In many ways, the technology of the future — virtual reality — has already arrived.
While the technology of devices like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, and Google’s Cardboard are surely still in its infancy, VR is already being implemented in a wide variety of industries. These applications range from VR 3D modeling tools in engineering, to nursing education, and to, of course, video games.
But tech is of course not an industry to stop and pat itself on the back about how far it’s come, and the arms race to create the ultimate VR application in any and all possible fields is well underway and extremely competitive. Any organization that prides itself on being “cutting edge” has departments dedicated to VR already, so where can we expect to see this technology permeate next?
Here are just a few areas you can expect virtual reality to impact in the next few years.
Volvo has already made it possible so their customers can test-drive their new XC90 SUV on scenic country roads, and for years already auto manufacturers having been using virtual prototyping in their design labs. Improved VR technology will allow engineers to view their design as a final product in more dimensions and from more angles, as well as the design’s response to outside factors such as wind and added weight.
The Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment (FIVE) is just one example of these VR design labs that more manufacturers will undoubtedly begin to adopt. Using FIVE’s VR headset, engineers can experience their new design as if they were sitting in the car, allowing them to experience it as a fully-rendered and realized concept, and even experience the vehicle as people of different proportions and statures.
Sports and entertainment
HD television and high ticket prices have made many fans ok with skipping the traffic and lines to instead settle for watching their favorite team from their couch. And once VR hits spectator sports, that’s where they may prefer to be. For the 2016 college, American football season, FOX Sports debuted FOX Sports VR, allowing fans to watch a game from a “virtual suite” or from any number of other vantage points throughout the stadium. That same autumn, World Chess teamed up with Livestream to present its World Chess Championship in virtual reality via a 360° video stream. Sports leagues and teams are always looking to offer a more immersive experience to their fans, and there may be no better way to do that than with VR.
Similarly, casino gamers can already enjoy a virtual experience that is almost as good as being there. Live dealer online casino games, where a real-life dealer on webcam deals you real cards instead of just a graphic representation, has been the latest trend in the rapidly-evolving industry, and recently it made its first small jumps toward integrating with VR. Applications like SlotsMillion VR and Casino VR allow you to navigate a virtual casino and play different slot and casino games (like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker) for real money, all through a Gear VR or Oculus Rift headset. A more immersive experience typically means more customer satisfaction, and VR casinos are currently in quick development for mobile devices as well.
Figuring out how to increase knowledge retention through a more immersive classroom experience has always been the challenge of educators. But recent technology is making teachers’ lives easier by allowing them to offer lessons through VR teaching applications. Thanks to emerging technologies like Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program and Alchemy VR, field trips will never be the same. These applications allow students to experience places and things they otherwise might never be able to such as the Great Barrier Reef or London’s Natural History Museum.
In the non-VR classroom, tools like those from EON Reality allow teachers to create and combine 3D content that appears right in their classroom (similar to the talking, moving holograms in the old Star Wars movies). And simulator-type technology similar to what pilots have used for decades is now spreading itself into other professions, assisting in the training of surgeons, firemen, and even truck drivers. Hands-on experience truly is the best way to learn and VR looks like it will become a standard-issue teaching tool sooner than later.
Elsewhere and beyond
It’s hard to think of an industry that VR won’t make an impact on, or at least attempt to. Beyond the ones I’ve listed already, don’t be surprised to see virtual reality make a huge impact on the worlds of retail, urban design, fitness, film, concerts, charity, amusement parks, and even pornography.
Like technology has seemingly isolated us in virtual silos, VR could potentially reconnect us — while quashing boundaries of time and space that used to separate us — in a way that’s been sorely missing from consumer technology: face-to-face and in an immersive, simulated environment.