What Can VR Tech Truly Change?

PLAYA VISTA, CA - OCTOBER 27, 2010:  Mark T. Bolas Associate Director of the mixed reality lab and Associate Professor of Interactive Media Division in the USC School of Cinematic Arts wears the HMD, Head Mounted Display while viewing a scene through the specialty lenses in the mixed realty lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies that has moved to a new location in the Playa Vista development October 27, 2010. The new location features their first 10 years of work in developing new technologies for teaching, training, education and entertainment. They specialize in virtual humans, visual effects and immersive environments. The Institute for Creative Technologies was founded with a $100 million Pentagon grant and housed at the University of Southern California with a self-described mission to tap the best of Hollywood to create "synthetic experiences so compelling that participants react as if they are real." (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

I ask the follow as a very serious question considering VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) technology taking off this year and a recent announcement from Microsoft declaring that next year for $299, the two concepts will be married in a “mixed reality” headset. Yet, in spite of these promotions and reported innovations, I think one thing that has been neglected by most journalists who work with technology in any capacity, which is most of them, is the question of just how VR will impact society or more importantly advance technology. Now the good news is that VR does open plenty of avenues for technology in the future, but one must also consider that this tech is really only new in terms of being available for public consumption. VR and AR have been around in a limited degree in military applications, like training test pilots and science programs. It is only new to us because for the first time, at least when it comes VR, we are now living and experiencing science fact, not fiction.

The big question one that isn’t clearly answered is: “what can we do with VR?” Right now the answer to that question seems to be that VR is an entertainment peripheral as seen with Sony’s Palystation VR and Microsoft/The Oculus Rift. While this is all fine and good, the true potential of the technology remains untapped. While VR may not benefit fields like journalism, there’s no telling what it could do for other things like history for example. Imagine taking a Virtual tour of a historical past location as created based on information provided by historians. It would create an experience that could easily interest in places like museums. Another example is given the popularity of audiobooks, what would it be like to be a programmed fly on the wall (figuratively speaking) and watch say a Sherlock Holmes novel play out before your very eyes.

It disappointing that despite being well covered by media and journalists that none of VR’s true potential has been discussed. Given the infancy of the technology in the public space it shouldn’t be truly surprising. However, the question has to be raised that if VR is the next wave of the future, what exactly does that entail? Even those journalists and media outlets without absolute technical expertise should at least be offering something for the world to help latch on, otherwise VR will fade from the public light, becoming merely a novelty. These conclusions don’t have to be immediate, but if the only thing we use VR for going forward is video gaming in say 5 years or 2021 to be technical, than we as a species didn’t try/think hard enough. VR tech could be the next great step into making concepts seen in TV shows like Star Trek, but to get there we need to take bold leaps with the technology, ones that won’t be made with how journalists current portray it.

Image Courtesy of USC ICT

Mashable’s story on Mixed Reality Headsets

3 Responses to “What Can VR Tech Truly Change?”

  1. I really like the point that you brought up about how historians would really benefit from the usage of advanced virtual reality technology. I’m sure this would help historians to conduct research of past time periods, such as the Civil War era or the Great Depression, or the Enlightenment Age, much easier.

    I would love to see more discussions on the internet about how much Virtual Reality systems could change our world. It’s a very intriguing topic.

    Something I believe would be changed significantly by virtual reality systems is how we perceive science fiction. As you mentioned, it’s not al fiction anymore. All kinds of crazy technologies are now being invented, and it’s hard to imagine that science can go any further. But science always finds a way to progress onward. And maybe Virtual Reality will help us realize that we might actually know very, very little about reality in general.

  2. This is technology solving a problem that doesn’t exist (yet!)….although, there appears to be more practical uses for AR than VR.

    I still believe that technology is outpacing the human ability to use it creatively. We’re so used to our older technology, all new technology is viewed from the lens of the old technology.

    We call our smart phones “phones” You could argue that we barely use them as phones. They should really be called something else. But we think of them as phones because that’s what we were used to calling them.

  3. 2016 was a big year for VR with the release of the Sony Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and more filling consumers Christmas wish lists for Santa. While the quality of games has been a bit polarising, I can see it gaining more consistency next year as developers gain more experience in the field and issues are ironed out. Financially it will be interesting to see how VR progresses as many indie devs have mentioned how difficult it is to make money from VR games at the moment during a time where the market is so young and lots of gamers don’t own a VR device yet.


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