Health IS Technology Blog

Welcoming 2016 & Virtual Reality Technology


In his book titled, ‘Developing Virtual Reality Applications’ Allan B. Craig explained that, “Virtual reality is simply a medium, a means by which humans can share ideas and experiences.”

Virtual Reality Technology

Virtual Reality Technology

Exploring Virtual Reality (VR) Technology

January 2016 has officially been welcomed in with an abundance of flashy fireworks, music, wine and enough celebrating to light up the world. It’s also the introduction of something that we’ve all been waiting for, ever since The Matrix, Minority Report and just about every other science fiction film arrived at ‘theatres near you’: Virtual Reality Technology! But before you get too excited, let’s quickly explore what it is (1), where it’s current ROI (i.e. return on investment) is at (2) and what VR tools you can finally play and work with (3), this new year.

 

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR), immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality is basically just a replica of an environment that can be as similar to or distinct from a real environment, as our imaginations and tools allow. Virtual realities can even, “Artificially create sensory experiences, including sight, hearing, touch and smell” (Wikipedia, Dec. 2015). Just as in the real world, you can interact with the virtual world depending upon your access to tools, such as the controllers used by modern console games and the mouse-keyboard combo used for most desktop computers. So whether you’re a staunch supporter of the “PC master race” or consider yourself “console gaming royalty”, VR will likely have options for you.

 

How Does VR Work?

Virtual Reality Technology

Virtual Reality Technology

It’s a really, big trick. Virtual reality technologies work by trying to trick your brain into believing that what you see, hear and generally experience in VR is real. With a virtual reality headset your eyes are shown an image, which changes based on where and how you move your head while wearing the headset, just as your view changes when you look up, down and all around in the real world. With additional 3D audio devices alone, you can put yourself more completely into the virtual world.

The hands-down, three, big production powerhouses in this field are Microsoft with HoloLens, Google with Cardboard and Facebook with Oculus Rift VR headsets.

The CEO of Oculus, which was previously a VR startup before being purchased by Facebook back in 2014 for approximately $2 billion, Brendan Iribe has offered his own explanation of the technology as “‘A hack on the human sensory system’. It makes sense, then, for VR companies to focus their hacking efforts on the sense that humans rely on most: Vision. Humans have stereoscopic vision, which means that they perceive depth by noting the subtle differences between the images received by each of their eyes. VR headsets have two tiny screens, one for each eye, which exploit that. By carefully altering the images fed to each eye, the user’s brain is persuaded that it is looking at an entire three-dimensional world instead of a pair of flat images” (The Economist, Sep. 2015). So as cleverly, cool as VR tech might seem, it’s still very much reliant on an even more advanced, old-school tool: The human eye.

 

How Is VR Being Used, Already?

You may not have noticed it just yet but virtual reality technology is pretty much set to go and being used in a wide variety of public organizations all throughout the world, including here in the United States. From universities and offices to art galleries and hospitals, interest in and implementation of virtual reality technology is on the rise. In the warm and sunny hometown of Pomona, California, the Western University of Health Sciences welcomes students into their cutting-edge Virtual Reality Learning Center. These students can study dentistry, osteopathic medicine, veterinary medicine, physical therapy and nursing through VR. “The Virtual Reality Learning Center currently houses four different VR technologies: two zSpace displays, the Anatomage Virtual Dissection Table, the Oculus Rift and Stanford anatomical models for iPad” (Fortune, Oct. 2015).

But students aren’t the only group with access to today’s incredible tech. Businesses are teaming up with public institutions, including healthcare centers in order to present the potential of VR to the medical community. Next Galaxy Corp, a developer of VR technology, has successfully collaborated with the Miami Children’s Hospital so that they can train their staff through VR. Their goal is to develop “VR medical instructional software for procedures like nasogastric tube insertion, intubation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Heimlich maneuver, Foley catheter insertion, wound care and for starting an IV.” (Augmented Reality Trends, Aug. 2015).

Okay, but what about patients? Surely, there’s some benefit that comes from offering VR tech to people that are hospitalized and stuck away from their homes, family and friends. Actually, there’s definitely a benefit to using VR in this case, as one study discovered as far back as 1999:

“By using virtual technology, the quality of life for children who suffered from psychological and physiological stress in the hospital greatly improved. It is not only useful for their QOL (quality of life) but also for the healing of illness” (NCBI, 1999).

These kids could ‘virtually’ visit and experience zoos, amusement parks and aquariums or choose to play with virtual soccer balls, skis and even go horseback riding, all while remaining safely in the hospital. Even more interestingly, they were able to continue to participate in school and play with other children participating in different hospitals. TechRepublic has a list of the top ten ways VR is revolutionizing health and medicine, online here. That said, it’s easy to see how mind-bendingly amazing this would be for not just healthcare and hospitalized children but for people everywhere in schools, offices, homes and beyond.

 

The ROI for Virtual Reality (VR) Technology

CEO, Brad D. Smith stated, “Millennials, and the generations that follow, are shaping technology. This generation has grown up with computing in the palm of their hands. They are more socially and globally connected through mobile Internet devices than any prior generation. And they don’t question, they just learn”.

The Return On Investment (ROI) for virtual reality technology is simply a measurement that comes from the amount you can expect to get back (i.e. the return), after spending (i.e. investing) some amount on the tech. You can quickly calculate this (or seek the help of an easy-to-use online calculator) and determine what the ROI is for any current tech you might own by dividing the amount of money made by the amount of money spent and reading the result as a percentage. But for those of us who still don’t have access to this tech personally, consider what others who do have reported, already.

