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Virtual Reality: Beyond Gaming

How VR is being used in other realms.

Virtual reality is all the rage. Big names like Google, HTC, Sony, Magic Leap and Microsoft have recently made product announcements, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) is going to live-stream 25 games in VR this season.

So what, then, is VR?

In short, it’s an experience. But it’s also so much more.

Defining VR

According to the Virtual Reality Society,“[VR] entails presenting our senses with a computer generated virtual environment that we can explore in some fashion.” CNET offers a slightly different definition, saying, “[VR is a] computer-generated environment that lets you experience a different reality.”

This “different reality” can be almost anything—something we want to experience in real life but for whatever reason, we can’t; like climbing Mount Everest or racing through the rapids of the Grand Canyon or driving a Ferrari.  

VR can let us experience fantasies, too, like donning the cowl in Batman: Arkham VR, where you—quite literally—become the Dark Knight and physically engage with scenery and characters instead of simply pushing buttons on a controller.

While VR may seem like a simple game or escape, these advancements in technology, coupled with more reliable Internet speeds, can also have a direct impact on real life.

Real Life Applications of VR

While VR’s applications for gaming is obvious, it has real life applications, too, beyond climbing Everest. For example, Stanford University’s football team uses VR as part of its training and game prep. Second and third string quarterbacks can run through plays, and learn to read defenses so they’re ready to take over at a moment’s notice. Players coming back from injuries can practice without risking further injury.

VR isn’t limited to football training. Schools around the world are also using VR to enhance the learning process and keep students engaged.

A popular example of VR in education is World of Comenius, which, as TechCrunch describes, is “a biology lesson at a school in the Czech Republic that employed a Leap Motion controller and specially ­adapted Oculus Rift DK2 headsets.” Through hand motions and gestures, students can look beneath the skin of the human body and examine its skeletal structure up close, or dive into the inner workings of organs, or tap into the neural networks of the brain.

As it makes positive inroads in education, VR is also making inroads in politics.

AltspaceVR, a VR software company, has partnered with NBC to create NBC News Democracy Plaza. As The Verge describes, NBC News Democracy Plaza is “a full re-creation of the NBC News Democracy Plaza at New York’s Rockefeller Center, complete with a huge screen for watching live debates, a map for counting states on election night, and appearances from NBC journalists.” The goal is to create “healthy political discourse” during what remains of this election season.

The Future of VR

If these technological advancements are any indication, the future of VR is boundless. Projections put the industry as a whole growing by 147 percent in the next five years.

Today, you can explore an art museum without the hassle of cost and travel, leverage VR for social change, or experience a city from above.

Tomorrow? Who knows. There’s opportunity to make any matter of places, things, and activities accessible to everyone. For example, as TechCrunch explains, VR presents an opportunity to help “people with certain eye conditions see things again—by defining objects with greater contrast and clarity. Or if someone is blind and visual information can be represented in other ways, then this is a powerful method to allow the person to be aware of their surroundings and make informed decisions on navigation and interaction.”

Today, we’re just scratching the surface of what VR technology can do.

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