Think back twenty or so years to the beginnings of the internet. Now think back to just ten years ago when the smartphone hit the mass market. Our world has changed, almost to the point of being unrecognizable to someone who might have stumbled upon it from the now seemingly far-reaching era of the late twentieth century. Even fifteenish years ago, lots of people were still sending snail mail, which now seems like a Bronze Age concept to many (especially anyone born after the internet boom). Yet if you had told someone in that time what our world would look like today, you would have been laughed at, told it was impossible, or heard that it was a passing fad – which is very much where we are today with virtual reality. So before we dismiss the tech that may very well be the next wave of our everyday lives come 2030, let’s take a look at why virtual reality might be here to stay.
Why is virtual reality so attractive?
The virtual world has a lot of appeal for a lot of reasons. Not only increasing efficiency and expanding opportunities, the virtual world is desirable for another reason that stems from a very basic human desire. Through its advanced capabilities, it allows people to more vividly experience their imagination. Since the Oculus Rift’s first debut in 2016, virtual reality users today total over 170 million worldwide, and virtual reality is estimated to be close to a fifty billion dollar industry by 2025. On a personal level, as the physical limitations of the natural world are reduced in a virtual environment, people have the ability to change their virtual appearance, simulate abilities such as flight, and build virtual homes and environments according to their preferences. They can also connect with one another in person from across the globe and share with each other essentially without limitation. For businesses and industry, meanwhile, VR offers the potential to reach millions more customers in a more personal, in-depth way, and to also do so more efficiently.
Real-Life Applications In VR
Business follows customers, and as people spend more time interacting in virtual reality, the more companies will invest in reaching customers there. If we look ahead, it’s possible that what we know now as ecommerce could shift into virtual commerce, followed by advertisers moving their efforts to virtual reality platforms, and that everything from socializing to gaming, entertainment, and even work could adopt a virtual element. While VR has been integrated in limited situations already – for example, many games incorporate VR – today, virtual worlds are being built that are tailor-made to make the shift into virtual reality. Decentraland, for example, is one instance of a virtual world in production today that currently encompasses over 35 different districts. Each with their own focus, some of the largest are geared towards entertainment, gaming, and shopping, while others include areas for education, socializing, business, and art, with a single entrance point called Genesis City.
Separately, “eSports” is a growing arena that is already integrated with virtual reality. Meanwhile, companies are beginning to offer virtual experiences in travel and sell tickets to semi-virtual spectator sports. The ability to virtually combine two parties in different physical locations offers myriads of new possibilities in socializing, work, education, and more. Additionally, the ability to create new experiences in a virtual world has applications not only in entertainment, but in practical fields such as training. Emergency respondents and doctors are just a couple examples of professions that could greatly benefit from the ability to practice handling extreme situations without taking real world risk. Just as ecommerce has revolutionized shopping, esports have changed gaming, and avatars are becoming the new face of social interaction, the physical world will likely also be altered by the integration of virtual reality.
How is VR technology evolving?
Big players like Sony ($SNE), Facebook ($FB), and HTC have invested heavily in positioning themselves for the virtual reality market. With the ideal goal being to build an entire platform – such as Windows is to personal computers – these competitors are angling to sell hardware, as well as software like games and other VR programs. And while virtual reality may yet be in its infancy, the tech that powers these platforms is becoming increasingly advanced. Likewise, the interactive capabilities of today’s virtual reality hardware are becoming more and more sophisticated. Powerful graphics cards are rendering detailed images with minimal lag time. Combinations of wearable hardware and advanced software are making for immersive, realistic simulations that are increasingly indistinguishable from natural life – allowing for intuitive physical interactions, rather than using clunky controllers, and offering optical views that mirror real fields of vision. Meanwhile, tech companies are working rapidly to expand the capabilities of virtual reality technology further. Something called the “six degrees of freedom” – basically describing every direction in which a human can naturally move – is being increasingly integrated and refined through both hardware and software. All-direction treadmills, tactile tech like gloves, and wireless hardware (without the hindrance of clumsy cables) are offering more freedom of movement. With software that can track eye movements, offer 360-degree views with peripheral vision, and map increasingly large physical spaces, VR tech is no doubt advancing rapidly, even if it’s not mainstream yet.
As the tech continues into the future, virtual reality – from both the tech side and the customer side – could develop in myriads of ways. The augmentation of virtual reality with artificial intelligence, for example, may offer extensive possibilities. AI, with its vast computing capability, could cater to multiple users simultaneously, develop highly realistic virtual elements (like virtual characters based on human design), or even adjust a virtual environment based on a user’s interactions or preferences – providing the virtual world with dynamic and interactive spaces that respond organically and in real time. Consider again how different the world looks today from how it did just twenty years ago. While these technologies are still developing, the virtual reality space is definitely one to watch.