On an almost yearly basis, we see the landscapes of technology, entertainment, and business shifting and evolving. Among these changes, one stands out for its extraordinary potential: Virtual Reality (VR). VR has swiftly moved from the realm of science fiction to a transformative business reality. This article aims to explore this technology’s evolution. Understanding this perspective becomes crucial as it not only charts the journey of an incredible technology, but also gives us a glimpse into how VR could reshape our society and the way we do business in the future.
The concept of VR, a simulated reality that users can interact with in a seemingly real or physical way, has its roots firmly planted in the world of science fiction. Pioneers of this genre, such as Philip K. Dick with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Isaac Asimov’s seminal works, provided the fertile ground where the seeds of VR could germinate. Popular culture took these ideas further, with concepts like Star Trek’s Holodeck becoming touchstones for VR’s potential. These dreams fed the imaginations of inventors and innovators, leading to the creation of early VR technologies.
Pioneers like Ivan Sutherland, known as the father of computer graphics, created groundbreaking devices such as the Sword of Damocles, a primitive head-mounted display system. Alongside this, inventions like the Sensorama, an early attempt at immersive, multi-sensory technology, laid the foundation for modern VR systems.
These early explorations eventually led to the creation of the first commercially available VR devices in the 1990s. Despite their limited success, devices like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Sega VR made a substantial impact, bringing VR into the public’s consciousness and setting the stage for the VR systems we see today.
One of the most compelling aspects of VR is its unmatched (as of now!) ability to create truly immersive environments. This high level of immersion is achieved by engaging multiple senses—visual, auditory, and haptic. Unlike traditional media formats, which typically rely on one or two senses, VR envelops users, drawing them into a virtual world that feels incredibly real.
When we look at visual immersion, VR pushes the boundaries of what’s possible. By providing a 360-degree view, VR tricks our brain into believing we are in a different environment. This is markedly different from watching a film or playing a traditional video game, where we are aware of our real-world surroundings. Indeed, the promos for Apple’s new Vision Pro device aim to leverage on exactly this – providing a completely different movie-watching experience, not just having another screen option.
The auditory component of VR furthers this sense of immersion. Spatial audio technology allows sound to come from different directions and distances, replicating the way we hear sounds in real life. This makes the VR experience much more convincing and immersive. Moreover, the incorporation of haptic feedback is revolutionizing the way we interact with virtual environments. By providing tactile sensations, users can “touch” and “feel” in the virtual world, bringing a new dimension of realism to VR.
These sensory experiences all contribute to what is known as ‘presence’ – a psychological state in which virtual (mediated) experiences are felt as if they are real. This unique ability of VR has profound implications for fields like storytelling, gaming, and cinema.
In gaming, for example, VR is pushing the boundaries of immersive entertainment. Games like Beat Saber and Half-Life: Alyx place players directly into the game environment, letting them interact with the virtual world in a way traditional gaming never could. In cinema and storytelling, VR allows creators to place viewers directly inside the narrative, transforming the viewer from a passive observer to an active participant. Films like Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s CARNE y ARENA, which uses VR to put viewers in the shoes of refugees, exemplify the unique storytelling potential of VR.
Of course, all this is related to entertainment, but the true business potential of VR might be in other industries as we will see below. Maybe gaming is just the use case needed to popularize the technology (and indeed, get it to manufacturing critical mass so that overall prices come down, which will lead to further use cases).
While VR as we know it today is primarily experienced through a headset, the future of VR is likely to look very different. We can expect significant advancements in VR technology and hardware that extend beyond headset-based experiences.
One potential advancement is the incorporation of full-body haptic suits. These suits could allow users to feel virtual environments with their entire body, taking the immersive experience to another level. Another promising technology is the development of omnidirectional treadmills. These devices allow users to walk freely in a VR environment, adding another layer of realism. Moreover, we might witness the rise of brain-computer interfaces in VR. These devices would make the VR experience more seamless and intuitive by reading and interpreting users’ neural activity.
As VR technology continues to advance, its applications will likely extend into various industries. In medicine, for instance, VR could be used for surgical training, allowing doctors to practice complex procedures in a risk-free environment. In architecture, VR could enable architects and clients to virtually walk through a building design before it’s built. In space exploration, VR could be used for astronaut training and simulating life on other planets. Not to mention, its potential transformation of education.
Furthermore, as VR becomes more prevalent, we are likely to see significant societal changes. We might get used to people wearing VR devices in public spaces, similar to how we’ve adapted to people wearing earphones or constantly looking at smartphone screens. New societal norms could emerge as well. As we interact with people wearing VR headsets, we might develop formal and informal rules about how to behave in such situations. For example, if someone is visibly immersed in a VR experience, we might learn to respect their virtual space in the same way we would respect their physical space.
The rise of VR might also lead to the emergence of VR-optimized digital identities. These could include personalized avatars or even digital merchandise, such as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), adding another layer to our virtual interactions.
Virtual Reality’s journey from the pages of science fiction to a transformative technology is a testament to human innovation. It is this journey that we are proud to be a part of, through our VR platform – Brahmarsive. Our platform aims to democratize VR, enabling businesses across industries to harness its potential and redefine their practices. With Brahmarsive, we hope to contribute to the vibrant tapestry of VR, creating immersive experiences that educate, entertain, and inspire.
As we continue to dream and create, who knows which elements of today’s sci-fi will become the reality of tomorrow? It’s an exciting prospect – one that reminds us that today’s dreams can shape the industries of tomorrow.
This post has been researched by Deivanai Durairaj, Senior Product Manager, Brahmarsive.