Michigan, Ford employees use VR headsets that enable them to inspect the vehicles inside and out. Virtual reality has actually become a collaborative and holistic part of their production processes. VR enables them to create an entire car, fully kitted out with engines, power trains and seats so that different divisions can look at it simultaneously. This way, problems can be picked up and design alterations can be made early on in the process. Virtual reality technology also enables more creative freedom for the designers and engineers. These days, none of the Ford vehicles pass through their gateways to production unless they have been virtually verified.

Game-style VR simulations prepare military troops for battle

The US Military spends close to $4 billion per annum on training equipment involving virtual reality simulator games such as Unity 3D and Virtual Battlespace to prepare their troops for combat. The VR simulations enable teams to practise various drills in realistic environments without having to make use of real tactical equipment and dangerous and expensive weaponry. Immersive environments like these are vitally important; military training delivered in a game-type virtual space often has a more profound impact, is therefore retained better and helps the troops prepare for real life battle before they are deployed to physical warzones.

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Making cognitive learning more efficient and more fun

Virtual reality programs for training and education are becoming increasingly indispensible. By providing virtual field trips and simulating complicated concepts to people of various ages and backgrounds, VR can make cognitive learning more efficient and more effective. Virtual reality programs are praised for the ability to expand the range of materials and learning experiences available to students. It makes study material much more exciting which helps learners to retain information much more efficiently. Even though virtual reality learning programs may be costly to develop; in the long run it may be cheaper than, for instance, letting trainees use expensive laboratory equipment.

As you can see, virtual reality applications extend far beyond gaming and are set to have a broad economic impact on each aspect of our society. Hardware such as the Samsung Gear VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens will become cheaper and better as the technology catches on.

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