In the world of modern technology, few things have captured the public’s imagination like virtual reality, probably because it can bring us closer to the world of dreams. We‘re fascinated by the idea of being able to explore a whole new, man-made world, to feel and experience a digitized environment with all our senses – or to end up trapped forever inside a hellish nightmare of electronic shapes.
Except this is the way we used to imagine VR back in the ’90s, and for some unexplainable reason, some of us have stuck to that idea to this day. So what really is VR today, and what are the most common myths surrounding this technology? Let’s have a look. (For more on VR, see Tech’s Obsession With Virtual Reality.)
Myth 1: VR is a modern technology that has just been discovered.
Much like AI and cellphones, VR is a somewhat old invention that has just kept evolving over the course of the last few decades. The first traces of this technology are more than half a century old – the first prototype was the “The Sword of Damocles” developed in 1966. All the basic concepts of what we would call a “VR headset” were present already – including 3D visuals and audio, and even a custom device that blew scented air to add an even more “realistic” feeling to it.
Other devices have been used for decades by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, who had the budget necessary to develop this technology in our most recent past. And how could we forget about the VR craze in the ’90s that brought us so many underrated (and ill-fated) jewels as the Sega VR, the Jaguar VR, and the CyberMaxx? Some of them weren’t even proper VR headsets, but just cunning uses of a somewhat rudimentary 3D technology, such as the infamous Virtual Boy by Nintendo in 1995 immortalized by the popular internet comedian James Rolfe. However, they still represented the progenitors of the modern headsets, although in a crude but effective form.
Myth 2: VR headsets cause nausea and excruciating headaches.
This is not exactly a myth, since there’s some degree of truth in it. In fact, our brain cannot adapt quickly enough to multiple stimuli since all the stimuli are concentrated on the eyes instead of across the whole body. For example, when you walk down a staircase, your feet and legs will feel the pavement step after step, while in VR only your eyes have the entire responsibility of perceiving the change of height. This, in turn, may cause some people to feel disoriented, and the lack of reference points during rotational movements may cause some degree of motion sickness.
However, much has been done to fix that. For example, the addition of a “virtual nose” in a corner now helps your brain by providing it with a reference point. Also, shorter latency times and reduced lag have significantly lessened the nauseating effect caused by VR goggles when your body doesn’t physically experience the rotations in a timely manner. Improved 6DoF tracking has also been developed to align the movements of your head with the virtual environment. All in all, it’s only a matter of getting used to it for a while – which is an issue that every gamer has experienced at least once when playing with an FPS for the first time.
Myth 3: VR can be used for gaming and entertainment only.
Although the area where VR has the most immediate applications is, hands down, entertainment, this technology can, and is already being used with amazing results at all levels of education. Remote education always had to face the many challenges caused by lack of physical interactions between students and teachers. For example, to deal with the chronic absence of properly qualified cancer specialists in Nigeria, a partnership with the University of Birmingham has been recently established to teach doctors how to detect and diagnose cancer over Skype. It’s easy to imagine how much a VR headset could be instrumental in overcoming the physical barriers and bringing this type of specialized education to the next level.
VR can provide students with an immersive experience that is more conducive to learning and can be used for all types of business training and e-learning courses. VR media company Yondr recently started using the popular webinar platform ClickMeeting to explain the benefits of VR-driven immersive learning to their sales prospects. In a recent case study, Yondr marketing and events manager Niels Waem said that having the ability to visually show people the power of various VR use cases has been extremely effective for the company. “No matter what subject of the webinar is or what type of audience, the feedback is always positive,” he explained, “the sound, video, and screen sharing tools work great.” The potential of this technology is amazing and can revolutionize the whole concept of education.
Myth 4: VR headsets are super expensive.
Well, they used to be. But things have changed now, and you don’t need to break the bank anymore to buy a VR headset – worst case scenario, they cost just as much as the average console. Depending on your preferences, you can buy a VR headset as cheap as $10 – the price tag of the Google Cardboard viewer that can be used with smartphones. Other mobile-based viewers such as the Google Daydream View or Samsung Gear VR cost less than $100, making them extremely affordable options.
If you’re looking for a more “premium” experience, the Oculus Rift is priced $399 today. Not exactly cheap, but definitely a mile off from the first ’80s VR headsets that could cost up to $350,000. And, as the technology keeps evolving, it is natural that VR devices will eventually become even more affordable.
Myth 5: VR discourages physical activity.
This is a common myth that has surrounded the whole video game industry for years. The general public never fully accepted the idea that the stereotypical nerd guy who spends most of his time slouching on a couch playing with his Nintendo console was, in fact, nothing but a stereotype. As we explained before, also, VR is much more than just gaming.
There are already many VR-based applications designed for immersive fitness and physical exercise such as Fitbit Adventures, as well as a new era of “virtual sports” such as Holopoint and Holoball. Some ingeniously funny apps such as Zombies, Run! have been built to make jogging or running on a treadmill an even more entertaining and enjoyable experience. Actually, VR can be easily used to make users want to exercise more, rather than the opposite. (Being able to enter input is important in any interactive experience, but how will that work for VR? Learn more in How Will We Type in the Virtual Reality Environment?)
Virtual reality has emerged as one of the biggest technology trends of recent years, and despite a bumpy 2018, the ride has just begun. Even the skepticism around the quality of the first VR games published has been eradicated by the publication of AAA-games such as Resident Evil 7. Its potential is, hands down, immense across a broad range of different industries, and, despite the myths surrounding it, we can’t but eagerly wait to know more about its future applications.