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1 April 2015

Is virtual reality becoming a reality?

Written by: Naomi Hartridge, Assistant Account Executive at Edelman


It’s easy to remember the time when playing video games was considered a novelty, and one only for those that fit the ‘geek’ label. Not even ten years ago the gaming community and its ‘members’ were still stereotyped as either overweight, pasty nerds hosting day-long LAN parties, or pre-teens being exposed too early to games rated 18+ such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

Compared to gadgets that provide a convenience, such as smartphones, or those to which outstanding discoveries are credited, like the Mars Rover, the gaming world was never considered to offer anything as worthwhile to our everyday lives. However, more recently something has shifted in the sphere of gaming that has made it much more relevant in the technology world than ever before – the advent of virtual reality (VR).

Whilst virtual reality can trace its roots back to over 150 years ago, the first hopeful glimmer of immersive VR tech came only three years ago in the form of the Oculus Rift, created by Palmer Luckey and John Carmak, and created in an attempt to perfect virtual reality gaming. Fast forward a handful of months – the technology is bought by Facebook for $2.3 million. A further twelve months down the line and that technology, whilst very ‘beta’ in its form, has evolved from a casual experiment between two game programmers, to the latest technological milestone that leading vendors such as Sony, Microsoft and Samsung are racing to be the first to perfect.

I remember a few months ago discussing with a friend the exciting ways in which VR could move beyond video games into film, advertisement and even science. She scoffed, her opinion being that a ‘video game brainchild’ could never become anything more than a novelty. Then I showed her the #GetTeleported campaign, launched by Marriott Hotels last year, allowing passers-by to ‘teleport themselves’ to one of their overseas hotels. All that was needed was a VR headset, and a contraption very similar to a wind tunnel – very reminiscent of Disney’s ‘Honey I Shrunk the Audience’ show.

But virtual reality has the potential to grow beyond a PR gimmick – what if we could develop that technology to literally transport somebody to a different location in all aspects barring the geographical. This kit could be used to entirely convince our brains that we are somewhere else, and could totally revolutionise other aspects of STEM discoveries.

Imagine if NASA’s astronauts and engineers could save hours of research by perfecting their VR tech to rehearse essential space walks step-by-step, testing different conditions and variables to find the exact sequence of actions that will make their mission a success. More essential to the layperson – imagine if surgeons could transport themselves to problem areas of a patient. Soon they could be exploring the digital lungs of a patient, walking through each bronchiole to search for the cancerous site that needs removing.

This may sound all very sci-fi and unrealistic, yet every week we’re exposed to the different ways that virtual reality is aiding in the latest scientific, aviation and healthcare milestones. Besides, if vendors such as Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and Google get their skates on, the age of virtual reality will become a part of everyday life much sooner than previously anticipated, particularly with the promises of affordable gear and a library of apps to suit every need.

So perhaps the evolution of video games isn’t as novel or time-wasting as some may consider; in fact, it might assist in some of the greatest discoveries of this generation. I for one am very much looking forward to hearing more about how VR is pushing the boundaries of technological innovation, but in the meantime I’ll be saving my pennies for the HoloLens…

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