The Many Magical Uses of Virtual Reality

The Many Magical Uses of Virtual Reality

Take a journey through the future of several industries and see how Virtual Reality is going to change the world.

Although Virtual Reality has been out of the spotlight for some time, many industries have developed incredible uses for the technology. In this article, we will explore several of these. Come along with me, readers!

Wow, it puts me inside the world of my first-person shooter and it cures lupus!

Wow, it puts me inside the world of my first-person shooter and it cures lupus!

 Medical:

When people think of virtual reality, I highly doubt the first thing they think of is the incredible medical benefits it might have.

But virtual reality already has made a large impact on the medical community, both through the training of future professionals and helping heal patients psychologically.

While surgery has proven to be a pretty great development in medical history, it has the unfortunate capacity to go terribly, terribly wrong if the person performing it doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing. And the unfortunate part of making sure someone knows exactly what they’re doing when performing complicated knitting techniques on someone’s aorta is that there aren’t many good substitutes for the real thing. I mean, yeah, there are cadavers, but where’s the pressure in that? It’s not like you can kill them a second time if you accidentally poke a hole through their lung. Virtual reality, however, offers medical students the ability to practice surgeries as they would actually happen. If you want to learn more, check out this video that examines a new virtual reality machine that allows students to simulate surgery through visual, auditory and sensory means!

House

Why, House? Why did you forsake us?

Another way virtual reality is serving the medical community is by helping amputees cure phantom limb pain. Often times, amputees will feel pain in their missing limbs, most likely because the brain has trouble realizing that the limb is no longer there. However, despite phantom pain being one of the most common complaints among amputees, there are very few ways to cure it. But with virtual reality, the patient can enter a space where they can see and control their missing limb, which helps greatly in the reduction of pain. Remember when House broke into that old veteran’s apartment and strapped him to a chair near a box with a mirror in it? Well, if you don’t, it was pretty late in the series, and the show’s quality was taking a serious nosedive, so I’ll just link you to it.

Did you watch it? Well, the same idea holds true for virtual reality. A patient who suffered from phantom pain for 48 years reported a dramatic decrease in pain after using the treatment.

Another fun fact: making your brain quit the whole overactive fear response thing would in all likelihood involve letting spiders crawl over you at some point

Another fun fact: making your brain quit the whole overactive fear response thing would in all likelihood involve letting spiders crawl over you at some point

Finally, virtual reality is helping many victims of PTSD, particularly soldiers. The treatment of fear related psychiatric disorders very often focuses on having the patient interact with that fear on a regular basis until the brainlearns to stop being scared of it. While absolutely awful and terrifying to go through (imagine facing your worst fear several times a week until your brain finally gives up and says “alright, fine! You wanna cuddle with spiders? I’m not even gonna bother turning on the adrenaline anymore!”) the treatment does work, particularly when dealing with PTSD patients.

But some fears are easier to access in a controlled environment than others. Psychologists can’t exactly drop former soldiers in the middle of the desert in Afghanistan and hope for the best. Virtual reality, however, allows sufferers to visit thesites of their trauma in a safe and controlled environment, where they can learn to change their fear response. The treatment is somewhat controversial – however many proponents believe that this technology, while unable to cure PTSD, when used in conjunction with other forms of therapy can prove highly successful in treating it.

Military:

The military has been using simulators to train recruits since the 1920’s, but recently their virtual reality technology has made some major leaps forward, to the point where they may soon change the way war is conducted. The military uses virtual reality in a lot of ways you might expect – they use flight simulators to train pilots as well as drivers of ground and water vehicles. Training with virtual reality allows recruits to experience very accurate simulations of situations they will likely come across during their service, and does so in a safe and controlled environment. It’s also very cost effective – although initially developing the software for these simulations can be very expensive, in the long run it’s far cheaper than putting trainees into real planes and tanks.

Virtual reality is also used to train troops in combat. In a move I’m sure no one saw coming, the military has partnered with several video game studios to create realistic and engaging scenarios to help soldiers become accustom to various battle environments.

AAA Games industries have been partnering with the military? Nah…

AAA Games industries have been partnering with the military? Nah…

Often these simulations will be very similar to a video game in that console controllers are used to move the user around the space while wearing a VR headset. They can also be web-based, which allows soldiers both new to the armed forces and well into their careers to interact with one-another from any place in the world. Some bases have even taken the technology further, employing guns that connect to VR headsets and treadmills to make the simulations more realistic. Although training officials do not believe virtual reality could ever completely replace physical training, in an era where new recruits have been brought up on digital technology and video games, the use of simulations to train them holds a lot of promise.

