It’s not just games. Virtual reality’s going to change the way we do countless things.

By Florence Gardner-Hillman | 1-8-2016 | 8:00AM

Family gatherings are weird when you work in tech. If the conversation (quite innocently) finds its way onto something like VR, and if your non-techie family is anything like mine, you can pretty much predict, word-for-word the way the chat is going to go. “Well, that stuff is all about children’s toys and games and stuff right?” – I hear that a lot. “You can’t walk around all day with big mask on, you’d keep bumping into people” – this is always followed by squawks of laugher. It’s just about games, it’s impractical, it’s been tried before and it didn’t catch on, and “do you mean like The Lawnmower Man?” – that pretty much sums up the response I get. Which is weird, because when I’m back in my ‘real word’, my day-to-day one, populated by gamers and technophiles, everyone I know is mad-keen for VR to become a bigger part of everyday life.

Of course, even in their naivetéé, my non-tech associates are right, gaming will play a huge role in the rise of VR. The first half of 2016 will deliver mountains of brand new VR technology to the retail shelves – Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive. And the endless new possibilities and experiences for gaming are, well, endless and new.

Oculus Rift (Left) and HTC Vive (Right). Image credit: TechRadar

Oculus Rift (Left) and HTC Vive (Right). Image credit: TechRadar

Having the right GPU is also crucial to getting the most enjoyable virtual reality experience and performance. NVIDIA’s recently launched GeForce GTX VR Ready program lets gamers know if their GPU meets those performance requirements. If the GPU powering your PC or notebook receives NVIDIA’s “GeForce GTX VR Ready” badge, you’ll be able to get the most out of your virtual reality experience with support for technologies like VR SLI, multi-res shading as well as low latency required for VR gaming.

There are several upcoming VR titles gamers will definitely want to keep an eye out for. Crytek’s The Climb, designed for the Oculus Rift, is a stomach-tossing, high adrenaline game, which demands of the player an aversion to vertigo and a stoic ‘don’t look down’ mantra. And as you might assume from the title, it’s about climbing mountains. Whether it’s jumping from one cliff face to another, frantically grasping for the next notch to thrust your hand in, or just taking in the breathtakingly realistic scenery, this VR experience is one of the most anticipated in the space.

But then of course there’s Eve Valkyrie. And in a post-The Force Awakens landscape, there’s bound to be millions of takers for this insanely cool looking galactic dogfight sim. Having been in development for two years, and been teased at trade shows for some time, it’s now ready to be a launch game for the Rift as well as for Sony’s PlayStation VR.

As I said at the start, it’s not all about games. Virtual reality is primed to improve our lives in a number of other key areas.

Medicine is just one of the industries starting to get to grips with the possibilities of VR. The HumanSim system will allow doctors, nurses and trainees to interact with patients while monitoring their emotions through a series of sensors. VR can also be used as a type of therapy for people to overcome their phobias for example flying, claustrophobia and heights – perhaps The Climb may even come into its element here. Ultimately these tools will enable patients to develop coping methods in a totally safe environment. VR is beginning to be used to enable surgeons to practice specific skills and learn new surgical techniques without any risk of actually harming a human patient.

Image Credit: Medical Realities

Image Credit: Medical Realities

The travel industry is also primed to employ Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR to encourage customers to experience their destination before they even get there. Thomas Cook are taking part in a trial program which allows customers in the UK to crank up their Oculus and experience a flight on an airplane or take a tour of a Sentido resort. Marriott, the hotel guys are on the case too. They’ve been touring U.S cities with a teleport booth, inviting customers to use Oculus Rift and experience a virtual tour of a Black Sand Beach in Maui and Tower 42 in London. Just think about this for a second. When “exploring” your holiday location before even getting on a plane becomes the norm, how will this impact the very notion of travel? On the one hand, you’ll be forearmed with the route from the hotel bar to the nearest toilet. On the other, is it not possible notions of surprise and discovery will be removed? Perhaps it will quickly become farcical that a traveller wouldn’t be familiar, in a virtual way, with their destination before travel? Who knows? Either way, it’s happening, so get ready.

Engineering is also already benefiting from VR. It’s widely used to enhance engineers’ and designers’ understanding of a product – allowing them to be able to take something apart and test design features without touching the actual product. It’s all getting a bit Tony Stark. Ford Motor Company has made VR an essential part of its development of automobiles and Virtalis Visionary Render VR software allows them to access and experience, in real-time, an immersive 3D environment for engineers, marketers and project managers to interact with each other and collaborate.

Even the British Military have announced that they will be using Oculus Rift to prepare trauma medics for battle. It can teach soldiers how to combat and react appropriately when faced with specific situations. And oddly, when reading about how soldiers are practicing skills and increasing their reaction time in a VR environment, it’s difficult to divorce this thought from what gamers have been doing for years playing Call of Duty and Battlefield – fascinating how technology is bringing worlds together. The Air Force are getting into VR too – as you’d assume having pioneered the use of flight simulators back in the day. Again, it’s being used by pilots to ensure their safety by practicing dangerous techniques in a non-dangerous situation.

It’s perhaps more surprising that soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can also benefit from VR. Dealing with psychological issues they may have carried home from the battlefield is obviously a sensitive and upsetting process. However the artificial exposure to upsetting triggers, in a calm and safe place can contribute to a gradual adjustment back to everyday life and a decrease in their symptoms.

As the line between the reality we know now and virtual reality gradually becomes more and more blurred, VR will completely change the way we live our lives. What I’ve discussed is of course, just the tip of the digital iceberg. But perhaps there’s just enough conversational ammunition to enlighten a couple of family members next time there’s a get together.

[Header Image: EVE: Valkyrie]

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