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The new talk of the town lately is Virtual Reality or VR and by extension Augmented Reality or AR. There’s Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with the Occulus Rift along with many other companies that are trying to “crack” VR. Personally I feel like this is not going to be a game changer right out the gate like everyone is expecting. Simply because I hear everyone talking about how big it’s going to be. I think the potential is there but what I see in my head is in the very distant future.
The big headsets and major investment needed for it will be a big detractor. Also the first uses will not come close to where I think it could go. When it does actually reach that point, then, it would be a game changer. However there are a lot of things that will need to happen in order to get there. The headsets have to disappear. The experience has to be as easy and un-obtrusive as adding a chip to an existing pair of glasses. A chip that then enables a heads up display of information on the lenses or a projection of virtual reality around the wearer. Virtual Reality has the possibility of changing our way of life. In order for that to happen though it has to be easily attainable. It can’t be something that is expensive or only in the realm of the people living on the cutting edge. Sure the first round of VR will have an impact what with the bodysuits that offer feedback and the headsets that immerse a person in VR. The impact however will be very small compared to what could happen if it works the way I envision it. I just think that it is way too early right now to expect too much. But the way people are talking it up now expectations are being built. There are also a lot of things to think about with the arrival of VR. Changes that we have to think about in order to figure out if they will have a negative or positive change.
Everytime I take public transit I’m old enough to see the change that technology has made. I still remember when taking public transit meant newspapers, magazines, talking, headphones or a very miniscule amount of outliers with laptops. Now I can’t ride public transit without seeing a smartphone, tablet device or laptop. Almost every person I see has one while newspapers and magazines are now the outliers. When I think of how VR and augmented reality (AR) will change the world eventually. It makes me long for those days to become reality. But it also gives me pause as I think about the changes it will bring. Do we get to a world where professional athletes play games in a VR arena? It would prevent injuries to the athletes but does that even work? Would sports become more of a videogame than based on physical skill, endurance and strength? It would change who becomes a star athlete and that is just a small piece of all the changes that would happen. If people can watch sports from their living rooms and be totally immersed as if at field level. What happens to all the physical arenas? The same then extends to movie theaters which are currently facing a hard time compared to the past. What happens then when you can get a better experience at home than in the theater? There are wide reaching impacts that this technology will have on society and we need to think about it now. While it is still early days and there is time.
I do think that big VR/AR helmets or goggles will not exist forever. I see a point when it will exist in something as simple as Google Glass. A pair of glasses that project VR and/or AR while the user lives their normal life. Many interfaces would move to the VR/AR world. The things I envision are exciting and have a huge potential. Imagine doctors and residents who can be in a surgery virtually to learn and advise. Residents would get a hands on POV and experience everything as if in the room. Even if they are in a different country. It has the potential to eliminate borders even more than the internet already has. A 9-1-1 caller who can be patched into a responder. Then while the EMS is on the way the responder can see and tell the caller what CPR or emergency steps to perform. The possibility of not just watching a movie but being able to actually experience it from the POV of a chosen character. The interface that we’ve seen in movies like Minority Report would become a reality. Sitting on a train reading emails, text messages on your glasses and then typing on the virtual keyboard in front of you. It might become as normal as smartphones and tablet devices are now. The possibilities are truely endless for both VR and AR. It has the chance to change everything from the way we live our lives to the things we use around us. Let’s just hope we are ready for the changes that it’s going to bring with it.