As VR technology becomes more and more advanced, the military has also begun employing it on the battlefield. For example, battlefield visualization is used to explore potential sites for military activity in real time. Through VR technology and software such as SketchUp and Google Earth, officials can examine a 3-d mock-up of nearly any area on earth from any angle and use these explorations to better plan military operations. I’m sure you can imagine how useful it is to explore a potentially dangerous site without having to put any bodies into the zone.

Looking further into the future, virtual reality could even help decrease casualties on the battlefield. I’ve been speaking about virtual reality mainly in terms of simulations, but it is also possible to explore various real locations through telepresence and telerobotics. It is entirely conceivable for headsets to be synced to machines rather than software, and to then send these machines out into different environments while the user controls the robot from a distance. Through the advancements in VR headset technology, a mounted camera on a robot that moves according to how the user does could allow them to see what the machine sees, and to affect it’s environment in real time. A form of this is already employed in the military – remotely piloted aircraft allow planes to be flown all over the world from the comfort of a desk chair. The possibilities inherent in this technology are staggering – imagine a tank that can be operated without any human beings actually inside of the vehicle. In addition, new, smaller vehicles could be designed that would go unnoticed on enemy radar, yet still have the benefit of being directly controlled by human intelligence.

Sure, he looks harmless now, but strap a few laser guns and rocket launchers on there...

Sure, he looks harmless now, but strap a few laser guns and rocket launchers on there…

Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC):

And now the one you’ve all been waiting for. How Virtual Reality is going to change our own industry, the world of architecture, engineering and construction.

The AEC industry is one that relies very heavily on visualization in order to complete its projects. The method of this visualization has changed immensely in the past few decades, moving from existing in two dimensions on a piece of paper into 3 dimensions in the digital world. The ability to render buildings on a computer and share them with every person working on the project, no matter where in the globe they are, has changed the way buildings are designed, making both them and their construction more efficient, cost effective and innovative. With Virtual Reality, visualization in AEC is evolving yet again, to the point where contractors, architects and engineers will be able to effectively walk through the building they are constructing before ground has even been broken on the work site.

The software is still a little ways off – but only a little. Currently, using virtual reality in AEC can be time consuming and expensive, but a few companies, such as WorldViz and IrisVR are working to change that. The applications of virtual reality in the AEC industry are nearly too numerous to count. It will work as an incredible tool of communication between those who work on the project, in addition to their clients. A new level of clarity of design will be afforded, causing less confusion between architects and clients. Problems in design will be easier to identify, allowing engineers and contractors to avoid time-consuming and costly errors. Workers on the project will be able to enter the virtual space together and change things from within the virtual world. Virtual reality can even be used as an educational tool in AEC, as certain technology allows users to explore the inside of complicated machinery, including disassemble, reassemble and perform maintenance procedures on them.

The idea of entering a virtual world may seem a bit superfluous to some – what, in the end, is really the difference between clicking through a design on a computer screen and using a remote and goggles to move through a space? This was a question I myself had – I was somewhat skeptical that virtual reality could really be so great of an improvement over our current standard BIM and CAD models. Fortunately, I was able to try on a pair of Virtual Reality goggles and experience for myself what the difference was. I do my best to explain the experience in this article. Suffice it to say for now that there is an immense difference. In another article in this series I quote Zach Goepel from WorldViz when he claims that virtual reality gives you a sense of “presence” in the space that a computer screen will never be able to match. There is a level of immersion with virtual reality that surpasses anything we have been able to achieve with interactive technology thus far. You feel as if you are in the space represented in the virtual world. In the same way that you feel that you’re sitting in a chair right now, or inside your work building, when you put on VR goggles, you believe you are physically inhabiting the space represented in the VR mock-up. A computer screen is a flat image, a part of the larger picture of your environment. Virtual Reality becomes you’re environment completely. Wherever you look, the virtual world is there. According to your eyes, nothing else exists.

You can imagine, therefore, the impact this would have on clients entering their future homes or workspaces for the first time. How an architect would react upon being able to physically inhabit a space that has, up until that point, existed mainly in their imagination. It is a powerful experience, to say the least.

AEC VR

This level of immersion I’m describing is one of the big reasons why virtual reality will have such a large effect on so many industries. An industry that works with interactive media by nature wants that media to be immersive. Virtual reality brings that immersion to a level never before seen. Recruits to the military will be able to experience a battle without ever needing to leave the base or be put in harms way. Doctors will be able to create new treatment options, whether it is through the recreation of a limb in the virtual world, or allowing psychiatric patients to face their fears safely.

I discussed these three industries mainly because I believe that they will be changed the most by virtual reality. But as I said previously, nearly any industry that uses interactive media will be able to make use of this technology. From the entertainment industry to the gaming industry to education – the possibilities are almost unimaginable. Almost. I, for one, can’t wait to see what we come up with next.

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Jessica Gracey

Interior Designer – Gensler

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