A lot of us have at least once thought about the possibilities of virtual reality. From our childhood, we’ve imagined the possibility of exploring new worlds by means of wearing virtual reality suits or fantastic-looking goggles. No wonder all those virtual reality movies like The Matrix, The Lawnmower Man, Gamer and Tron got immensely popular the moment they were released. They form a part of the virtual reality history timeline which is seeing a peak in activity today.

The exciting plots and incredible devices used to be no more than science fiction, but that is fast changing. Changing to such an extent that virtual reality is now becoming real enough to burst into our lives. Here’s why we believe that the virtual reality future is a lot closer than you may think.

HMD: How they appeared on the scene

Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) are special innovative devices designed in such a way that they can be placed in front of person’s eyes. They are equipped with head movement trackers, which ensure that the picture a user sees corresponds to the direction of his look. Like this, we can fully submerge in different games or become participants in panoramic videos.

The idea is not new, as it has developed slowly but confidently throughout recent centuries. From the invention of panoramic paintings people moved on to stereoscopic pictures. After that they tried simulations, like to train pilots, for example. In the mid-50s there appeared the first prototype of HMD – Morton Heilig’s Sensorama. It was clumsy and funny-looking, but it opened the whole new era in movie-watching – the involvement of all human senses.

Engineers continued to work on virtual reality technology, although even the word didn’t exist at that time, not until 1987. They invented The Headsight for military purposes. In 1965 Ivan Sutherland’s “Ultimate display” became a breakthrough in the field. His device called Sword of Damocles deserved its title fully, as it was hanging from the ceiling and projecting primitive wireframe environments and objects.

However, for the first time it was connected to the computer and not to the camera. It gave rise to many devices-to-come, like Jaron’s datagloves and VR goggles, Saga’s and Nintendo’s unsuccessful attempts to produce something similar.

In the 21st century virtual reality technologies experienced an enormous boost, resulting in such VR giants as Oculus Rift.

Facebook immediately took it into the hands. As Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his FB post: “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people…

…But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine… studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

HMD: The Scene Today

Being originally developed for games, virtual reality technology today confidently expands its limits. At present, the majority of PC users cannot enjoy the full extent of high-definition graphics, but that is going to change in a few years, allowing the use of virtual reality in everyday life.

In addition, HMDs are now becoming more than just a part of equipment for high-end PC owners, they involve something more accessible and common – smartphones. The number of special devices for smartphones are being prepared to enter the market, ranging from sophisticated ones, with USB connection and their own trackers to plain and simple boxes to put your smartphone in, like Google Cardboard.

A great number of famous companies are working on HMDs. Samsung, Sony, HTC, Microsoft, Archos have their own prototypes on different stages of development. Smartphone-associated solutions already can be found on market shelves. Marketers represent them as a significantly more accessible and cheaper version of virtual reality technology.

HMD Applications

One more task for VR is to come in handy in many more areas of human life, not only in gaming. It has proven to be useful in military, media, construction, fashion and sport. Nevertheless, probably the most significant areas where it might be used are the education, healthcare and business.

VR in Education

VR can become an invaluable educational tool, as it presents complex data in a practical, rational and accessible form. Kids learn better if they have visual materials and the possibilities with virtual reality technology today are only growing! It can teach millions of practical things no teacher can ever explain. Imagine for example totally harmless virtual reality bike trainer or conducting a study on a lethal virus in a virtual bio lab.

Many educational apps have been developed as collaborative and social environments, allowing students to be active participants and thus reach a higher level of comprehension. For instance, apps such as Google Expeditions, Discovery VR or Sites VR give the possibility to travel to different places, explore the world of wild nature or the architecture of ancient cities. King Tut VR helps with the better understanding of history.

The most incredible thing about them is that they are all already available for use with Google Cardboard. And there are many new ones being developed right now.

Just imagine virtual classrooms with kids and teachers all over the world. Or unforgettable astronomy lessons, giving the opportunity to literally travel across the stars with applications such as Titans of Space or Mars Is a Real Place. In fact, virtual reality education can be about the very technologies too, with modern kids submerging into the techno world from crib anyway.

VR in Healthcare

VR helps to broaden users’ knowledge in health and anatomy. Take for example In Mind or Cardio VR, allowing the exploring of inside of human body in form of a game. Anatomyou presents a new level of basic anatomy understanding, which the previous generations could not even think of.

In future doctors and nurses will be able to interact in a surgery simulation, enhance  their skills without putting their patients at risk. When it comes to real surgeries, virtual reality technology today enables conducting them distantly, when the surgeon can operate the machine performing very delicate procedures being separated from his patient by kilometers. And even more, virtual reality diagnostics will allow identifying the cause of illness without any surgical penetrations.

VR in Business

VR achievements can also be applied to numerous business spheres. They give a unique possibility to test your product without making prototypes and copies of it. It is especially important for companies which deal with potentially dangerous substances.

They provide customers with a 360-degree view over your products, thus boosting your sales. On the other hand, they help to manage your data and forecast the tendencies on the market.

Needless to say how fabulously useful VR devices and apps are for maintaining an outsourcing team, being able to communicate with them face-to-face no matter the distance.

Augmented Reality

Unfortunately, Head Mounted Displays are not so widespread now, as they haven’t been fully tested. Still, a partial analog version of virtual reality technology today can be found in app stores. It is called Augmented Reality – technology, which uses real images in real locations but  adding some computer-produced elements.

The popularity of augmented reality applications shows people’s vivid interest in virtual reality. It can be explained by the fact that these technologies really help to get out or routine. The best augmented reality examples include games, navigation, translators, beauty-helpers, commercial applications and many others:

Pokemon Go has become an obsession after its release, remember all these people running around the city and chasing little monsters with their smartphone cameras. The application is one of the best examples of augmented reality combined with location-based services.

Inkhunter, available for iOS, helps to choose a tattoo by means of virtually placing it on your skin. So you can come to the saloon with the decision already taken.

Similarly, Perfect365 and its analogs help to try out different makeup styles: you don’t need to spend two hours in front of a mirror to find out whether the new image mathes you or not.

There are many ways to solve some everyday little problems:

Google Translate possesses a remarkable feature of translating pictures from your camera, without any need in typing for you.

Augmented Car Finder solves the eternal problem of not being able to find your car on confusing parking lots amongst many other cars.

Travelers also may find augmented reality extremely useful.

Field Trip functions as your own tour guide, contained in your mobile device.

Wikitude and Monocle are the brightest examples of AR navigation apps, providing you with places’ reviews and customer ratings.

SunSeeker uses your location and other information available to tell you where the sun is while Spyglass servers as a compass.

There now have been coined such terms as augmented reality retail and augmented reality shopping. It is a new level of sales and marketing, as they allow customers not only to see the desired object from all sides using 360-degree images but also to try the products for real without holding them in reality. Sounds crazy? Well, this is what the creators of SnapShot Showroom are trying to change. They have made it possible for users to fit the items of furniture and household in their homes by means of smartphones only.

Augmented reality and virtual reality technology today are trendsetters for the years to come. These impressive new digital realities open up new horizons and expand human capabilities. The HMD development is a new and innovative niche. Development of both original HMDs and HMD-integrated smartphone apps holds gigantic perspectives and loads of possibilities.

Without doubt, even more new kinds of entertainment, new opportunities for business, services, advanced technologies for medicine and engineering is what awaits us in the future.

This is a Guest Post by  Valeriia Timokhina at Eastern Peak Software.

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