Virtual Reality (short: VR) is a promise of comprehensive digitalization, which was initially given in the 1980s and has been waiting to be kept ever since. Thanks to the evolution in important key areas, such as the production of high resolution displays and the vast improvements in graphics performance or sensor technology, to name but a few, the results which can be achieved today are a veritable spectacle.
This development has created a great foundation for start-ups, which harness its advantages and have made their work one of the most recognized areas in the technology sector. Oculus and Magic Leap are only the tip of the iceberg.
The hardware necessary to really experience VR usually consists of a closed set of VR goggles with tiny displays fitted behind a pair of lenses. In addition to the sensors included in the headset, which measure inclination, rotation and orientation, many devices also feature a further external sensor improving the transmission of the user’s actual physical position into the virtual position. For a more complete virtual experience, headphones are also recommended. Additionally, there are special controllers, which can interpret hand gestures and translate them to actions inside the virtual world.
The requirements put to computers by VR applications mustn’t be taken too lightly either. When asked about Oculus Rift support for Apple Macs, Rift founder Palmer Luckey replied that he would offer it ” when Apple makes a good computer”. Thus, he underscores the high demands which are put to the graphics performance, which have traditionally been more of a supporting player in the Apple universe. Other companies, such as MSI or HP are venturing into whole new territory by developing backpack-PCs, especially designed with VR applications in mind.  With those devices, reminiscent of life-preservation systems for astronauts, players can fully immerse themselves in virtual worlds independent of their desk or sofa and thus move about more freely.
The market is growing fast not only for user-oriented technology. Also developers of video systems are seizing the many opportunities virtual reality offers right now. GoPro, for example, has recently presented a new range of components which allow a relatively fast and easy creation of VR content and is only one of many providers in this fast-growing market segment. The consensus seems to be that somebody will get rich on the back of VR cameras – the only question is who it will be.
It’s not all about Gaming
Virtual reality can best play to its strengths when you need to visualize something which doesn’t yet exist. Great (non-game-related) applications include architecture and real estate, travel, trade shows and fitness. To give just one example, you can now walk through a house, while it is still being planned, which thus enables buyers or future home-owners an early look at their future property. Or you could use VR to look at apartments you consider renting which means you could make a more informed pre-selection without ever needing to leave your current place – pretty efficient right? Since digital floor plans are usually already available nowadays, the creation of VR-ready 3D models is only a small step away.
Also the way in which VR is experienced is full of cool innovations. Our STEVE is only one of many new devices and applications showing the potential virtual reality possesses for trade shows, travel and so on. When using VR, you can be immediately transported to new places – irrespective of whether they really exist or not. I think this is about as close to teleportation as you will get in the foreseeable future. Then again…
A few companies from industries not usually associated with virtual reality have also been testing the waters of this technology. Runtastic, for example, already presented a VR program at CES 2015 which is designed to encourage its users to do sports. The virtual trainer checks your real-life performance of knee bends or squats, making sure you do them correctly, so that you don’t put any extensive strain on your body and while also bending low enough.
What will the future bring?
A fully navigable virtual space, as proposed by the makers of Star Trek in the form of Holodecks, is the next promise of this digitalization which is likely to come true. The possibilities existing today are only a first and very impressive step in this direction. We can’t wait!