You’ve definitely heard of Virtual Reality or ‘VR’ – but you might think it’s just a bit of fun for avid gamers playing with VR games or VR apps. So, what exactly is virtual reality?
Whilst there are plenty of fun examples of virtual reality games – whether that’s virtual roller coasters, snooker, or even space exploration, virtual reality has so much to offer across healthcare, business and even marketing.
What about a surgeon operating on you from another country with the help of a colleague holding the scalpel for a VR experience with real life results?
Or if you could experience your dream wedding in the virtual world, before you’d even spent a penny on flights?
Perhaps through a VR simulator you can try your hand at the trickiest parts of space exploration, or experience something that you would never do in your wildest dreams – like scaling a building!
If it sounds like fantasy, then read on, because virtual reality is becoming a reality for many businesses, healthcare providers and individuals across the world.
What is the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality?
It’s a strange time to be alive when we now have three kinds of reality – normal reality (complete with grumpy spouse and athlete’s foot), virtual reality and augmented reality. What are the differences?
It’s key to see virtual reality as a fully synthetic world, and to understand that augmented reality overlays virtual 3D graphics onto our real world (think Pokémon Go) literally augmenting the way we see our everyday life.
Virtual reality in contrast helps users feel like they are actually experiencing various activities.
How does virtual reality work?
To experience VR you need to be immersed in the virtual world, which is why you need VR Goggles or a virtual reality headset (sometimes called virtual reality glasses) and a compatible phone or a specific virtual reality device.
To get these on your face, you need a mount, which is where you might have seen VR ‘Cardboard’ sets (and wondered how something so digital and new age can be facilitated by a cardboard box.)
Simply, VR headsets – also known as HMDs or head mounted displays – create the ‘screen’ around your face. Unlike watching a TV or a phone, as you turn your head and move up and down, your eyes should stay within the virtual scene.
These don’t have to be expensive and they don’t need to give you 360 degrees over coverage – unless you’re an owl, a 100 degree range of vision keeps the cost down and gives the same experience.
The cost comes in the lenses which are placed between your eyes and the pixels, which is why the devices are often called goggles.
These lenses focus and reshape the picture for each eye and create a stereoscopic 3D image by angling the two 2D images to mimic how each of our two eyes views the world ever-so-slightly differently.
In terms of delivery, the content is similar to that of a games console you already use, and images comes from a console via a simple HDMI, or it’s embedded into the headset already.
So what does virtual reality feel like? We thought the best explanation is thus:
“A virtual experience includes three-dimensional images which appear life-sized to the user. A virtual reality application or device tracks the user’s head and eye movements and adjusts the on-screen display to respond to the change of perspective.
Virtual reality is not just about the visual experience; it’s augmented by sounds and device movement. In a virtual environment “immersion” is the feeling of being inside that world and the depth of which the feeling is felt. Add the interaction with that environment, and we experience “telepresence”.
Why and how is Virtual Reality used nowadays?
Whilst Sony launched its PlayStation VR (PSVR) game console in 2016, the gaming market for VR hasn’t been as big as anticipated.
CCP Games who make the space MMO game EVE: Online and a VR spin-off game EVE: Valkyrie have opted out of VR development for the next few years stating in an email to Engadget that ‘they will continue to support VR games but will not be making material VR investments until we see market conditions that justify further investments beyond what we have already made,”.
If you think VR hasn’t got legs based on this news from the gaming market alone, you’d be dead wrong – the really exciting stories have been coming out of everyday applications for VR.
With virtual reality, distance becomes even less of an issue. Whilst we’ve all adapted to video conferencing, sometimes you need to get the ‘feel’ for a place. Watabe Wedding Corp, a major wedding service company, in Tokyo understand this, and are using VR to help their clients see how a wedding venue on the other side of the world might look and feel.
At the same time, “Wild Within” used VR to promote tourism in Canada’s British Columbia, giving users the ability to feel the sensation of hiking, visiting rainforest or seeing the stunning coastlines, Mark Zuckerberg turned up at Puerto Rico via VR and Ethiad are letting people get a feel for the A380 airbus without even leaving their sofa.
