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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Column: Virtual reality isn’t just for gaming

Virtual and augmented reality are the future of interacting with technology

By OWEN RUDERMAN — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

When many people think of virtual reality (VR), they think of someone with a toaster strapped to their head running into a wall or punching a hole in their television. For augmented reality (AR), it’s Pokémon GO. At first glance, it seems like VR and AR are just fun gimmicks — new ways to play video games that will surely fade away. But that viewpoint couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In fact, before VR and AR entered the consciousness of the mainstream, it was already being used as early as the 1970s for things such as flight simulations and military training. Now, with the huge advancements to the technology in recent years, VR and AR’s list of potential uses is growing. For example, since 2017, impressive strides have been made in VR-enhanced mental health treatments.

I must admit, however, that the technology is still in its infancy. Despite efforts from Meta with the Oculus, when it comes to affordability and ease of use, VR headsets are still falling flat for the everyday consumer. Additionally, aside from Snapchat and Instagram filters, it seems like AR is a ways away from becoming useful. But once more advancements come, the potential for this technology is scarily limitless. 

And more advancements will come, especially as the industry grows. Demand has shot up in recent years, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic — global spending on AR and VR technology rose to $12 billion in 2020, up 50% from 2019.

Some of the potential of VR and AR is easy to imagine. If the price goes down and the quality goes up, it’s highly possible that these technologies will dominate the gaming market. I’ll never forget the first time I booted up my Oculus Quest 2 and hopped into a multiplayer game, where I met a British kid who offered to show me how to use the sniper rifle. It’s a magical gaming experience, and everyone should be able to get their hands on it. As the technology improves and becomes more easily available, and as more games are developed, VR will eclipse all other forms of play. You just can’t beat the level of immersion that VR provides. But gaming isn’t the only entertainment industry that will shift to VR.

Imagine movies in VR: Instead of sitting in a theater watching a screen, you would quite literally be in the middle of the action as it unfolds. The monster in horror films could actually sneak up behind you, or you could skydive out of a plane with Captain America. But let’s not stop there. What about VR music videos, VR interviews and more? Imagine attending an art exhibit that consisted entirely of immersive, VR art pieces. At some point in the not-so-distant future, I predict VR will be the method by which we view almost all entertainment. 

AR has even more potential. The Google Glass was quite a flop (wearers of Google Glass were branded “Glassholes”), but as humans and machines start to become more entwined, seeing the world through a veil of technology is going to become more and more common — just look at Neuralink, Elon Musk’s new brain chip company. It’s secretive about its research, but one of its goals is to use brain chips to allow paralyzed people to control technological devices. Once AR technology becomes sufficiently advanced, users will be able to instantly translate foreign text or voice, physical advertisements will be tailored to each viewer and text messages will appear in your peripheral view. The list of practical applications for AR is even longer than for VR.

I know a lot of this sounds “Black Mirror”-esque, but it’s the way of the future. The line between humans and computers will continue to blur, and I could even see it disappearing entirely. The future of interacting with technology and entertainment is VR and AR. All that’s left for us to do is wait.

Written by: Owen Ruderman — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.