I started Virtual Perceptions for many reasons. Like many working in the immersive reality industry, I am drawn to the new like flies to a flame, keen to follow what comes next. This started with video games, but then grew to an overall, fascinating area – the benefits of virtual reality as a whole.
Virtual reality can help with training, where people can gain new skills without endangering the lives of others. Learning new experiences becomes more vivid and memorable as users can interact with a virtual world, beyond books and web pages. The technology also provides an overall experience which grabs people’s hearts and minds, making them want to share widely with their friends and family (myself included). ‘Revolutionary’ is the best way to describe virtual reality, and VR in 2019 is set to be an interesting year for it.
This article will explore the numerous benefits of virtual reality , from mental health to learning and beyond.
- Benefits of virtual reality in training
- Learning real life experiences in virtual reality
- Virtual reality and experiences in social spaces
- Benefits of augmented reality
- The benefits of virtual reality in the future
Benefits of virtual reality in training
Medical applications of virtual reality is a rapidly growing area. One reason is that it allows people to be trained without harming others. Doctors can practice their skills without touching a real human body. No-one wants to be the first person ever being operated on by a junior doctor, and it will happen at some point. Yet this process helps to address issues before they arise.
Virtual Reality Doesn’t Replace Real Life. Strapping on a virtual reality headset is an amazing experience. In fact, it’s so realistic that you almost feel as if you’re visiting a location or taking part in an activity. But the key word in this sentence is “almost.” Virtual reality isn’t meant to replace real life, but instead enhance it. One of the best examples of this is how the travel industry uses virtual reality. For destinations and hotels, virtual reality is a research tool that enables potential guests get a glimpse of what it would be like to visit or book a room.
One new VR surgical tool is Laduma. The company is an immersive consultancy which has been working to create a new 360 experience of a S-ICD procedure , normally performed on people at risk of a cardiac arrest. The experience allows doctors to get a view of the process, next to a doctor in an operation room.
These immersive qualities help to improve training in virtual reality without a tool being picked up. While expensive, experiences like these help doctors hone their craft and learn, without being in the operation room. Hands-on experiences will always trump other forms of training – yet it provides a great groundwork to build on. The benefits of virtual reality in medical practices are massive and should be financed where possible.
Learning real life experiences in virtual reality
There are mutiple experiences which help people learn in virtual reality. I can cite many, but one I found the most interesting recently is debiasing teaching.
Companies tackle racial bias in numerous training programmes; a notable example is Starbucks in 2018, who shut 8,000 of its stores for training. Organisers delicately handle the situations to educate their employees in the best way possible. These trainings are important – yet if they are mishandled, they might have unintended consequences. In some cases, employees walk away from sessions feeling shame or being shaken by the experiences. These experiences have an adverse effect on the mental health of employees who work in the company.
The VR Bandwagon. With hundreds upon thousands of people wanting to get their hands on a VR device that was still in development, huge companies, including giants like HTC and Steam, Google, Lionsgate and Samsung, among others, started heavily investing in virtual reality technologies and experiences.
Clorama Dorvilas designed a VR experience to remove the shame and guilt felt afterward, via debiasing techniques. ‘Companies can spend millions of dollars on extremely ineffective, and virtually useless training that can have an adverse effect which can hurt the company even more,” she said. “Bias training shouldn’t be there to shame. People should feel good about making others feel accepted. Debias isn’t something that you can work out in a day. It’s a behavior that you have to work through. We want to give people the capacity to work in a safe and comfortable space.’
Dorvilas found that empathy allowed people to humanize each other, and applied that to VR. Numerous studies shows that unconscious bias impacts education and teaching, as it shapes how people teach and how they see relative achievement. This shaped the creation of Teacher’s Lens, an app which provides simulations in VR and reduces bias in a safe and comfortable way. The app presents the teacher with a racially diverse classroom, and tracks who the teacher interacts with. In this way, the benefits of virtual reality are made clear.
