This is going to be the future. For a few years, rumblings of Google Cardboard have become increasingly louder to the point that the New York Times recently gave it away free in a Sunday edition. A blue-chip newspaper is casting a huge bet in predicting the next big trend and they're looking not to today but banking on the future in two, five, 10 years down the road, paved by a hopefully younger reader.
Those younger eyes will the engage across generations with legacy readers and stay within the Times family across a diverse array of platforms -- it provides fantastic content too.
There are few barriers to the technology, anyone that can download an app and put on a headset can take advantage of the simple instructions. When I gave it a run the first time around I was laughing out loud over how simple it is to visit Italy and walk through famous historic sites while traipsing around your house in boxers and sipping wine.
Tech-heads are leading the way with this technology and making increasingly accessible and interesting apps but they're not the only ones.
After a good five hours I handed it over to a woman in her 50s, who has been around the world in the fashion industry. Watching her smile light up within 10 seconds of seeing a street she had last walked down 30 years was one of the most powerful experiences I've had in the last five years.
Virtual reality has been around for decades in various iterations but this is the first time it feels real enough to make a grown woman grimace with a memory long lost but alive again. Cardboard is so easy to figure out that its uses extend far past the daily pastiche of just hopping to Ecuador for an afternoon or cruising down to Bonnaroo in a convertible. The connection it makes to someone in her 50s is the fascination a five-year-old feels every day. This is possible now, just imagine what it will be like with smell replicators and neuroprosthetics in five -- 10 years.
Tech-heads are leading the way with this technology and making increasingly accessible and interesting apps but they're not the only ones. Dynamic rap group Run The Jewels recently launched their new music video Crown, if you can call it that in the traditional sense, on the New York Times VR App. Ten dollars spent on a cardboard headset and pairing it with your headphones is a truly immersive experience. Aside from Android, Facebook is slowly rolling out in-browser 360 videos and photos -- Jerry Seinfeld riding around in a car was a recent hit and fantastic showing of how easy it is to adopt the technology.
There have been a few truly disruptive social changes in the last number of years -- Instagram and Facebook are two monoliths that have changed the way people communicate online while Uber and Tesla aim to rip the last 100 years of North American cultural fabric in half within a decade. Cardboard and its brethren, Oculus and Vive, are at the forefront of humanity's next great disruptive change as 360 begins to extensively modify how we communicate with media and each other.
This is the virtual reality we've all longed for since Tron in the 80s. The fanfare hasn't been huge yet but the application of immersive virtual, live and augmented realities will usher in the next human cultural shift and it will happen faster than expected -- this is here now.
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One of the most common complaints from amputee victims is the feeling of phantom pain -- feeling the missing limb but not being able to see or control it. Exactly what causes phantom pain is unknown, but it's likely a result of the brain still recognizing the limb even though it's no longer there. Despite the frequency of this problem, there's no one method of dealing with the pain that works for all amputees. But an experimental study, detailed in the journal Frontiers for Neuroscience, soothed one man's chronic phantom pain after 48 years of suffering by allowing him to not only see a virtual representation of the limb, but also to control it using electrodes attached to the base of the missing limb that measured muscle movement. The patient reported a drastic improvement in his phantom pain. The therapy needs to undergo more tests before it can be more widely used in treatment.
Burn patients, as well, can benefit from the use of virtual reality. Suffering through agonizingly painful treatment and therapy (such as the cringe-inducing "skin stretching" therapy) can be eased through a virtual game called "SnowWorld," first used by Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Ill. The game puts victims as far from their injuries as mentally possible by letting them shoot snowballs at penguins and snowmen while jamming to Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" (or whatever else they choose to listen to). The treatment helps distract patients by letting them have a little fun while also visually simulating a more comfortable environment for them. MRI results, as well as patient testimony, show that it's succeeding.
VR has been effective in treating soldiers who have returned from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and are suffering from PTSD. In this video, you see how the patient is gradually kept under stress by visiting a virtual representation of a Middle Eastern town. The therapy keeps the patient under reasonable amounts of stress so that he can learn to handle the stress and, hopefully, control it. While many consider this treatment controversial, proponents say it can be effective for some patients when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. PTSD isn't the only psychological disorder VR can help to treat. The Virtual Reality Medical Center says phobias, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders can all be treated as well.
Virtual Reality has proved effective at treating children with autism. It can help them learn social cues, fine-tune motor skills, or experiment with real-world lessons like waiting until it's safe to cross the street. One reason behind the treatment's efficacy could be that children with autism interact well with technology, specifically virtual reality. Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior, told NBC News that it's the technology's predictability, controllability and "infinite patience" that makes it such an effective teacher for these children. While these two youngsters are working with an Xbox One Kinect in this photo (also a sort of virtual reality), head-mounted displays are also used in this research.
Medical students don't have very many chances at the "error" part of trial-and-error learning. It's a big jump from operating on a human in theory to making the first cut on the operating table. Virtual reality makes "practice makes perfect" more practical. Recent uses of virtual reality in medicine include
It's not just medicine that's being improved by virtual reality. Some are finding uses for the technology in some surprising industries like the financial industry. An experiment by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab used virtual reality goggles to show 20-somethings what they would look and move like in their 60's in an attempt to get more young people to start saving for retirement early. The experiment worked. According to ABC News, those who wore the goggles put twice as much money into a hypothetical retirement account than those who did not.
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