The launch last year of a range of virtual reality hardware options for home users did a pretty good job of opening the general public's eyes to the entertainment possibilities of the technology. The gaming world's been pushing for workable VR for a while, on and and off, but it's never really managed to get a serious foothold before now. However, even without a high-end headset, most people probably carry enough processing power in their pockets to support a basic VR experience, which is bringing the buy-in bar down for everyone.
It might be gaming that gets most of the Virtual Reality press right now, but that doesn't mean that's where all the most important or interesting work's happening. Industries from education and healthcare through to construction and fashion are all finding uses for VR technology. Even if the current gaming craze dies down, there's no reason to believe that those strange-looking headsets are going away any time soon.
Here are just a few of the ways businesses are putting VR to work.
There's an awful lot of work that goes into a construction project before the first nail is struck. With the right software, it's possible to do much more than simply plan out the structure. Constructing in VR allows you to simulate real working conditions and stress-test designs. With the UK government embarking on a major overhaul of the construction industry over the coming years, the efficiency and accuracy of VR modelling shouldn't be underestimated.
Again, modelling and visualising in VR can be a hugely efficient way of approaching a project. VR can cut prototyping costs, test for flaws or weaknesses and even reduce physical risks. The technology is already seeing use in the automotive sector, with vehicle designs and capabilities being examined in VR without the need for physical prototypes.
Very few industries have found as many different uses for Virtual Reality as healthcare. The opportunity to simulate a human body in real time for training purposes is, frankly, immense. VR is also seeing use as a diagnostic tool, which can significantly reduce the need for invasive exploratory techniques. When surgery is required, VR still has a part to play by allowing surgeons to operate via robotic apparatus – even when they're not at the same location as the patient.
As a teaching tool, VR has a lot going for it. Students in different locations can use the technology to interact as if sharing a classroom, while highly complicated or abstract information can be explained in easily grasped, practical ways.
Every branch of the Armed Forces has been able to make use of developments in Virtual Reality technology. In a field where effective training is often a life-or-death proposition, simulations through VR are a significant step forward. Everything from dangerous battlefield conditions to complex equipment operation can be simulated, and even psychological rehabilitation techniques for trauma sufferers have benefited from VR adoption.
Virtual Reality is big news right now, but there's an awful lot going on behind the scenes as well. It would clearly be a mistake to assume that the technology lives or dies only on its most prominent applications in entertainment and gaming. Any field that relies on precise, safe and controllable modelling tools stands to gain from VR, and as the technology develops that potential is only going to expand.