Early VR technology is nothing if not impressive—already, we’re seeing the Apollo 11 mission first-hand or seizing control of fictional space. But that’s only the beginning, and these games don’t show what VR’s full capabilities truly are. Sure, a realistic roller coaster simulator is cool, but it’s only scratching the surface. Virtual reality is more than just a new way to experience the same media; it’s a new medium in its own right, with the largely untapped ability to enhance many existing fields.
While access to virtual reality is still limited, its potential in a variety of fields is already being explored. Following are five of the most interesting uses, showing how unique and powerful this new technology is in ways we’re only just beginning to understand.
The Unimersiv app features a variety of educational content, letting students learn about history, anatomy, and other topics in a uniquely immersive fashion.
VR Technology Takes Education to Unexplored Places
VR technology is immersive to a degree that’s unparalleled in any other medium. We can visit space, explore faithful recreations of ancient cities, or go inside the human body to better understand how it works. That gives virtual reality incredible potential for education. Textbooks and films get the job done, but imagine the engagement of students who get to experience far-off places as if they’re really in them.
Many companies, such as EON Reality and Unimersiv, are already getting into VR for education purposes, often for use in the hard sciences like biology, chemistry, and astronomy. VR has other educational applications as well, such as letting students see historical architecture up close or experience famous plays in the convenience and safety of a classroom.
While VR may still be cost-prohibitive to many schools, there are some affordable options, such as Google Cardboard. As the technology improves, it will likely get more affordable—and organizations like Nearpod are already working to fund VR for educational use, giving students around the country the opportunity to learn from this new technology, and more will likely follow as it hits the market and its efficacy is proven.
Loading Human explores the storytelling potential of VR by combining the immersive technology with a story that can only be told in this format.
VR Allows Immersive Storytelling on an Entirely New Scale
Conventional media lets us experience some truly amazing stories, but VR lets us experience and navigate them in a new way. Like 3D technology, VR adds depth to a movie or game, giving us a new appreciation for things like set design through interactivity.
Because the technology is still emerging, VR movies are often experimental or short films. But more are on their way—many large companies are adapting existing films for VR or creating new featurettes or other small films specifically to be experienced in virtual reality, and this year’s Tribeca Film Festival had dozens of VR experiences. While it’s hard to conceive of a fully explorable film yet (given the current restrictions of the medium), it’s sure to be incredible. We’re already seeing the way that this technology allows us to experience the combination of sound and visuals, and, as more filmmakers dip their toes into the VR pool, we’re likely to see more methods of pushing film boundaries in this medium.
Gaming is one of the most popular applications for VR technology at the moment, and for good reason. Games are easily the most immersive media form, and VR takes that immersion to an entirely new level.But VR’s capability doesn’t end at just creating realistic environments to explore. There’s a lot of storytelling potential in this new media—VR games might be games, but they’re unlike any games we’ve seen before.
Loading Human plays something like an old-school adventure game, in which you solve puzzles and navigate a person’s life by interacting with objects. But in VR, you’re really in the story, experiencing the events, challenges, and consequences as if they’re really happening to you. You see and feel emotion in a way no other medium allows. Feelings like guilt, shame, and remorse play a much bigger role than they do in a more passive medium like books; and while gaming has always been able to tackle these emotions, it’s even more powerful when you’re interacting with characters face-to-face. It’s a unique experience, and one that will challenge how we think of gaming and virtual reality technology as a whole.
Medicine Makes Use of VR Technology
Virtual reality also holds great promise for the medical field. With three-dimensional imaging and virtual reality, doctors can see and respond to problems on a much greater scale. As part of education, virtual reality can help allow doctors practice surgery without any risk to patients, giving them more “hands-on” experience than observation alone.
Further, virtual reality may also be effective for pain management. By providing other immersive stimulation, doctors can help patients with extreme pain, such as burn victims, better manage their symptoms. These treatments may use distraction to draw patient attention away from pain or use biofeedback to help patients practice mindfulness and manage their pain by controlling it. For those who suffer chronic pain, this can be an incredible resource towards having a better life.
Some organizations are also using VR to help with brain damage and rehabilitation. VR can support advanced versions of many cognitive tests, such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, and studies have shown it to be effective in improving cognitive function. While its full potential is still unexplored, these early tests are promising, and the cost-effectiveness of VR could be a huge step forward for brain rehabilitation.
Psychiatry and Therapy Use VR To Treat Mental Illness
While it has great potential in the general field of medicine, VR is also promising in the specific field of psychiatry and therapy. For patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, VR can be a safe form of exposure therapy. Studies have shown that, by exposing patients to a virtual simulation of a low-level PTSD trigger, doctors can teach patients to better manage their symptoms. This treatment has similar effectiveness for those with anxiety disorders.
Similar programs are beginning to be used for addiction treatment in patients who are addicted to substances like heroin or cigarettes. These programs expose patients to stimuli that might create cravings but, because the drug is not actually available, there is no danger that they might take it. Instead, they redirect their energy toward learning to avoid it safely. Allowing patients to make these choices in a safe environment makes recovery a smoother process, as patients can develop and practice the power to resist cravings.
The “Forensic Holodeck” could change the way courts experience evidence, potentially replacing two-dimensional video or photo evidence.
VR in the Courtroom Could Revolutionize Our Justice System
Virtual reality also has great potential for use in the courtroom. Researchers in Switzerland are studying the possibility of VR crime scenes serving as a new visual aid in trials, much like photo and video evidence do now. For attorneys, judges, and jurors, virtual reality could paint a more vivid picture of crime scenes. Rather than having to visualize imagery like blood spatter or studying information like the direction of tire tracks represented two-dimensionally, VR lets people explore those scenes firsthand. It’s much easier to appreciate crucial details like the positioning of people or objects when you’re able to see how they line up three-dimensionally.
It’s a fascinating idea, but it could take a while to implement. In the US, plaintiffs and defendants would likely have to hire a professional developer to create these images, which could be cost-prohibitive. The amount of access to confidential information or evidence that VR developers would need to create these environments could also be an issue. It may take some time to catch on—as CityLab points out, the legal system can sometimes be resistant to new technology, especially given the access and funding concerns of VR—but this degree of accuracy and immersion could bring a whole new level of understanding to the legal sector.
VR’s Applications Go Beyond Cool to Revolutionary
VR has a lot of potential in a variety of fields. These are just a few of the applications we’ve already thought of—as virtual reality technology rolls out, we’ll see even more creative uses.
It’s an exciting time to witness. VR is an advancement that allows for wholly new experiences in medicine, storytelling, and education, and that’s only the beginning. This technology could revolutionize many important fields, and it will be interesting to see how it shapes the future of many of our most important industries.
Loading Human allows you to appreciate the full depth of virtual storytelling through a narrative developed solely for experience in VR. Preorder your copy today!