On the other side of the coin, we can’t do much in life without nudity being far away, and according to VirtualLiving.io, Virtual Reality opens up another window for another flavour in this vein – Teledildonic sex, where “individuals who live thousands of miles from each other can interact in virtual reality.”
We’d be remiss to talk about VR in any capacity without speaking about the training and health elements. Virtual Reality is a trainer’s dream – allowing you to be in any situation, real or imagined, without the associated risks.
VR training makes the situation feel real, without consequence. Boeing, who develop manned spacecraft announced in September they would introduce VR programmes to train astronauts for spacecraft operations.
In October 2017 surgeons from both Mumbai and London came together using VR headsets and together, operated on an NHS patient, causing them to suggest that this could become routine within the next 5 years. The aftercare benefits of VR are also potentially incredible.
Brand new research published in Neurology has shown that VR can even help reduce phantom body pain.
Neuroscientist Olaf Blanke at EPFL, Switzerland said of the research;
With the help of virtual reality, we managed to provoke an illusion: the illusion that the subject’s legs were being lightly tapped, when in fact the subject was actually being tapped on the back, above the spinal cord lesion. When we did this, the subjects also reported that their pain had diminished.
It’s not all designed for the academic elite, however. You too can benefit from VR.
According to ABI Research, VR can offer stand out uses across four key medical and healthcare segments: therapy, training, surgery related applications, and medical research.
They suggest that the best use for VR could be ‘therapeutic applications and medical therapies such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or non-medical therapies, for example sleep management.
They have seen many healthcare facilities already trialing immersive VR simulations to treat patients with anxiety, pain management, and neuro-recovery. They also suggest that consumer segments (e.g. self-care to stop smoking or to manage diet) could be a huge part to play in VR’s medical success.
That extends to ‘lesser’ complaints you might suffer from. Fear of spiders, fear of public speaking, fear of asking that person out on a date? VR could provide the solutions for you by letting you learn (and fail!) at your own pace. It allows us to put test conditions on our lives.
Speaking to The Guardian, Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford said of VR:
There are very few conditions VR can’t help, because, in the end, every mental health problem is about dealing with a problem in the real world, and VR can produce that troubling situation for you.
It gives you a chance to coach people in other ways of responding. The people I see are anxious or depressed, or worried about people attacking them, and what they’ve done in their life is retreat from the world. With VR, you can get people to try stuff they haven’t done for years – go in lifts, to shopping malls, then they realise they can do it out in the real world.
What is the future of Virtual Reality?
When it comes to marketing and advertising, you can bet that anything purchased by Facebook for $2 billion (Oculus Rift) will definitely start to creep into our lives as marketers look to connect with consumers through virtual reality marketing and virtual reality experiences!
According to a survey by L.E.K. Consulting, as many as 80% of consumers who consider themselves early tech adopters ‘are interested in using VR to enhance their shopping experience’.
It’s a trend that retailers are keen to move with and in October 2017 Walmart’s e-commerce CEO Marc Lore said that in the next decade he sees ‘a future where consumers can experience in-store interactions via VR in their homes.’
IKEA has already started trialing a virtual test kitchen and Mastercard and Swarovski have put their efforts into a VR shopping app that lets shoppers browse, learn about and purchase items.
It’s not just about looking at products either. Jaguar have created a campaign that put you, via VR, into Wimbledon and Coca Cola created a virtual reality sleigh ride for their well-known ‘holidays are coming’ campaign in Poland.
When storytelling and being authentic is all key for today’s marketers, experiences even through VR could help overcome some of the challenges in running events and promotions.
Time will tell how VR could be utilised to create consume generated content and experiences that feedback to the retailer but for now it’s clear that future could certainly see more businesses, from clothing retailers to hotels and airlines using the technology to make booking or buying even easier.
With reviews key to the online experience, VR could give a flavour of the real experience, before people commit their credit card details!