The future of VR is happening now
In a September 2018 study commissioned by Facebook, British polling company Crowd DNA found that 65% of people anticipate virtual reality will become a part of daily life.
The truth, however, is that VR is already a part of daily life.
Across the globe, companies are embracing VR in a diverse range of occupations. From on-the-job training to big data, the future of VR is happening today.
VR enhances hands-on training
VR has long been recognized as a promising medium for hands-on training. Thanks to rapidly improving technology, more and more organizations are incorporating VR into their training programs — and seeing encouraging results along the way.
Last April the Air Force launched its Pilot Training Next class, which uses the HTC Vive to simulate being inside a cockpit. Thirteen trainees graduated from the program four months later, earning their wings over twice as fast as they would have in the traditional program. Unlike the clunky and prohibitively expensive legacy cockpit simulators used in the past, VR headsets like the Vive cost under $1,000, and can be continually updated with new simulations featuring the latest jets and threats.
A little closer to the ground, Walmart, the biggest employer in the world, recently rolled out Oculus VR headsets to all its U.S. stores after a successful series of pilot training programs at select Walmart Academies. Now, each Walmart employee will have access to over 45 activity-based modules designed to simulate real-world scenarios, including the manic atmosphere of Black Friday.
For occupations that often involve high-stress situations, like law enforcement, VR can save lives. Police departments, for example, have always faced the challenge of simulating crisis scenarios. It’s one thing to be instructed how to react in a tense situation in a classroom, and another thing to be in the midst of a white-knuckle standoff or hostage situation.
That’s why law enforcement agencies, like the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, have invested in VR simulations that imitate real-world crisis situations. Officers can strengthen their muscle-memory and develop strategies for minimizing harm — without ever leaving the academy.
Pushing the boundaries of science through VR
Some things are inherently difficult to visualize — molecules and black holes, for example.
Given the difficulty of visualizing the infinitesimally small building blocks of the universe, a company named Nanome, Inc. developed a VR simulation that allows scientists to visualize and manipulate molecules, enabling them to solve protein structures and advance research on viruses and bacteria.
Black holes aren’t small, but because they do not reflect or emit electromagnetic waves, scientists cannot observe them directly. To solve this problem, scientists at universities in the Netherlands and Germany teamed up to use the latest models of astrophysics to create a VR simulation of Sagittarious A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. According to the scientists involved, visualizing Sagittarious A* in VR can not only improve outreach to the public but also advance scientists’ understanding of black holes.
Designing and visualizing the future
If the 21st century is defined by anything, it is the ubiquity of data. Businesses, governments, and nonprofits are awash in a sea of information, some of it salient and much of it not, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all. Data scientists spend countless hours coming up with new ways to visualize data so that stakeholders can make informed decisions.
There are many tools for visualizing data, from Excel to the ggplot2 data visualization package for R, but the most promising is VR. Through applications like FunnelVizion, decision-makers, clients, and customers can gather together in virtual rooms from anywhere in the world and interact with data in unimaginably creative ways. Instead of viewing a histogram or scatter plot in two dimensions, stakeholders can pull information from Excel or a relational database like JSON into the VR space and reach out, touch, and manipulate it in an immersive experience, using it to tell a story or shed light on the future.
Design-centric occupations, like architecture, are especially suited to VR. Architects relied on wood and cardboard models for decades, but are increasingly abandoning them in favor of digital walkthroughs in VR. Enscape, a real-time virtual reality program, allows architects to make changes on the fly as the client walks through the virtual structure.
Along those same lines, architects and civil engineers are using VR to make public spaces easier to navigate. Busy public hubs, such as train stations, bombard users with a disorienting amount of information. Designing a space that facilitates navigability is challenging without first constructing the building and observing how people interact in it. Using VR, however, designers can render crowded airports or train stations to understand the challenges people will face as they walk through them.
This is the future
According to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, humanity is entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Characterized by rapid changes that challenge the distinction between the physical and the digital, the Fourth Industrial Revolution fuses humanity and technology. VR, which immerses people in digital settings that are practically indistinguishable from reality, is at the forefront of this epochal change reconstructing life in the 21st century.
In popular culture today, VR is strongly associated with video-games. But as the examples in this article have shown, the practical applications of VR extend far beyond entertainment.