What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is the term used to describe a three-dimensional computer-generated environment that can be explored and interacted with.
Special glasses, also called VR helmets, are placed on the eyes and immerse you in the virtual environment, creating a realistic simulation experience.
It is possible to interact with the environment using hand-held controllers, gloves with sensors or the VR helmet itself.
Virtual reality can teleport you anywhere, helping you discover different places and ideas by experiencing them as if you were actually there.
Virtual reality generally has these 4 characteristics:
Realistic: you feel like in the virtual world through what you see and hear.
Fully immersive: when you move your head with the VR headset on, what you see changes too, just like in real life.
Computer-generated: Virtual reality worlds are usually created with complex 3D computer graphics that change in real time as we move.
Interactive: You can interact with different objects in the scene, whether by pressing a button or opening a door.
Augmented reality (AR) is different from VR because it enhances your view of the real world with digital overlays, while VR is a totally immersive experience in which you cannot see the real world.
Understanding Virtual Reality
The software creates virtual worlds that are seen and experienced by users who wear a VR headset. When you look around you with the VR headset on your eyes, the virtual world moves as it would in the real world.
These simulated graphics, combined with the sound of the VR headset, make our brain believe that we are really in the virtual world. This illusion can be very powerful after spending a few minutes in virtual reality, and can lead to scenarios such as people entering the walls because they have forgotten that they are in a virtual world.
History of virtual reality
The first technical developments of virtual reality date from the 1830s. However, in 1935, virtual reality became more common, appearing in Pygmalion’s Spectacles – a science fiction story where the main character wears a pair of glasses that transports him into a fictional world.
Since then, many improvements have been made to VR technology, leading to the launch of the Oculus Rift in 2012, which launched the VR as we know it today.
Virtual Reality Use Cases
There are currently many uses of VR across a wide range of industries. The simplest example is to watch a 360-degree movie, which appears all around you as you watch it.
There are great examples on YouTube where you can explore secluded caves, take a roller coaster ride, explore Victoria Falls and more. You can watch these videos from your computer, using your mouse to scroll 360 degrees, or in a VR headset, where you can move your head and look around.
A very common use case of VR is the game.
Currently, you can play a wide range of games, from table tennis to rock climbing to shooting. VR games have proven to be very popular as immersion completely transports the player into a different world.
More practical use cases of virtual reality include training employees for presentations, learning how to operate a crane, driving a truck, managing difficult customers and much more. In-company training in virtual reality is a rapidly growing field, as it leads to better knowledge retention and better performance in the real world compared to other types of training.
Real estate sellers can use virtual reality to give virtual tours to potential customers, allowing them to get a good idea of the place before booking a visit in person.
Make no mistake, there are excellent virtual reality (VR) games, but VR, AR and MR will shape our future in many ways other than games. Here is a list of industries that are already adopting virtual reality and how this could impact the future of this industry:
The automotive industry
Virtual reality allows engineers and designers to easily experiment with the appearance and construction of a vehicle before putting expensive prototypes into service. Brands like BMW and Jaguar Land Rover are already using virtual reality to organize early design and engineering reviews to verify the visual design and obscuration of the vehicle’s object – all before money is spent for the physical manufacture of parts.
Health is an important area where virtual reality can have a significant impact. Healthcare professionals are now using virtual models to prepare to work on real bodies and virtual reality has even been used to relieve the pain of burns.
Virtual reality can also be used as a treatment for mental health problems, with virtual reality exposure therapy being considered particularly effective in treating post-traumatic stress and anxiety. There are many other ways to spend time in virtual reality for therapeutic benefits.
The problem with online shopping is that we can’t try on the clothes we want before we buy them, which forces us to buy two sizes and return one, or to order a size and pray that it matches your shape and size. This could soon change with VR body scan technology, which would allow us to try on clothes in the virtual world to see what they would look like in person.
Various companies are trying to offer us the virtual reality shopping experience, including the European retailer ASOS, which has invested in the software development company Trillenium.
And it’s not just fashion that’s getting a makeover. Last year, eBay launched “the world’s first large virtual reality store” in partnership with Australian retailer Myer. Is this the future of shopping?
Imagine trying your vacation before you buy it. That’s exactly what the future holds for us. The industry is taking the first steps to allow you to make virtual tours of hotels, restaurants and tourist sites.
Thomas Cook launched his Try Before You Fly VR experience in 2015, where potential holidaymakers visit stores in various countries to experience their VR vacation before booking. The result of the trial, a 190% increase in tour bookings in New York.