Virtual reality is the next big thing in technology, beating the hologram technology of Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens to the front of the line for mass acceptance. As headsets start rolling out ranging in prices from $10-$500, it’s important to understand the use cases and how they may affect you.
In addition to Rift, Occulus is working with Microsoft, Samsung, and a variety of tech companies to build a solid VR platform that reaches across all devices in the Internet of Things, from game consoles to mobile and home electronics.
You can turn your Galaxy phone into an immersive VR headset with Samsung Gear VR (Gear being Samsung’s wearables line), use Google Cardboard for a starter VR experience under $20, or amp up to the Occulus Rift, which, teamed with a PC running a high-end graphics card, is capable of producing virtual worlds in stunning 360-degree 4k 3D.
With this type of power, one can only imagine the possible uses of virtual reality. Thankfully, many innovators are already gearing up these unique virtual experiences.
1. 360-Degree Action Cam Footage
GoPro videos have been a huge hit across the internet ever since the portable action cams hit the market. People love watching first-person perspectives of exotic adventures, insane stunts, and beautiful views from the perspectives of the world’s skydiver’s, bikers, surfers, skaters, climbers, and other adventurers. Now, GoPro is helping lead the charge toward 3D video by introducing a Hero 360 line for filming VR-quality video. Fort Minor already shot a music video for the technology.
Though GoPro’s solution is temporary, using multiple cameras, Kodak already has a GoPro-sized action cam capable of 360-degree video for under $400 in the PixPro SP360. Forget about video games – think about putting on a helmet on your couch and being suddenly transported into the eyes of a snowboarder racing an avalanche down Everest, a raft traversing the rapids of the Colorado River, or simply relaxing on a beach in Tahiti, checking out the bikini-clad babes.
WIth the 360-degree action cam on the market, services like YouTube, Vimeo, and even Vine, may one day be interactive experiences it almost feels as though we can reach out and touch…
2. Second Life
As soon as the Internet became popular, so did Second Life. Online interaction means online communities are formed, and this trend has continued into every iteration of the Internet. The introduction of IPV6 may seem as though we’ve been granted as many possible addresses as ever needed, wait until websites are replaced by actual virtual environments.
We already see the beginnings of Internet 4.0 as we speak. Minecraft is already the driving force behind both VR and holograms, marking the first time in history porn wasn’t the instant winner of a new technological medium. People are thrilled by the idea of building these immersive worlds, and the more talented we get at it, and the less expensive it gets, the more exponentially amazing the experience will get.
Some people will be interacting with the web through devices ranging from jewelry to their car, while others will be inside the VR interface, similar to how browsing the web works in the Shadowrun series. Everyone’s trying to create the place to hang out, and it won’t be long until our freemium experience in the VR world starts to feel like we’re actually cartoon characters in a cartoon world.
3. Immersive Arcade Experiences
One of the first things you notice when first trying VR is that you very much still realize you’re in a simulated world. You know how in The Matrix, once they’ve seen the real world, they generally can tell when they’re in a simulation? Although that tiger floating in front of you through space may seem real, it’s just a virtual image.
When you reach out to touch it, you’ll experience a strange sensation when your IRL hands touch nothing. Your mind will start coping with a 4th dimension similar to hallucinogens.
No matter how great your gear is at home, though, we already saw with Nintendo’s Wii that it’ll take a lot of specialized equipment just to replicate one particular aspect of reality. In your home, you’ll never be able to feel that feeling in the pit of your stomach like you’re actually driving 200 mph down a freeway, in an aerial dogfight, or being chased by a rampaging T-Rex through a large field.
Arcades can create many amazing experiences simply by combining technology or real-world layouts to supplement a gaming experience. There’s a large variety of exclusive experiences arcades can produce using both VR and holograms, and it’s only a matter of time before these businesses make a huge comeback and analog amusement parks like Six Flags take notice.
4. Game-to-Life Applications
Already iconic brands like Nintendo, Disney, and Legos joined Skylanders in the toy-to-life space, and this type of interaction can begin to bleed into the type of gameplay experiences we’re used to having. Two important aspects introduced by the toy-to-life market are the interaction between physical and digital worlds, and the addition of (and motivation to purchase) in-game expansion content.
On another end, video game developers are already working on blending different game mechanics into a single game. In Fable Legends, for example, the good guys are each controlling a character on an adventure similar to a Moba, while the bad guy is playing a strategy war simulator, placing the bad guys. This is a concept previously explored by Nintendo through several generations of consoles that never quite caught on.
In virtual reality, it’s going to become almost normal for VR and non-VR people to interact in similar manners. This fusion concept is going to redefine how both applications and games are developed, and the differences between the virtual and real world are about to become less important than what can be achieved by blending them.
5. Facebook and Other Feeds
Moving to less tangible space, such immersive environments will sure raise security concerns. We can barely secure websites against hackers now, much less regulate the inevitable graffiti, pranks, and trolls likely to fill this world. Since we’re likely to all end up wandering VR as superheroes and gods, tech companies will be quick to enforce rules.
While all this is happening, people like Mark Zuckerberg are contemplating what advertising will look like in this new virtual reality. The most trusted source of information is almost always your circle of friends, family, and colleagues, so by integrating Facebook into the Occulus infrastructure, Zuckerberg is betting he can tap into and define the next wave of digital communication.
Facebook’s goal is to one day read your mind, anticipate what will make you happy, and providing it from whoever paid to be provided. In the virtual world, privacy concerns may be an issue, but at least if you’re attacked and die in the VR world, you don’t die in real life.
6. Surfing the Interwebz
As discussed above, surfing the Internet is evolving right now to where you’ll have one of three unique experiences, depending on whether you’re accessing through a workstation, an internet-enabled device, or VR. Each interface will be vastly different, but should be able to communicate among each other. The level of productivity involved in either is potentially debatable.
Instead of websites, you’ll be treated with a virtual environment. Browsing Amazon or eBay can be transported to a giant exhibit hall, where you can demo products before having them 3D printed to arrive in your house before you removed your VR headset. These concepts may seem like strange science fiction, but they’re soon to become the societal norm.
7. Learning, Training, and Streaming
As with all technology, there’s a consumer and enterprise use (along with the gear to match). Virtual reality training for government, law enforcement, healthcare, and so many industries can be improved with VR. Imagine phone conferences transforming into virtual face-to-face meetings or having your players study the opposing basketball team from within their last game.
While current-gen online video services opened our eyes to p2p training videos, talk shows, world events, and more, we’ll soon be at a point where these shared experiences are happening within immersive 3D environments. It’s an experience like nothing you’ve ever tried before.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to test out a VR headset, I highly recommend doing so, and keeping up with the technology and trends. It’ll be a few years at most before the technology reaches a level where it changes our entire perspective on life like no technology ever before.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured in Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Street, Hardcore Droid, Quickbooks Small Business Resource, Lifehacker, and more.