5 ways virtual reality is going to change the world

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Virtual reality has become one of the most hyped new technologies of the last few years; but what are we actually going to do with it?

Unlike Google Glass, which bombed after making everyone who wore the device look kind of daft, VR headsets are fast becoming the must-have gadget. Just a year or two ago, this hardware was too expensive for anyone but the most dedicated tech aficionado, but the price tag on high-end devices is falling, and you can now pick up a basic headset to insert your phone and enjoy 360 video for the price of a latte.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the immersive nature of VR means we’ll be getting 360 degree action movies and video games, the next step from 3D glasses. But this new medium has so much more to offer than that. Movies and gaming are the most obvious applications, sure, but ask yourself: if you were standing in somebody else’s shoes, living their life virtually, how would that make you feel?

71 per cent of Gen Z consumers are expected to own a headset — VR goes far beyond Call of Duty. Here are just a few ways the physical and virtual worlds are about to collide.

Education

Google Cardboard is already being used in schools to help kids learn about big issues, like the on-going Syrian refugee crisis. Rather than trying to broach the politics of the situation, through 360 storytelling the Department for International Development has collaborated with Google Expeditions on a series of virtual tours for UK Aid. These expeditions can transport a schoolchild in Britain to a Syrian refugee camp, where they have the opportunity to learn more about the stories of individual children who have been forced to leave their homes.

The Arts

The Royal Opera House and National Gallery have both embraced VR as a way of bringing their productions to a wider audience, enabling viewers to experience a show as if they were stood on stage with the cast. And the ability to craft entire virtual landscapes is an irresistible proposition to creatives, from graffiti artist Chu, who builds whole new urban environments in VR, to Jane Gauntlett, whose ‘In My Shoes’ project sends viewers on a journey into somebody else’s life.

Medicine

Dr Shafi Ahmed made history last year when he broadcast the first ever live surgery via VR, proving that simulation can be used to help train medical professionals in far flung corners of the world, thus improving expertise and quality of care in remote locations.

Live Sports & Music

Spectator sports are great if you can afford good seats. Same goes for gigs; if you’re up in the nosebleeds then you might as well be at home watching the show on TV, right? But now, a number of VR content companies are looking into the option to ‘rent’ a live experience, in much the same way you would a movie. So it might not be a stretch to say that the next Netflix-type company will offer viewers a front-row seat at Wimbledon, or a concert at the O2. All you’ll have to do is put on your headset.

News & Journalism

VR documentaries are starting to get attention at major film festivals, and one of the most effective to date is ‘6×9’, a film by The Guardian, in which the viewer spends six minutes in solitary confinement in a US prison. Not only do spectators see first-hand what living conditions are like for prisoners, but they actually feel as if they have gone through the experience themselves, including the disorientation, hallucinations and other psychological strain that can occur when a person is deprived of human contact for an extended period of time.

Just a few short years ago it was inconceivable that people would turn to Facebook for news, but now it is a primary source for many. It’s entirely possible that VR will evolve in a similar way, with a significant portion of younger audiences embracing this distraction-free format.