Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Facebook plans to invest $3B in Virtual Reality in the next decade, and mind you this isn’t counting the $2B he spent to acquire Oculus so it looks like he’s putting his money where his mouth is. In terms of basics to know about VR, here is a look at the gear that is out there as well as the types of content that proved most popular in 2016—experiences that range from pretending you are Batman to calmly exploring ocean life in The Blu. While the idea of using VR as a new vehicle for entertainment is exciting, I hope the same energy will go into developing the other amazing uses I have been hearing about.
Haven’t tried VR yet? For a glimpse into the technology, you can use the Google Cardboard Headset ($15) to view content on your smartphone.
VR gives brands a new format for reaching customers and further developing their brand story. Patron Tequila filmed a 360 tour of its distillery and agave fields to give consumers what they are calling the “Hacienda Tour”, an engaging way to build brand awareness. Jaguar Land Rover is using the technology in a more practical way by giving dealerships headsets programmed with tours inside the latest models of their vehicles– allowing consumers to effectively sit inside the car before it has shipped to the dealerships.
Dr. Ray Raven, a Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon, has been one of the early adopters of VR technology in his medical practice. He told me about his experience using technology from Applied VR in order to distract patients while setting fractures or relieve anxiety before procedures.
“I have found that patients have found VR very useful in relieving anxiety before a procedure, and I have seen that my patient satisfaction scores have increased significantly. If you look at studies that are out there, there is a direct correlation between anxiety before surgery and perceived post-operative pain so it’s been proven if you can reduce anxiety before a procedure, however you do it, patients pain scores go down post-operatively.” — Dr. Ray Raven MD, MBA
A Duke University study using VR helped paraplegics to begin stimulating brain functions associated with lower leg movements as they worked to move an avatar on a VR headset. Of the 8 participants in the study, all regained some brain control and four were upgraded from full paraplegics to partial paraplegics.
The MedVR Lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies is devoted to the study and advancement of uses of virtual reality simulation technology for clinical purposes including mental health therapy, motor skills rehabilitation, cognitive assessment, and clinical skills training. Established in 1999, the lab is currently researching how VR can be used to treat PTSD and provide neurocognitive assessments for individuals who have suffered from strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and other neurological disorders.
For music lovers, VR could be a vehicle for experiencing live shows like never before. Using a headset, one could switch between different points of view from backstage to in the pit during your favorite musician’s show. This opens up new ways for bands to reach their audiences as well as new revenue streams for concerts with limited venue space. Google Play & Queen are teaming up to create a Bohemian Rhapsody mobile VR experience, another potential way artists can use the format.
Imagine being able to tour through a house without actually setting foot inside. Real estate agents at Sotheby’s have already begun to offer VR tours of listings so potential buyers can remotely see properties. A major plus: the cost of VR scanning a home ranges from $300-$600 dollars, mere pennies when you are looking to sell a multi-million dollar listing.
One of the most talked-about companies in the sports space, Strivr, was founded by Derek Belch, a former Stanford University football player and assistant coach and Jeremy Bailenson, a professor who head’s Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
The Washington Wizards players have been using Strivr headsets to help with their free throws. In this ESPN article, player Ian Mahinmi talks about filming himself in 360 video and using VR to relive that experience and pick out exactly what he needed to change in his free-throws. NFL teams have also been using STRIVR to take virtual snaps , thus avoiding potential injuries during practice.
VR also has potential in the fitness world as show by the VirZOOM Bike Controller, an add on for a stationary bike which allows you to play VR related games as you workout. Imagine that your real-life exercise will take you through race tracks, battlegrounds, soaring skies, and other imaginary worlds to keep you engaged and make your workout fun. While this looks like it could be a great workout, the technology may not be quite up to speed as an editor for Mashable recently shared the workout made him ill.
IS IT SAFE?
With all the promising ways VR could influence our lives, it’s easy to want to jump on board, but some experts are seriously concerned about the current state of the technology. At a recent CES panel held at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Professor Mayank Mehta who teaches in the fields of physics, astronomy, and neurobiology, explained a shocking fact to the audience. He said that when you are wearing a VR headset and immersed in the content, 60% of the neurons in the brain stop functioning– a phenomenon which researchers have never seen before in an experiment. He likened the resulting brain with 40% of functioning neurons to that of an Alzheimer’s patient stating, “We need to be careful.” While there is much potential to treat diseases using VR, Professor Mehta warned that there may be consequences from VR usage because the relationship between what your body does and how the world reacts in VR is broken thus having an effect on how your brain maps new experiences. He feels that the resulting damage may take years to manifest, as is common with PTSD. In addition to these longer term consequences, it is reported that more than 25% of people using VR experience motion sickness, so proceed at your own risk.