Virtual Screens

Virtual Screens

Reported Benefits (Returns) from VR Investments

Remember, the Miami Children’s Hospital I mentioned earlier? Well, they’ve happily reported the benefit of virtual reality technology for their employee retention levels. The hospital’s CEO, Dr. Narendra Kini explained that, “Retention levels after one year of VR training is 80 percent compared to 20 percent, after a week with conventional training”. So, the ability to train or offer new perspectives to employees, students, etc. is highly valuable in the virtual world. Commercial hubs (e.g. offices, hospitals, hotels, retail locations, etc.) are very well suited for this.

 

Popularity of VR Technology

Okay, okay, so we know there’s something to the use of VR in the public and professional domain but what about at the personal or consumer level? Are everyday, Jane’s and Joe’s any more interested than our leaders and business savvy CEO’s? In short, yes.

In a survey of 1,000 American adults that was prepared using Google’s Consumer Survey data by the VR content sharing site, YouVisit, they discovered that there is definitely a receptive market for VR technology. They estimate that, “Around 23 million American adults, 11 percent of the online adult population, have already tried virtual reality, even ahead of consumer product launches due this winter (Yes, very soon my sci-fi loving and gamer friends), including the release of the Facebook Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive headsets. A further 30 percent of online Americans aged 18 and up express a desire to try the technology. Younger consumers are the most likely to have tried virtual reality, with 18 percent of 18-24 year olds reporting that they have already tried VR and 46 percent eager to try it” (YouVisit, Sep. 2015). In their report they also share the findings of Tim Merel, the founder of Digi-Capital (VR/AR consulting company), who estimates that “The virtual reality industry is projected to grow to around $30 billion annually by 2020”. We’ll check back in 2020 to see how far we’ve come and how many headsets are in homes across the nation. In the meantime, pay close attention, consider your role in the digital world and absolutely do enjoy the virtual opportunities, fast approaching!

 

VR Technology In The Past & Future

Just about everyone has their own opinion about where the future, combined with VR tech can and may take us, including myself. But when seeking information about any emerging technologies, it’s often best to go back and get the opinions of those who were there early on, before it was even seriously considered by most of us. One such source is Professor Bob Stone, who has been hands-on with the tech since the 90’s and now serves as the Chair of Interactive Multimedia Systems at the University of Birmingham. He explained his experience and thoughts on the tech in a 2015 interview for The Guardian:

“While we were running around talking about headsets and gloves, the gaming community was coming up underneath with software and hardware in their quest for the best quality games. That drove down the cost of computing with graphics, and also made available a number of toolkits for game-quality virtual worlds that people could sympathize with.”

Virtual Reality Technology

Virtual Reality Technology

So in the past, the gaming community invested and brought down much of the costs associated with VR for the rest of us. But what about those thinking ahead into the future? Do we have any idea how relevant VR will be, as we go forward? Many say, absolutely. For example, in a forecast made in March by Brian Blau, research director at Gartner he noted that, “There could be 2 million VR headsets sold in 2016, 8 million in 2018 and potentially as many as 25 million in use, within a few years” (The Guardian, May 2015). That means there could be one in your home, workplace or a nearby commercial space, sooner than you think this year.

 

Quick Recap:

 

VR is an interactive replica of a real or imagined environment

The big 3 VR leaders are Microsoft (HoloLens), Google (Cardboard) & Facebook (Oculus)

~23 million American adults have tried VR and a further 30% of online Americans express a desire to do so

 

VR Tools You Can Explore, Today & Tomorrow!

Today

  • Headsets
    • Google Cardboard (Available)
    • Oculus Rift (Pre-Ordering Available)
    • Razer OS VR (Developer Edition Available)
    • Microsoft HoloLens (Developer Editions Shipping this Quarter)
  • Content (Sites)
    • YouVisit
    • JauntVR
    • YouTube
    • Steam Games and Much More

 

Tomorrow

  • Virtual Desktop
    • “Virtual Desktop is an application developed for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that improves your VR experience on Windows. You can browse the web, watch movies or even play games on a giant virtual screen” (Virtual Desktop, 2015). You can see an incredible video demonstration of this now, on YouTube.
  • VR Tracking Systems
    • “As I write this, there are VR tracking systems for most of your extremities. Stompz are little foot cuffs with sensors. PrioVR is a harness that fits around your wrists and elbows. Both are designed to work with headsets like the Oculus Rift. But alongside these are companies whose work wasn’t conceived with the Rift in mind, focused on bringing your body into a virtual world” (The Verge, June 2014).
  • Gesture Recognition
    • “Oculus has bought an Israeli gesture recognition firm, potentially bringing the ability to interact with the world’s shown in its Rift virtual reality headset, so that it can recognize the movements of users and then render them in the virtual world.” (Independent, July 2015).
  • Video Games (Some Available, Today)

    • “The video game experience may be one way that virtual reality takes off this year — and gamers may share that experience with their parents and grandparents, opening the VR experience another audience and laying the groundwork for a new art form and industry. ‘Ultimately it’s really up to the game developers and the content developers to really provide great user experiences’ says Gartner Analyst, Brian Blau” (NPR, Dec. 2015).

 

So my fellow technology enthusiasts, developers and observers, help me to welcome in 2016 once more by celebrating not just with the same traditional fireworks and wine but with a cheer for the virtual technology we’ve all been waiting for since 1995. It’s finally, arrived!

Stay Tuned for A Review of Augmented Reality Technology.

Also, Find More Tech Resources and Follow me on Blogarama.

 

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