Updated: Jul 27, 2022
The concept of a virtual reality, or "VR" world, can excite the imagination very differently depending on which media you grew up consuming. For some, it evokes memories of the Sci-Fi classic "Ready Player One". For others, it might hearken back to the 1982 novel "Snow Crash", known for first coining the term Metaverse. As the internet continues to rapidly work its way into every facet of our daily lives, it’s clear the need for virtual reality interfacing is here to stay and that we have the technology at-hand to meet that need. So, what does that mean, exactly, and how does it work?
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality (VR) describes a simulated environment. In the context of current VR technology, that means a computer-rendered 3D virtual environment made accessible by specially designed headsets that wrap around the front of the wearer's face and project an interactive image of it to them. There are also often controllers to be held in-hand which allows for more natural interaction within the simulated environments.
The purpose of VR technology is still being defined, and many new applications are being developed for it every day. Currently it is widely used in gaming and as an invaluable training tool for various job simulators. In the near future, many expect virtual reality to radically disrupt the way we approach retail, healthcare, education and more.
Imagine the ease of shopping online from home supplemented by virtual reality. You immediately gain the convenience of browsing 3D twins of the products, allowing you to carefully examine them or try them out with your own two hands and eyes before purchasing, as if they were actually right in front of you. By integrating VR, retail becomes more accessible to shoppers while also redefining the methods we use to train and hire employees.
Healthcare is already benefiting by use of simulated virtual reality training, helping medical students and doctors gain hands-on experience treating or planning treatments for a variety of different injuries and medical conditions. The practice of precise robot-assisted surgery is also finding natural uses for VR technologies, as are various mental health treatment practices.
Virtual classrooms and other educational benefits provided by VR technologies are widely embraced by educators. While further advancements to the hardware we use for accessing VR are still needed, early forays into virtual learning show us that the immersive learning experiences provided in VR can inspire creativity and spark students' imaginations.
The entertainment industry is already seeing the bulk of the benefits from VR and pushing the hardest for its advancement. VR gaming is how most are first introduced to these simulated environments currently, but other interactive experiences are already being quickly developed. Museums, zoos, theme parks, art galleries, concerts and theaters are all experimenting with ways to expand their audience through the use of VR technologies.
The Future of Virtual Reality
As the internet and its disjointed virtual spaces around us continues to coalesce into the Metaverse, the hardware and software used in VR technologies will likely see increased demand along with the further innovations required to support mainstream adoption at-scale. Rival Augmented Reality technologies are primed to compete with VR and capture a large share of the market in coming years, with Apple believed to be angling for a strong AR approach and Facebook already holding a notable lead in the VR space with their recent transition to Meta.
The future of virtual reality is still new territory begging to be explored. As our technologies for getting and staying connected to each other continue to advance through 5G, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other emerging new technologies, virtual reality is poised to become a standard edition to the way we interact with each other and the world. Time will tell, and as virtual voyagers we will keep our sights locked on all the important developments going forward in this virtual space. Stay tuned!