Beyond Gaming: Six ways VR will change the world

From the World Cup to outer space: How virtual reality is changing the world
Six ways VR will change the world

Virtual reality is changing gaming, but systems like Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, Google Cardboard and now Samsung Gear VR have huge potential beyond entertainment.

The big attraction of VR headsets is the ability to feel as if you are within a game’s environment, whether that’s exploring huge immersive worlds or executing swarms of nasties in all manner of cruel and interesting ways.

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But the tantilising prospect of virtual reality has got lots of non-gaming businesses drooling, whether they’re taking you on a tour of a proposed apartment block or controlling a robotic arm from afar.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the most interesting non-gaming uses for Oculus Rift, and how industries as varied as medicine and advertising are sizing up VR for their own ends.

Space exploration

NASA's always ready to jump on technological bandwagons – after all, it did that whole moon thing a while back. The American space agency has now put Oculus Rift to good use as a controller for a robotic hand. The agency combined the headset with a Kinect positional tracker so the operator could use the system to pick up blocks with a motorised arm.

NASA reckons it'll be able to use the technology to build remote controlled robots which will work on the International Space Station. Sandra Bullock's probably a little annoyed that the technology wasn’t invented before her low-earth orbit sojourn in Gravity.

Film making

Given the fact that most modern blockbusters are completely computer-generated nonsensical eye candy, it's not too much of a leap to imagine their rendered worlds becoming virtual reality playgrounds. At this year's Comic Con director Guillermo del Toro demoed the experience of battling a Kaiju alongside actor Charlie Hunman in one of Pacific Rim's giant robots.

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Television could be changed forever, too: 83,000 people from around the world have already experienced a virtual elevator ride up the giant ice wall from Game of Thrones thanks to visual effects company Framestore.

Virtual tours

One of Oculus Rift's first demos was a simple tour of a villa in the Italian region of Tuscany. It showed that VR could be used for serene and sedate explorations of real-life locales, and this is something YouVisit is keen to exploit. The company has teamed up with five US colleges – including Yale University – to offer virtual tours to potential students. We just hope that the operators waft the distinct aroma of Jagerbomb vomit through the air to complete the experience.

Meanwhile Arch Virtual offers Oculus-compatible virtualisations of swish apartments, so architects can make sure their doors don't open out onto 40 foot drops. And VR experiences don't have to be restrained by pesky little forces such as gravity: artist Max Rheiner's Birdly lets you flap your arms to take to the airspace above San Francisco. It’s probably the best workout ever.

Image credit: Arch Virtual

Healthcare

Surely the most benevolent use of Oculus Rift is in the healthcare profession. It's already used by the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, recreating war veteran's unpleasant experiences so they can understand why things happened and analyse their own reactions to them.

Autistic children can also benefit from similar techniques as a virtual world gives them time to pick up on social cues they may otherwise have missed. Medical training is – reassuringly – always going to take place in the real world, but Oculus Rift has been used by a UK company to simulate surgical procedures in the chaotic world of an active battlefield.

Body hacks

The closest thing we've ever had to being a woman is dancing around in our mum's underwear. Just us? OK then. Anyway, Imperial College London student Yifei Chai has engineered a system whereby people can swap bodies using the Oculus Rift. One person dons the headset, while another is equipped with diodes across their body.

A Kinect unit aimed at the first person then monitors their movements and delivers them to the victim via small electric shocks, while the Oculus lets them see from the other person's perspective. While there's quite a lot of lag in the current system, with refinement it could become an amazing way to step into someone else's shoes for all sorts of erotic adventures.

Marketing

Augmented reality has already become a big part of marketing – scan a QR code with your phone and you'll see a cute animated character dance on your desk, potentially confusing and upsetting old people. Virtual reality, though, represents a bold new future for selling all sorts of tat to people. Coca-Cola has already embraced the technology with its World Cup experience, which invites people to take the journey from locker room to centre pitch in a virtual recreation of Brazil's Maracana Stadium.

Japanese car company Nissan has also used VR to create customised CG versions of its concept cars. As it stands you have to go to a trade show or mall to experience the technology, but with ad-loving Facebook's acquisition of Oculus free experiences such as these could become the bread and butter of the Rift app store.

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