Look to Business, Not Entertainment, to Drive Virtual Reality Displays

By Karen Veazey May 23, 2014

When we think of the future we often imagine people with a device strapped to their eyes living out virtual reality. Think of Avatar, Inception, or Caprica’s V-Club; we seem to expect the future will demand a certain amount of willingness to detach from humans and live in the virtual space.

At first blush that future might seem to be just around the corner. I recently read a market research report predicting massive growth in the use of head mounted displays (HMD) through 2020 – specifically a fifty-seven percent compounded annual growth rate totaling more than $12 billion dollars. But my next thought was to wonder how that’s going to change anything? I just had arthroscopic knee surgery, and I can guarantee you the surgeon can tell you more about the inside of my knee than the outside, because his eyes were on the scope screen the entire time. There are airplanes where pilots can barely see over the dashboard because they fly on instruments, and a peek into any office will show thousands of dollars in displays big and small, portable and permanent; we spend all day looking at displays, why would want to attach them to our heads?

But the writers of the past seem to have been prescient in their predictions. In most movies and books virtual reality use is limited to small populations including law enforcement (and criminals), medicine, and entertainment and escapism – exactly the markets the report expects to bring about the boom in HMD use. In fact physicians are already starting to experiment with using Google Glass to monitor critical care patients, first responders are ever growing their ability to explore dangerous situations remotely, and we all know about the controversy of fighting wars using drones. Head mounted displays will make all these difficult jobs more immersive, bringing both great possibility and difficult consequences. Drone pilots already deal with a unique form of stress caused by fighting a war then driving home and dealing with bills and kids, will it make it any easier for infantry or artillery to be able to do the same?

But in training scenarios the ability to make and learn from virtual mistakes could revolutionize things like medical or safety training. Paratroopers are already able to experience the visual sensation of making that first difficult jump while safely suspended in a training harness and medical students may soon be able to watch procedures through the surgeon’s eyes, providing an invaluable perspective.

Of course the opportunities for HMD in entertainment are endless including gaming and personal 3D viewing, but the difference in price point between consumer and professional grade devices may lower the industry’s financial impact on growth. Nevertheless it will familiarize a generation with the joys that can be experienced through that funny looking thing strapped to their head.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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