Virtual reality has been featured prominently in technology news in the past few years, and there are no signs that it’s set to disappear anytime soon. Virtual reality is an interactive computer-generated experience in a simulated environment that incorporates auditory, visual, and even haptic feedback to increase the realism of the simulation. These simulated environments are often viewed through VR goggles, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The goggles have a high-resolution screen inside of them, and then two lenses, like glasses. This means that whatever is on the screen, is what users see, giving the impression that they are in a completely different world, whether it’s a zombie survival game or a 3D movie about base jumping off the tallest building in the world. However, when people think about VR, the first thing that comes to mind is entertainment, specifically gaming. It is easy to forget that this powerful technology can be used for much more than just games. In fact, the uses outside of gaming are vast, with many offering the potential to change society for the better.
The most popular way virtual reality is used is for entertainment purposes. This usually includes games or 3D movies. However, while virtual reality definitely enhances the experiences of both, there are some amazing new ways companies are starting to use it. One of the biggest ones is when it comes to tourism. Not only can VR be used as a guided tour, it can also be used to showcase destinations to potential tourists. One example of this is Thomas Cook, a British airline, partnered with Samsung to develop a series of 3D films, showcasing some of their most popular holiday spots. This meant that customers could use their phone and a Samsung Gear VR headset and have a sneak peek before they decided if they wanted to travel there. The other new innovative use for VR is in theme parks, where they can be used to add to the experience. Imagine riding on an ordinary roller coaster, but when you put on your VR goggles, you are transported into a fighter jet, where you have to fight off an alien invasion. This is what Six Flags have done with their new “Revolution Roller Coasters.”
On a more serious note, virtual reality is also starting to be used in the healthcare and medicine world. One of the newest and most exciting uses for VR in healthcare is treating different types of anxiety. VR brings exposure therapy to a whole new level, by actually allowing patients to be in the situations they are afraid of, without leaving their own home. Whether it’s someone with anxiety about public speaking doing a virtual speech in front of a crowd or someone who is afraid of heights standing on top of a skyscraper, virtual reality offers amazing new opportunities to people with anxiety, no matter what it is about.
In addition to this, VR is also used to treat paralysis and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With the help of a virtual coach, paraplegics are guided through different physical therapy exercises. Virtual reality allows them to see exactly how to do each movement without having to worry about leaving their house to go to a physical therapist. When it comes to PTSD, virtual reality is actually one of the main treatments. Virtual reality allows soldiers to be transported back to the battlefield, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam so they can relive the trauma of having served in the Army, a treatment proven to help veterans with PTSD.
Virtual reality is also set to play a big role in education, with major companies like Google investing in VR in the classroom. Google’s “Expedition” program allows teachers and students to embark on immersive VR journeys, all from the classroom. Imagine learning about Ancient Greece in Social Studies, and being able to walk around in a simulated, but realistic version of the Parthenon or Athens. Research from a major tech company, Lenovo, showed the 94 percent of all UK teachers surveyed think that VR would be beneficial to education and their teaching. In addition to this, virtual reality can be used to train people at a more professional level. This is mainly used when it comes to surgeons, soldiers and teachers. Virtual reality provides the unique experience of being able to simulate a realistic situation, meaning that it is easier to train professionals. Surgeons-in-training use it to learn and practice complex surgeries, soldiers use it to practice complicated maneuvers, such as parachute jumping, and teachers can use it to experience and learn how to deal with real life scenarios.
Some students at City and Country are even imagining how virtual reality could be integrated in our curriculum. “We could do really cool projects in Computer class,” said Roly Levy, a XIII. “I could also see it being used in Social Studies… We could actually explore the places we are studying!” said Cade Stow, another XIII.
Though virtual reality is a major topic in the news, it’s uses are often overlooked and people focus on the gaming and entertainment side. However, the uses for this innovative new technology can do so much to help us, whether it’s teaching kids about the ancient world, dramatically improving surgery or treating people with anxiety, paralysis or PTSD, virtual reality is clearly going to be an important part of the future. We have to make sure to take advantage of this new technology, and use it for more than just entertainment and gaming.