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How Virtual Reality Is Really Going To Change Our Lives

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By now, you’ve probably heard of virtual reality, a term coined in 1987 after countless attempts to bring computer-generated, sensory experiences to the public. In 1935, this came in the form of a goggle-based system with reflective holograms - and if that all sounds like something out of The Matrix, it’s because it pretty much is. But, four years ago, a California State University dropout called Palmer Luckey founded the most user-friendly head-mounted display technology ever, now known as the Oculus Rift. It was crowdfunded on Kickstarter as well as invested in by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg (who wants to take social networking to a whole new level) and officially put on the market this year for a hefty £499. From next month, HTC Vive and Playstation VR headsets will rival his device but this immersive tech isn’t just for computer geeks and film enthusiasts, or a gimmick to be used by brands for advertising. The idea of introducing interactive virtual worlds to everyday life is going way beyond 360-degree videos on YouTube of the backstage Dior catwalk show or an access-all-areas Bjork music video. Here is how VR could actually, tangibly affect you…

Education

Google's Expeditions Pioneer Program are already bringing field trips, and awareness of global issues, direct to classrooms via their cardboard VR viewer. Remember learning about dinosaurs and letting your imagination run wild with what prehistoric worlds must have been like? Now, developers can create settings for things that no longer exist or places and people that are hard to access, allowing students to completely immerse themselves and visualise what they’re reading about. GCSE history suddenly seems a lot more appealing, right? Virtual reality environments can also help pinpoint and reduce fears and phobias in people and are being used to help autistic children as well as those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Fashion and culture

In an industry where “you’re not on the guestlist” is one of the most overused phrases, it’s no surprise that companies like YouVisit are creating platforms to view and explore hard-to-access places. Five years ago, live catwalk streaming changed the face of Fashion Week, allowing the public to watch the entire thing without being invited but that was only from one point of view rather than a 360 degree virtual tour. This usage of VR will undoubtedly be beneficial to the property business, as well as for galleries and museums.
Gaming and sports

With the ability to replicate any scenario, VR headsets and controllers are able to put anyone in any situation, from a cricket pitch to an archery range, to hone their skills IRL. According to global creative production agency and studio, Happy Finish, who specialise in cross-platform 360° content, this is going to be a gamechanger across professional sports and leisure: “We created a virtual reality cricket experience to give anyone the experience of stepping up to bat. It was a very simple example of what VR can do for sports and gaming. VR is already being used by organisations like The NFL to train quarterbacks in tactics relevant to their team so this element of VR practice in sports is undoubtedly going to become more widespread.” Basically, sports stars could have the option of training in their homes at any time of day. During my trial, I was transported to a baseball field and felt like a pro pitcher by the end of it. I was also transported into a terrifying desertscape filled with zombies – the game may have been virtual but my gasps were very much real.

Porn

Pornhub have recently teamed up with BaDoinkVR to launch 360, immersive porn. If you’ve ever found yourself too distracted to get into porn, try completely immersing yourself into a scene by taking on the role of one of the actors. I’ve never watched porn in 3D but maybe I ought to have done to prepare myself for this. With the headset on, you find yourself staring at your naked avatar, looking down at breasts that are in place of your own – which wasn’t quite as terrifying as when I glanced at my crotch to find I’d suddenly grown a penis. Was the experience sexy? Not particularly but it was educational. Then again, men in Japan are now paying £300 to wear a sex suit (complete with squishy boobs to feel up and a groin-stimulator) to don a virtual reality headset that plays 4-dimensional porn for total next-gen masturbation.

Health

Not only can scenarios be replicated for medical professionals to have virtual-hand experience (think specific surgeries complete with virtual tools) but VR can help the general public understand what it’s like to have mental health issues like dementia, as well as illnesses like migraines, by letting them experience episodes themselves. VR can also be used during painful medical procedures as a form of pain therapy serving as a literal in-your-face distraction that’s hard to ignore. And earlier this month, the first ever virtual reality operation was streamed live from Royal London Hospital to allow medical students and trainee surgeons to immerse themselves in the two-hour long procedure removing cancerous tissues from a man’s bowel.

Travel

Forget using Instagram geo-tags to decide on your next destination, tourist boards and holiday companies are now bringing location experiences to consumers, meaning you can see, hear and explore what cultural attractions and natural environments could be waiting for you on the other side of a flight. Expedia even worked on 360-degree films to allow terminally ill children to get to see the world from the comfort of a makeshift hospital cinema. And, theme park company Six Flags are planning to get visitors to wear VR devices on their rollercoasters to take them to another world. Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy? I suppose it’s going to get a lot harder to say.
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