Virtual reality is nothing new. Engineers and developers have been working on VR systems since the eighties, perhaps even further back. However, we're currently in a fantastic time when VR is available to the masses and becoming more affordable. Virtual reality is no longer science fiction, it's here, and it's slowly growing in popularity.
There are many uses for VR, and experts are always trying to predict when and how it will really take off. Right now, fully immersive VR has had a slow start. I'm not exactly sure why it's taking so long. It could be due to lesser systems like mobile VR and video game console VR diluting the market which is probably turning many people off. Maybe it's a current lack of available content. It could be that the hardware is still too cumbersome for most people to set up and maintain. Finally, the cost could always be a factor even if the price tag has been steadily dropping. My thought is it's a combination of these issues.
However, with the arrival of books and movies like the 2018 film "Ready Player One," there has been a renewed interest in virtual reality. In addition, thanks to the technology advancements of Facebook's Oculus Quest 2, which allows for a powerful stand-alone VR experience at a reasonable price, more people are now being drawn into virtual worlds. As the hardware quality increases and the price drops, consumers will continue to dabble in VR environments. However, what’s going to make having a VR system a must is when there is a uniform platform that everyone can access and experience in the same environment. It's known as a massive multiplayer online simulation game (MMOSG), similar to Ready Players One’s OASIS.
What uses will propel VR's popularity?
Games – presently, games are driving the popularity of VR, and it's to no surprise. Most of the applications I've used have been games. Both Oculus and HTC's Vive make downloading games and applications easy. The ability to try as many games as possible is almost overwhelming for me, but for my teenage sons, it's a way to delve into as many different worlds as possible. Many of these games are free or offer a free short demo, and I have to say many of them are simply amazing. My personal favorite is "Blue Effect." What a rush!
Exploration/Education – the second most popular application that I notice people using is sightseeing and learning. Not everyone has the time or the funds to visit a museum in Paris, but with VR, it's just you and the Mona Lisa. Need to study the human body or the solar system? No problem, just teleport yourself there. I see the benefit of using VR as an online school portal someday. Interacting with your teacher and fellow peers in a real-time virtual environment without traveling would be enticing to many students.
Training – what better way to train personnel in a dangerous environment than with VR. Learning to defuse explosives or work with nuclear power in a safe environment before experiencing the real thing is a great way to build someone's skills and confidence. In addition to being safer, it’s also more cost-effective since the training facility is made in a virtual world rather than a physical full-size replica.
Presentations – I've been exposed to fully immersive VR through my company when I worked on an application for trade shows. The company builds enormous machinery. We wanted to create a new and exciting way for visitors at our booth to experience machines without physically shipping these machines to the shows. I got to see how well received the VR system was and how amazed people were to interact with our products. Since we unveiled the system a few years ago, we've experienced an increase in the use of VR at events. The VR is now being used to demonstrate turnkey setups of customers' new equipment. I've heard of other manufacturers doing the same.
Entertainment – this is just a concept, but I read about how developers are thinking of creating movies that are entirely immersive where the viewer can see each scene from any angle within a specific boundary. How amazing would it be to stand in the middle of a battlefield or stand in a murder mystery room? I would love to be in the middle of the Terminator or Aliens movie. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
Social – eventually, there will be a social media portal where everyone will have an avatar and interact in an open-world setting. It will catch on fast, and everyone will be on the "network." It could very well be the MMOSG I spoke about earlier in the article. I’ve already seen my teenage boys using Roblox online as a social meeting place. Why not a virtual Roblox? Wait…? I just looked it up and it already exists. Wow, technology moves fast.
My prediction for the future of VR is that the hardware cost will continue to be more affordable. In addition, it will become simple to use, allowing an everyday person to interact with other users on a MMOSG network like the Oasis in Ready Player One. If you're into gaming, exploring, and learning, you can do these things right now with what's currently available. But the big advancement that I feel will increase VR’s popularity is when you’re able to experience these types of VR applications with others in real-time. Developers could take it anther step further and allow users to build their own application or plot of land within the system. It would be like the game Second Life that allows people to create an avatar for themselves and basically have a second life in an online virtual world. I can't wait to see what the future will bring.
Brian Lundgren is a marketing professional, musician, and family man living in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.