Dubbed "The Year of VR", there were high hopes and even greater hype that virtual reality would hit mainstream in 2016. And in many ways, it didn't disappoint. With Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and HTC Vive headsets now on the market, much of the attention has been focused on how VR is changing the gaming and entertainment industries. However, virtual reality has impacted much more than just gamers. In fact, it's paving a new path in several industries that affect our health, work, communication, and economy.
Just this past April, leading cancer surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed performed the world's first surgery streamed in virtual reality. Thousands of medical students were able to learn his techniques first hand through VR headsets and smartphones. For developing nations, this means doctors could perform surgeries across the globe from "virtually" anywhere, allowing them to receive the medical attention they need despite where they reside. It also allows medical professionals to share their expertise with one another in a much more effective and efficient way.
With crime scene reconstruction still relying on mostly photographs, hand-drawn sketches, and 3D-rendered crime scene animations, many investigators feel there needs to be a better resource for jurors to make informed decisions. Earlier this year the NASA-inspired MABMAT robotic imaging system was introduced. Designed by Mehzeb Chowdhury, a PhD researcher in forensic science and criminal investigations, the robot can autonomously roam a crime scene at the time it's being investigated to capture every detail. This would reduce the guesswork out of solely relying on eyewitness reports and give a more accurate representation of what actually occurred.
Psychology and Mental Health
From a fear of heights to spiders to public speaking, virtual reality exposure therapy is being used to treat those that suffer from phobias by forcing patients to physically confront their greatest fears. When a person is progressively exposed to their phobia, it allows them discover that the danger they fear doesn't materialize and most importantly, that they're safe. Other aspects of mental health, like anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have also been treated through this type of exposure therapy. According to a report by the USC Institute of Creative Technologies, young military personnel who have grown up with digital gaming are more comfortable with a VR treatment approach than alternative "talk therapy".
The travel and tourism industry is all about selling the experience, and thanks to Oculus Rift or the Samsung VR Headset, potential tourists can explore unknown islands, hop aboard an Alaskan cruise, or sit back on a safari ride all from the comfort of their living room. Hotels are also using this technology in their marketing efforts. Marriott Hotels launched "VRoom Service", where guests could borrow a VR device and experience VR Postcards, visiting Chile, Rwanda, or Beijing all from their suite.
Coachella not really your thing? If you'd rather steer clear from big crowds and loud stadiums but don't want to miss the experience of seeing your favourite artists in concert, VR could change all that. You may not be able to afford to see The Rolling Stones play in Paris, but you could just log on to the VR app for a virtual front row seat
While this list merely scratches the surface of how virtual reality is disrupting a vast array of industries, it's clear that it has the power to change the way we view and experience the world on a daily basis. However, the only way we can keep this momentum going is if we have the talent in place to propel it forward. More resources and approachable education needs to become accessible to everyone interested in working in the tech, no matter how little knowledge or experience they may have.
The good news is that more virtual reality specific programs are starting to emerge throughout Canada, including our first Fundamentals of VR, AR and Mixed Reality course at RED Academy. VR offers an exciting opportunity for those who want to work in the field and be at the forefront of this disruptive technology. And the demand is definitely there, as all of the major brands and agencies are looking to hire more talent that can bring them that competitive edge.
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