Virtual reality isn’t, actually, all that new. In 1930, the first mechanical flight simulator was patented. In 1968, MIT developed the first VR headset, which was so heavy it had to be suspended from a ceiling and was nicknamed “the Sword of Damocles.” In 1996, Nintendo’s video game console – Virtual Boy – was discontinued because it caused nausea.
The early years of VR were rough, but persistence and ingenuity overcame some tough challenges. Fast forward to the 21st century and it seems that virtual reality has finally found its stride. It’s come to the point where you can travel the world from the comfort of your home, all from a smartphone and goofy glasses.
But believe it or not, virtual reality is just getting started. Here are a couple of ways that virtual reality will change and improve drastically over the next few years.
In its current state, virtual reality doesn’t allow you to completely suspend disbelief, because during your jaunt into the virtual world, you’re required to use wand-like controllers and joypads. In other words, you know you’re using a controller in the “real world,” which pulls you away from the moment.
Once you’re pulled away, your mind starts to nit-pick all of the discrepancies of your virtual world, like the pixels on the display, the pressure of the headset, and more.
Look for the future of virtual reality to allow users to interact more naturally with the outside world, from within their virtual landscape. For example, let’s say you’re pretending to be the quarterback at the Super Bowl. Rather than pretend to throw a football, you’ll soon be able to actually throw a football in the real world, and have it reflected inside your Super Bowl fantasy.
This should make it much easier to believe you’re in the world that your headset has created for you.
The excitement around virtual reality right now is coming from the gaming community. But VR offers something for everyone – even folks with little interest in video games.
For example, don’t be surprised to learn of scientists using VR to, for example, recreate the experience of standing on Mars, so that NASA could better understand the planet.
David Laidlaw, head of the Visualization Research Lab at Brown University, told The Atlantic that his team recreated a temple site in Petra, Jordan, so that researchers could get a better, realistic, understanding of the objects found there.
Google, as well, is getting in on VR. They’re testing out Expeditions, a way of sending students to places like the Great Barrier Reef, where they can virtually scuba dive.
Let’s take it one step further. Imagine you live far away from family, or can’t be with them during a celebration. If you and everyone in your family wears their VR headsets, it’ll be like you’re right there, in the flesh.
Then there’s telecommuting – which has already benefited from technological advances. Henry Fuchs, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, envisions virtual offices will appear sooner, rather than later. You’ll be able to interact with your colleagues as if you’re in the same room.
Today, VR is still seen as a neat parlor trick, but something that’s totally unnecessary. The same, however, could have been said about 3-D printing years ago.
But the moment that both science and businesses leverage the power of a new technology, the general public will begin to buy in. Don’t be surprised – one day not too long from now – to be able to visit long-lost family members from across the globe, without having to leave your home.
Gamers have bought into the hype. It’s only a matter of time until the rest of us follow suit.