Life made virtual – The practical use of Virtual Reality

Alex Hughes looks at the practical uses of Virtual Reality and the future of the technology.


Virtual Reality (VR) has taken leaps and bounds over the past few years especially with the introduction of 360° video which has taken the technology up to a whole new level.

The immersive technology has shaken the world making massive strides in 2016 and has the potential to become firmly implanted in everyday use. Videos have emerged across the internet of people using virtual reality to play interactive horror games, watch 360° music videos and put themselves in the feet of their favourite celebrities, all with extreme realism and lifelike effect.

But no matter how much fun it is to make your friends feel like they are in the middle of some horror cabin or on a never ending rollercoaster there are some really extraordinary practical uses for this technology. There is potential to implement VR into fields like medicine, education and the news media, revolutionising the way we take in information and understand the world around us.

So far several groups have started to explore the benefits of the technology and its practical use in society. The University of Louisville has been using virtual reality goggles to help patients deal with phobias through a controlled form of exposure therapy. The patients can work on battling their phobias while knowing they are in a private, safe environment.

Stanford University has also started to experiment with the technology, using it to help train surgeons before they are set on cadavers. The process for training surgeons is a long and tedious one where they must assist fully trained surgeons, building up until they are ready for cadaver training and even then it is years before they will be ready, VR training could speed this process up hugely.

But perhaps the most compelling use of VR so far comes from Chris Milk, the founder and CEO of Within, a company specialising in the use of virtual reality. Milk believes that the best use and end goal of virtual reality is to create the ultimate ‘empathy machine’. What he means by this is a way of connecting humanity to an issue in a way that has never been done before. In a TedTalks in 2015 he showcased this idea, showing a 360° video that he had made with his company looking at a refugee camp in Syria with the aim of fabricating empathy out of a lifelike connection to the situation. Describing the video clip, Milk says ‘it feels like you are sitting there with them, when you look down you are sitting on the same ground as they are and because of that you feel their humanity in a deeper way.’ The end result is an incredibly touching video and a way of connecting to a real life situation that has just never been done before.

These are just a couple of examples of the true practicality of virtual reality and as the technology advances there is sure to be much bigger and better projects to come. As it becomes cheaper and the quality of the reality increases it is likely that we will see more and more companies getting on board. Everything from journalism to gaming, medicine to filmmaking can be pushed through VR and put onto a new format that is only getting more advanced with time.