Virtual reality and experiences in social spaces
Recently I attended the Raindance Film Festival , which provided excellent coverage of the very best in new immersive movies. From Judi Dench talking about trees, to the life of Jesus Christ, the diverity of films is astonishing to see. Yet one area I find really interesting is the use of social spaces. Hubs by Mozilla tested users in different spaces, while Mozilla partnered with Jessica Outlaw and Tyesha Snow of The Extended Mind to review the user experience of the platform. These insights help illustrate the benefits of virtual reality in social spaces.
The team found that smaller spaces promoted closer conversations. In larger areas, when the team enabled special audio, participants felt they didn’t connect to others as they moved away from them. This was because that the further away they were, the lower the speaker volume, meaning the more isolated the user became. The Extended Mind team concluded that the type of space influenced behavior ; a wider space pulled users to explore, while a smaller office-like space promoted more intimate discussions. In a sense, size matters (in design). Along the same line of logic, the contents of the room changed how users saw its purpose as well. Adding a door which cannot be opened meant one user saw the space as an interrogation room; a fabrication in their mind rather than the intention of the designers.
Virtual reality is being used in health care. It allows medical students to practice dangerous procedures and gain experience without actually operating on a human. It can also help surgeons determine the best point of entry for surgeries.
Such experiences are fascinating to follow, and tell us about the future. Wandering around a virtual environment can become commonplace, and may well become the norm in years to come. In China, it is common for WeChat users to share their details after a business meeting, instead of business cards. It is not a stretch to say meetings will be virtual for many in the years to come.
Benefits of augmented reality
Many people do not know the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality. While VR puts people in a virtual world, augmented reality places virtual objects on the real world. This allows users to interact with them, and play with one another or compete.
Pokemon Go is the smash hit in 2016 which gripped the world. While the hype has subsided, Niantic still boasts a dedicated playerbase which pays for the service. Their upcoming game, Wizards Unite, may grip the world again. I predict it may happen.
Pokemon Go showed that the benefits of augmented reality are social in nature. Games can bring people outside, compete, and play. It lets children and young adults interact and trade. In several cases, it brought new customers to cafes as they become hub spots for players. Wizards Unite may have the same effect when it comes out in 2019.
The Virtuality Group Arcade Machine Experiences. The 1990s saw huge developments in virtual reality. With the rise of the arcades and arcade games, it was only a matter of time, before developers started coming up with new and exciting concepts and ideas. A company known as The Virtuality Group was at the cutting edge of virtual reality, launching a wide range of arcade games and machines that let either one or a couple of players immerse themselves into amazing 3D visual experiences. This happened in 1991, a year before the movie The Lawnmower Man further introduced the Virtual Reality concept to a wider audience of people.
In 2020, we can expect Apple to release their AR glasses , which can have new benefits as well. Solutions like maps on tables is beneficial, as people can plan how they go to work. Or it can display products before buying them, to better inform purchases.
The benefits of virtual reality in the future
The public is beginning to see the benefits of virtual reality. Many mainstream papers cover developments of the technology for treating depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. Social spaces like VRChat take over YouTube for a few weeks, as viral videos are shared widely. Doctors cite how virtual reality helps them develop professionally, and become better practitioners.
While these benefits are clear, more work needs to be done. Governments should invest more in the technology, with small steps already being made by the UK government. Investors should finance new projects, provided the return on investment is clear. Most importantly, curious enthusiasts should take more risks and try the experiences out, and support the ecosystem.
Developers will use bother virtual and augmented reality to help the public. The VR headsets can be used at home for entertainment, or learning via new experiences. Augmented reality can help learn new languages by labeling furniture. The applications are wide and being tapped. It is a matter of time before the mainstream public uses it as well.
The First Attempt at a VR Experience – The Sensorama. In the 1950s, a cinematographer by the name of Morton Heilig came up with a unique concept he later developed, known as the Sensorama. Featuring an arcade-style theater cabinet, the sensorama was aimed at stimulating a person’s senses. It featured a stereoscopic 3D display, fans and smell generators, stereo speakers, as well as a vibrating chair. The idea of the Sensorama was to fully immerse a person into a film-like experience. Heilig also went on to create as much as six short movies for his device.
Editor, Virtual Perceptions
Tom Ffiske specialises in writing about VR, AR, and MR across the immersive reality industry. Tom is based in London.