The concept of Virtual Reality is nothing new. We've always seen futuristic headsets depicted in books and on screen, with people transported to other worlds and realities. It's only in recent years that we've started seeing immersive experiences being available to consumers. This is primarily due to the newly available technology and companies such as Valve and Oculus championing research and development in the VR space.
VR is more than a gimmick or a toy. VR is being recognised in several industries as a tool for training and learning. VR provides a safe and (after the initial purchase) cheap way of putting people through otherwise hazardous or expensive training, with some industries already using it to great effect.
NASA have created a VR simulator that allows for crew training in maintenance and operation of the International Space Station (ISS). This gives NASA trainees the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the ISS before they get there. It could even open up interactions that aren't possible on earth such as having your tools float away if not secured.
The construction industry is starting to embrace VR to provide safe training environments by putting people on a virtual site. VR also allows for people to start training with expensive and dangerous heavy machinery without risk. Construction planning can also benefit from VR.For example being able to see a 3D representation of the building you're creating and being able to walk around in it can generate great feedback before the first brick has been laid.
The Royal Australian Navy Fire Fighters go a step further. Combining VR with heated jackets and haptic enabled fire hoses (they retract when the lever is pulled to imitate the force of the water) to allow their trainee firefighters to feel what it's like to be in a hazardous situation. By combining these physical elements, digital flames, and a camera feed of the room you're in, it would be easy to forget it was virtual!
Even some schools are starting to pick up on VR as an educational tool. Instead of showing videos, teachers are now able to transport their class to the other side of the world, have field trips inside the human body to see how the heart works or time travel back to ancient Greece. It drives engagement in a way that's hard to do with just pictures on a screen.
Even with all the recent improvements, VR is definitely still in it's infancy. However it's amazing to see how it's already being used and I'm excited to see what happens next in terms of trackable objects (A golf club to improve your swing? A steering wheel to learn to drive?) and more natural inputs (Such as gloves that allow you to pick things up by gripping with your hand). The future is here!