Extended reality is just what it sounds like, an extension of the physical and visible world. This extension can come in a variety of ways, virtual, augmented, and mixed. While there are many benefits to each group, the most influential and beneficial is virtual reality. VR technology has always had applications that enhance the physical world, but with newer developments and more mainstream recognition paving its way, virtual reality is now a main method for how we interact with the world. It's creating a new way of production, connecting with people, and educating future generations. Virtual reality is swiftly changing the world, and with it, the future.
What is Virtual Reality and How Does it Work?
Virtual reality is an immersible type of extended reality where the physical user is put into a virtual simulation. The physical world is extended into a virtual plane. Virtual reality works by taking a graphically generated environment and projecting it into the headset worn by the user. Tracking information from motion sensors is then processed by the software and implemented into the program being used. It then takes that information and structures the world around the users field of vision to make it seem as if they are in the virtually generated environment.
There are three categories of virtual reality immersion. In order from least to most, there are non-immersive, semi-immersive, and fully immersive VR simulations.
Non-immersive virtual reality is generally overlooked. It's been around much longer than the other versions and as a result is used more often without really thinking about it. The most common form is through video games and it relies heavily on computers, consoles, and other standard gaming equipment to move through the experience. Non-immersive VR allows the user to remain completely aware of their physical setting because the environment is displayed on a monitor, rather than the headset.
Semi-immersive virtual reality supplies a partial virtual environment. Where non-immersive VR relies more on supplementing the environment provided by a monitor display, semi-immersive VR is presented with a 3D environment but does not require physical movement by the user. Semi immersive reality has a closer depiction to the physical world and has a greater sense of realism to its graphics. It's used primarily for educational purposes, in school and vocational training. Semi-immersive virtual reality relies heavily on high resolution displays that can partially or fully replicate the function of real-world mechanics to properly introduce critical concepts to the user.
Fully immersive virtual reality has the most realistic virtual simulations and the experience comes complete with sight and sound. For these simulations, the user wears a full head mount display (HMD) to give the truest representation of the physical or separate world. These headsets are high resolution displays that enable the user to feel the most like they've been put into a different world. Fully immersive VR experiences are possible because the device uses input tracking and 3D imaging (a concept first thought of by Leonardo da Vinci more than five hundred years ago) to create the most realistic and immersive displays possible. The most immersive type of VR is most commonly used in gaming and entertainment where a user wants to experience their chosen form of entertainment more fully.
Where is Virtual Reality Being Used Today?
There are many places you can find today that employ virtual reality in their day to day. Because of the major benefits that come from having an immersive gamified environment like higher user retention rates, faster learning speeds, and cost reduction over time, areas of development like manufacturing, education, construction, and employee training find it especially useful. The healthcare system is finding ways to help patients manage pain and surgeons perform tricky surgeries in the safest way possible.
The entertainment industry is rising to meet the demands of virtual reality as well. With new developments resulting in better graphics, more surrounding visuals and more immersion in story lines and character development, the entertainment industry will thrive with VR technology.
How is Virtual Reality Changing the Future?
While there are many industries that have benefited from the rise in virtual reality popularity, there are three main ways that virtual reality is changing the future: production, connectivity, and education.
Production- Manufacturing businesses are introducing virtual reality to their standard repertoire of tools. Training their employees in product design, machine installation, standard operating procedure, and retail interactions make it a natural way to include VR. But the connections don't stop there. Virtual reality is making it easier to design products, expedite the creation process and in turn lower production costs. Not only does it lower the cost of production, but also the cost of employee safety risks. Overall manufacturing can have higher yields by saving, instead of higher priced items.
Connectivity- Virtual reality is connection people every day. Instead of phone calls, people can use virtual and mixed reality to spend time with family across states and countries. While studies have shown that virtual reality can lead to depression, dissociation, and addiction, the same can be said for gaming, social media, and books. And while this is true, when used in a mentally healthy way, virtual reality can also help build connections between people that weren't possible. It's connecting people across racial, gender, and spatial boundaries that was nearly impossible before the introduction of the internet, phones, and extended reality. While all of this can also be done in a physical setting, the 2020 pandemic showed us that coming together physically isn't always possible. Virtual reality has helped mitigate the negative effects of social distancing by offering another avenue for human interaction. As people in the gaming industry have known for a long time, just because the interactions are virtual doesn't make the connections made via gaming, meetings, and the internet in general any less real or valid.
Education- Possibly the most rewarding change is in education. Of course, one of the most important parts of living in a community is to educate children, not only in core studies like math, science, and literature, but in hygiene, social interactions, and how to generally be a decent human being. Learning is an exponential concept. The more a person knows, the more that we, as a community, can learn about everything, from what makes up an atom to what's at the end of the universe. That in turn creates a larger introductory education that enables students to learn even more. Offering virtual reality in schools would help teach children critical information, even newer information only learned in recent years of study. By offering learning by VR and giving them a larger baseline of understanding, we give students the opportunity to add even greater amounts of knowledge to the wider community pool of understanding.
Virtual reality has come a long way in the last decade, from its humble beginnings as the Sword of Damocles, to the mobile- and easier on the neck- Oculus Quest. Developments in the VR space will continue to grow, offering an expansion of connections, education, and production. These industries have enabled us to make experienced educated conjecture on virtual reality's eventual influence on society and with it there's no telling what the future holds.