Virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors (thank you, Google ). It was last popularized in the early 1990s, when arcades and other destinations would charge players in 15 minute intervals to wear a big and heavy headset to explore different digital worlds. Interest in the technology spiked, then declined significantly, and then rebounded again recently with Facebook’s blockbuster purchase of OculusVR.
Today, virtual reality technology is easy to make fun of. You have to basically strap a small monitor to your head, sit down (ideally to avoid losing balance) and then pretend like you’re in a world separate from the one you currently live in. In many ways, it’s the older brother of the perhaps more familiar augmented reality that we are seeing through products like Google Glass.
The applications in current use for virtual reality are limited in several ways and therefore the whole thing seems a bit silly. Despite this, a technology like virtual reality has required, and will continue to require, a long term outlook. Potential, while imaginary, uses could include the ability to help two people who are physically far away from each other feel like they are sitting side by side. In entertainment, it’s not impossible to think that through VR one could sit court side at a Lakers game without needing to be in LA or paying for the hottest ticket in town.
Recently, the holiday season for 2014 was in full swing and some of Team Handsome was able to head over to fellow agency’s holiday party to enjoy the festive spirit. Aside from the usual suspects of an Austin holiday party (booze, bbq and live music), they also had an Oculus Rift virtual reality station setup with a roller coaster view loaded up.
For the sceptic, the Oculus Rift had a favorably difficult to convince anyone they weren’t at a holiday party. Stationed in the middle of a small stage, next to the downstairs bar, the only overlapping quality between the party and a roller coaster was the line to wait your turn.
Aside from the physical environment, once you had the system strapped onto your head, the visual experience was clearly something from a video game, resembling the quality of a Nintendo 64 game rather than the latest first-person shooter game.
Despite the physical environment and visuals making it difficult to fully embrace the ride, almost every brave participant clearly shared a moment or two when they clearly grasped their chair or moved their head along with the curves of the coaster. Their brain somehow convinced that they weren’t sitting in an office chair in the middle of a holiday party, and were perhaps losing balance to a roller coaster.
To watch holiday party attendees grasp the arm rests with their hand or tilt their head along with the ride was jarring. Clearly this technology is powerful, perhaps and almost certainly more powerful than we currently understand it. Undoubtedly, this technology is at a crossroads, vaguely similar to those who were quick to adopt the first iPad: they knew they wanted or needed it, but weren’t sure how to use it. The Oculus Rift, in many ways is in a similar position.
It is exciting to see a technology that can so visibly alter our mental state and convince us that we’re experiencing something entirely different than the environment outside those goggles.
The question remains – what kind of applications will we see the earliest adoption. Two potential industries include the medical industry and the entertainment industry. Medical professionals might use the technology to treat issues like depression, using the technology to help individuals smile and increase their enjoyment. Entertainment professionals might adopt the technology by making court side at a Lakers game that can become more available to fans.
Whichever way this technology heads, we’re excited to see if, and how, it finds its place in our lives.