Virtual Reality Emerging in Tech
The tech world is constantly changing and improving the lives of people. Virtual Reality is one of the newer tech platforms that has the potential to have profound impacts in the world. That’s one reason why Facebook acquired the startup, Oculus, in 2014. Oculus is one such VR company that strives to make the world a better place through VR. What once was seen as a new platform for video games, has also proven to have many other functions. The virtual reality industry is projected to grow in the next few years because of its potential to broaden our knowledge of the world around us through transforming education, improving productivity, and giving us means to improve our skills. This is why Oculus started ‘VR for Good’ – “an initiative designed to support content creators, impact innovators and inspire partners who see virtual reality as a way to make the world a better place.”
Creating Content for Good
Virtual reality is a two-sided market. Users are needed to use the system and developers are needed to create apps. Since VR is relatively new, there are not many developers. Oculus has addressed this problem through the ‘VR for Good’ initiative. This initiative supports content creators to produce content specifically for VR that also could expand the knowledge and betterment of society. If Oculus supports content creators, they will be more invested in expanding the market for virtual reality applications and in turn, will expand Oculus’ network effects. Better content leads to more users and more users encourage creators to produce more content.
VR for Health
VR can save lives. Oculus has used VR to help doctors prepare for the unexpected emergency situations that may occur. Although doctors can practice on simulation mannequins, this can be very costly. The situation is also usually in a low-stress environment with maybe one or two people watching. Oculus’ virtual reality can simulate many different emergency situations that also include the patient talking/complaining, a nervous parent, and the many other sounds that one would hear in the emergency room. The effect of emotion is one example of how virtual reality can simulate the situation that a simulation – mannequin cannot (unless being very costly). The VR system can also track the results of the “exercise,” which can provide useful feedback to the doctor. The more practice that doctors can get in these stressful simulations, the better they will be in a real situation. One of the downsides of this technology is not being able to physically touch the patient. Touching a remote versus touching a human body are two very different things.
VR for Education
VR can transform classrooms. Imagine learning geometry in a 3D way. I know in some of my economics classes, the graphs can get tricky to draw, especially the 3D ones. With virtual reality, the learning environment is more interactive. Oculus move to enter into the education sector is a bold move that could help them gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. Oculus has partnered with different research universities to develop innovative ways to bring VR to the classroom. One example is the MIT Education Arcade, which is a multiplayer interactive experience for high schools students focusing on biology and the Cornell Virtual Embodiment Lab, which compares the effectiveness of different learning activities (If you would like to know more click here). If Oculus can become the primary VR system used in the education system, they have more potential to become the “go-to” VR system in the future.
VR at Boston College
As a quick aside, virtual reality is closer to us than you think. BC english professor, Joseph Nugent and some BC students, created a virtual reality gamification of James Joyce’s Ulysses in order to help the user get a better understanding of the complicated novel. They named this project “Joycestick.” Hopefully in the future, BC can invest more in the research and development of VR.
My Thoughts on the Potential for VR
In one of my classes at BC, we had a project that analyzed data from the World Bank on Tanzania to determine is the water was safe to drink. One of the problems that we continuously ran into was how to interpret this data as a citizen of Tanzania would. For example, there were many different sources of water, but since I am from 1st world country and have no knowledge of how the water system works in Tanzania, it was hard to differentiate between protected and unprotected water sources. This is where virtual reality has the potential to have profound effects. If I was able to “live a day in the life of a Tanzanian,” I could have learned a lot more about the water sources and the implications. With a better understanding of the data provided, the analysis would be more accurate and effective. I believe Oculus is going in the right direction by promoting the positive social impacts that VR can make by supporting content creators to experiment with VR.
Concerns with VR
Although Oculus is focused on using VR to improve social welfare, there is also some health concerns that rises. First off, virtual reality can cause motion sickness and nausea. This health factor limits the market for which Oculus is able to sell their product to. Also, if classrooms begin to use VR more frequently, some students may be at a disadvantage if they experience motion sickness causing them to miss out on information. Oculus will want to research ways that VR can be adapted for people with high sensitivity to virtual motion. Another concern that has been raised about VR is the effects to eyesight. Since VR has not been around very long, so the long term effects are unknown. Oculus, however, suggests that users take a 10-15 min break every half hour of using VR. Nevertheless, VR has the potential to disrupt the technology industry in many ways, and Oculus is aware of the profound effects VR can have.
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