Will Virtual Reality Change The World?
A Virtual Reality Background
One of my fonder memories as a kid growing up was a trip I took up to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In particular, at the Air Museum, they had one of those cockpit flight simulators, with full controls and what I perceived to be a “big” screen. We are talking early 90s, so temper your enthusiasm around what a “big” screen, and its subsequent graphics, could be. Nonetheless, I remember sitting in there and being floored by said graphics and the faux reality it created around me. I also remember thinking “how can it get better than this?”. Naivety is a beautiful thing in a child. My introduction into virtual reality had only just begun.
Flash forward a few years, and I am actually integrating Virtual Reality cockpit simulators in my job for an aerospace firm. At one point, I was even around true hydraulic driven simulators – as close as you’ll get to feeling a few G’s before actually taking off in a military plane. At this stage, staring at 1920×1080 screens with high performing x64 bit graphics cards strung together, I began to wonder what was coming next. I’d seen enough in my career to realize that computer processing, and specifically, graphics processing, were right on the precipice of a paradigm shift. The age of incredible 3D rendering and real time processing was upon us.
In modern times, I am still marveling at Facebook given I was an early adopter of their platform in college when the social network was still being rolled out. From social media interfacing to entire platforms around their Virtual Reality acquisition, Oculus Rift, they’ve become a leading pioneer of modern technology. Of course they are not the only ones, and competitors are flocking to this space in droves. Samsung has developed products such as Gear VR and Odyssey, Google has created a simple Carboard box version, and even Snapchat now develops 3D emoticons with their attempted foray into the market. So just what is it about Virtual Reality that is making everyone bend over backwards to be a future leader in the space? Let’s dig in to why it matters in our lives and how you can prepare yourself for the inevitable shift it will have on our respective futures.
Virtual Reality Impacts Today
The power of Virtual Reality today is already far-reaching in its applications. In a much publicized event, Facebook reached out to hurricane victims via Virtual Reality to see what the impacts were by being virtually present. Although there was a public relations blow-back, the overall point was made around the potential of Virtual Reality. It has the power to transport you anywhere in the world – mentally of course, not physically. Of course I can see a side topic on transportation at some other time, but I digress.
Think for a moment of the potential from such a technology. If, for instance, open heart brain surgery was being performed by a doctor in Iowa, they could connect with their expert friend in Florida via Virtual Reality during the surgery. The ability to be present in the moment would be crucial in troubleshooting whatever issue had arisen during the surgery. The benefits in business are even more obvious. Your travel time in your current job may get reduced to near zero. If you were scheduled to be onsite for two days of presentations, you instead use Virtual Reality to put yourself there saving all that extra time and money. Or something as simple as using Virtual Reality to visit a sick loved who lives across the country. Though the physical, personal touch is lost in these events, you could still argue that some type of presence is better than nothing at all.
HVAC & Construction Virtual Reality
The next immediate impact of Virtual Reality is being seen in employee training. The potential of this has wide ranging implications across multiple industries. New to HVAC installs and repair, for instance? They are currently using Virtual Reality to simulate some of the most common HVAC system setups and failures, and can potentially tailor a training program for each employee. This instantly provides some level of credibility to even the most novice HVAC technician. At a minimum, they now have had the opportunity to troubleshoot or install a wide range of systems they may not have otherwise been exposed to, albeit in a virtual environment. It still helps in combination with traditional training to move a particular employee right into field operations. This saves the employer valuable time and money waiting on traditional training programs alone to bear fruit in their employees.
