Virtual reality (or VR) has been featured in science fiction for decades. After several failed attempts to commercialize the technology in the 80s and 90s, VR is finally on the verge of a major breakthrough. The VR industry has benefited from more and more powerful computers, the shrinking size of electronics, and huge multi-billion dollar investments.
Though opinions differ on what exactly constitutes a true VR experience, the general concept remains the same – using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that a user can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world.
In a virtual reality environment, a user experiences immersion, or the feeling of being inside and a part of that world. He is also able to interact with his environment in meaningful ways. The combination of a sense of immersion and interactivity is called telepresence.
In other words, an effective VR experience causes you to become unaware of your real surroundings and focus on your existence inside the virtual environment.
Naturally, this is a gamer’s dream come true and it is expected that the gaming industry will initially benefit most from the introduction of VR technology. But the eventual uses of VR seem almost limitless:
Instead of running on a treadmill in your basement, how about going for a run in N.Y. Central Park? Or perhaps along some long forgotten mountain path in the Himalayas? Or on planet Dagobah with Luke Skywalker next to you?
How about riding in roller coasters around the world, or experiencing dark alien worlds? How about taking virtual tours of museums, attending concerts, or even taking university courses in a real classroom environment?
And if you’re away from your partner (or just want some fun), perhaps you’ll be able to use VR to feel like you’re actually in the room with that person.
These are just some of the VR opportunities that might be available in the near future. As of now it’s hard to predict, but the way we work, enjoy art, or just spend free time is likely to change dramatically when this technology is fully introduced and accepted.