“What’s That Coming Over the Hill, is it a Monster?” Nope… just Virtual Reality

In 2014, the Virtual Reality world was reawakened by Facebook’s controversial purchase of Oculus VR, the virtual reality guru that brought us the Oculus Rift. Since then, Sony’s backed the enterprise with its Project Morpheus and Microsoft has taunted us all with the promise of the HoloLens. It’s safe to say, however, some people are slightly more dubious about the Virtual Reality revolution that looks set to hit. With comparisons to the failed Virtual Boy of the 90s aplenty, it has been inferred that this new series of next generation technology is a fad similar to the likes of 3DTV. More and more, however, it’s looking set to be much more than that, and is already being implemented within various organisations for causes much greater than pretending you’re on a beach.

It’s common knowledge that virtual reality systems have helped airplane pilots and soldiers both in training and in treating PTSD. However, the growing technologies and headsets that accompany the VR revolution mean that the scope of the tech’s potential is expanding just as rapidly as its market.

In his Ted talk “How Virtual Reality Can Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine”, Chris Milk describes how telling stories through film evokes a sense of empathy, but goes further to explain his intentions to place the viewer within the frame and enable a much greater depth of empathy. Because of the experiential make-up of virtual reality, the viewer feels more present in the world you are accessing, and so to utilise this increase in awareness Milk developed a short, 360° film of a 12 year old Syrian girl in her home. Viewers who experience this film are able to look around the environment and experience the footage without the framing of their own homes. Their own cultures and privileges do not interfere with their conception of the footage. The viewer is placed directly in the situation of the girl and is then able to step back and view the state of their own life in comparison. In this way, virtual reality affords a greater understanding of issues that may be distanced from those who can help. Milk is taking his machine to members of the UN in a bid to test it on those with the power to provide funding and support.

This heightened sense of empathy works too. Amnesty International recently launched their “Virtual Reality Aleppo” campaign across the streets of London in an experimental trial using cheap headsets and smartphones to place the public in the middle of warfare in Syria. Amnesty reported a 16% rise in direct debit sign ups and plan to further the experiment in Manchester and Leeds.

Aside from charity, however, there are a wealth of other benefits in Virtual Reality’s enormous future. Jon Brouchoud’s “Arch Virtual” uses the technology for an immediate, hands-on approach to architecture, using a headset to realise plans for real estate, modelling, urban planning, and architectural planning.

Available June 2015, Dior have created a headset to give people insight into areas backstage behind the runway. This rapid utilisation of VR’s technology just goes to demonstrate the inherent business value. Communication and marketing can be revolutionised with consumers being given previously exclusive experiences of the way products are developed or the processes of such events from their own living rooms. The movement has been dubbed “retailtainment” and is definitely a technique to watch as VR becomes more commonplace among marketing strategies and in business.

Patron Tequila has developed a virtual tour of its distillery, allowing consumers to experience the product’s development and manufacturing and in general provide businesses with the transparency they require to build good customer relations. And, also… tequila. Bonus.

We’re starting to see a greater boost in the use of virtual reality technology in the world outside gaming. A good sign that VR is here to stay this time, and an even better sign that us lowly humans would do well not to fear it.

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