People have traveled the vast nothingness of the Sahara, climbed the icy slopes of Everest and borne witness to the northern lights, all from the comfort of home. How is this possible? This was accomplished through the miracle of modern engineering. Introducing, virtual reality.
Virtual reality (VR)—an experience that simulates immersive physical presence in a real or imagined environment—is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s world. More and more companies are popping up, all hoping to claim a spot at the top. Currently, the biggest dominators in the field are Facebook/Oculus, Google, Microsoft and Magic Leap.
From flying a plane to fighting mutant zombies, VR allows people to experience events that are unlikely or impossible. The process of creating “reality” is achieved through the use of headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves. These are used to stimulate our senses to create the illusion of reality.
Isaiah Monroig, a 15-year-old at Boston Latin School, shares his positive experience with VR. He played a game in which you had to fight virus-infected robots. “There were motion controllers to orientate yourself around and it was really intriguing,” he said. “It was cool to be in the game.”
Unlike what many may think, VR is not just for gamers. VR can also help us experience things that are too dangerous, expensive or impractical to do in reality.
“Our software puts people into situations that are potentially dangerous,” says Jim Kogler, Vice President of COTS products at VT MAK. “People behave differently when they know they’re acting something out, and the goal is to make people believe that they are facing danger and see how they react.”
As the price of VR increasingly lowers, more educational purposes are sure to follow. Already, some schools around the world have tested out VR in the classroom.
VR also provides an escape from reality (pun intended). It provides an opportunity for users to relax in situations that cause them anxiety. VR treatment helps combat depression and anxiety by increasing self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-confidence. VR can treat post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, drug addiction and a variety of phobias.
However, there are some negative aspects of VR, like VR sickness. Similar to motion sickness, VR sickness is caused by the mismatch between the eyes and brain. Symptoms include discomfort, headaches, nausea, drowsiness and disorientation. Some people experience this after just a few minutes, while others may never go through the symptoms.
Rosemary Bain, a 15-year-old from Somerville, finds these symptoms can prevent everyone from enjoying VR. “I think that as VR progresses, that might be addressed so more people can experience it,” she said. “But for now, it sucks that people can’t play VR because they might get sick.”
Discouraging social interactions is also a potentially harmful issue related to VR. As these types of virtual experiences continue to grow, people may be tempted to distance themselves from their own unsatisfying lives and instead replace them with better, virtual worlds.
Kogler states, “No matter the consequences, [VR] is worth it. It lets people experience things that they haven’t done before and it prepares them for all possible events.” He adds, “The trend is that VR is getting cheaper. More and more people are getting access to it. The chance that teens are exposed to the technology has definitely increased by a lot.”
Virtual reality will continue to grow and evolve, and no one can ever be sure of the future, but one thing is clear. VR has changed the world by giving more opportunities for architecture, medicine, entertainment, sports and the arts. We can expect to see many more innovative uses for the technology and perhaps a change in the fundamental way in which we communicate and work—all thanks to the possibilities of virtual reality.