Construction is another big commercial use of the Virtual Reality technology. For industries such as these, visual stimulation is the best experience you can receive while training to perform on the job site. While it still may take multiple years to fully master a trade such as this, there is little doubt that Virtual Reality can help expedite this learning curve. Where drawings have traditionally been 2D renderings, or in recent years 3D renderings, it still left even the best construction professionals clamoring for the true intended nature of the architectural vision. With Virtual Reality, this issue becomes a thing of the past as the technology can now render up a 3D world that they physically can step into. Clearances for pipes, electrical fittings or beam locations suddenly can be visualized instantaneously. Now adjustments can be made in a simulation before the real bullets fly in the field with the clock ticking. This is an incredibly useful tool for these companies implementing new designs in the field, saving on the the trial and error costs of the past.
Medical Virtual Reality
Speaking of real bullets flying… Our friend the medical industry is under some of the most immense stress there is, with human lives at risk. Granted, the sheer mental preparation needed to join this industry is daunting at best, but the laboratory time required to truly be effective coming out of college is staggering. There is a reason future doctors spend 8 years in school plus more time in residency honing these skills – the discipline is extremely challenging and the stakes are critically high.
Granted, cadaver exploration has been performed for years, and that’s about as real as it gets – sans the pulse. And certainly the residency is going to provide real life experience under professional tutelage. But now with Virtual Reality, you can physically witness what the operating components of the heart look like during open heart surgery on demand. Imagine zooming in, freezing or taking pictures of certain parts of the organ or parts of the operation. Since there is no time constraint or added pressure, you truly could take your time learning with this realistic simulation. Or maybe you could dream up a program that marches in one patient after another with different ailments, fortifying your diagnosing abilities. This would help alleviate some of the time and physical limitations of a traditional residency and provides yet another opportunity to learn. The beauty of all of this lies in the fact that these training programs are truly accessible at all times. You can download and practice this material at any time and truly build an experience base that will complement your traditional learning.
Another potential benefit of Virtual Reality to the medical industry has revolved around the ability to treat specialized ailments or anxiety in patients. Let’s say the patient suffers from past drug addiction where medication could be tricky, or maybe it is PTSD where traditional medication is not treating the root cause of the problem. Medical experts have been exploring alternative options for these conditions and now possess a truly viable path forward in the form of Virtual Reality.
Submerging a patient suffering from such ailments into a 3D world of serenity and peace can leave positive impressions that actually help treat the root cause. This is not a subjective viewpoint either, as there is concrete proof from these Virtual Reality treatments. During these experiments, scientists have been able to measure brain patterns that corroborates the positive feelings the patients express after the simulation. This solidifies the positive impact Virtual Reality can deliver. While Virtual Reality has demonstrated impacts in dampening some of the symptoms stemming from PTSD, it is also being used to treat high anxiety patients in lieu of traditional drugs. Meditation seems to be making a comeback, finding its way into the mainstream more than ever before. It has been proven to calm both body and soul if practiced regularly. Virtual Reality can be used as one form of meditation that aids in calming a patient by immersing them in a whole new world. What better way to release the mind or relax the body and spirit than on a beach in Tahiti or maybe even on top of a mountain range overlooking a valley.
As Virtual Reality continues to help ease patients into practicing meditation or just finding a place of relaxation, the patients will be benefiting from more organic treatment and less medication for some of the more common stressors in society.
Virtual Reality Impacting Your Life
So how can you embrace the Virtual Reality movement? Maybe you still consider this a novelty that will pass, but I can assure you that it’s here to stay. The technology has become cheaper, the processors are faster, and the programming has become more open sourced than ever. You could pick up an OculusRift or an Odyssey at fairly affordable prices to make a foray into the technology. You could also do a quick search on tutorials or live examples in your area. There are plenty of these demonstrations being conducted worldwide — you literally just have to seek them out.
As always, keep searching the internet and reading about it if the topic interests you. The Virtual Reality industry is truly beginning to pick up steam and its impacts are already being felt throughout society. At a later time, I will explore some of the potential future uses for the technology as I have a vision as to where this is all headed in the very near future. For now, go enjoy a game or a beach somewhere for a temporary escape from your current reality. Looking forward, enjoy the potential this incredible technology has to offer us in the future.
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