Alternate Realities in a Very Real World

Lately, technology companies like Apple and Microsoft have had their hands full not so much with creating new, tangible items, but with crafting and designing digital experiences. Similarly, virtual reality and augmented reality programs are taking over the tech scene. Top, contemporary VR devices include Facebook’s Oculus and the Google Daydream headsets (or their more affordable cardboard version). Let’s briefly look back to where this all started:

VR/AR developments have been experimented with as far back as the 1800s, but it wasn’t until recently that the boom of VR/AR has made its presence in fields outside of video games and cinema. The term “virtual reality” wasn’t crafted until 1987 and its roots can be tracked to artistic, sensory illusions, such as landscape paintings that played with 2D/3D images, and imitation devices, such as the stereoscope (which made photographs look even more realistic and up-close to viewers). The first headset for virtual reality was invented in the 1960s and it displayed images from a computer that was connected to the headset. This device was designed by Ivan Sutherland and named the Sword of Damocles. In the 1990s, films and video games utilized VR glasses, such as the VFX-1 headset and the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

Meanwhile, “augmented reality” refers to digital images interacting with the material world, enhancing what’s in front of you and combining digital and real-world layers. According to a Huffington Post infographic, the first stage of augmented reality dates back to 1968 when a computer displayed drawings through head mounted display. By the 70s, tech experts were working with cameras and computers to project several images over real-world objects with which users could interact. Other early uses of augmented reality include NASA maps for space explorers and NFL TV cameras showing digital lines on a football field for viewers at home to see during games. Popular examples of AR development today include the Pokémon Go app and Google Glass.

Currently, it seems that the trend of VR/AR is making a breakthrough in the medical world, which would create an immense impact on surgical practices (both in quality and time) and train medical students by providing them with opportunities to practice surgeries through virtual simulations. Major companies include Osso VR and ImmersiveTouch. According to Singularity Hub, last year Shafi Ahmed of Virtual Medics and Medical realities performed a live-stream “cancer surgery in virtual reality…[it] was shot in a 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient.”

This kind of technology can assist patients on a mental level too. Expert companies include Psious (which treats patients with specific phobias) and appliedVR (which helps patients confront pain during operations). These kinds of AR/VR applications can also facilitate patients by simulating a scene, such as a kitchen or grocery store, and educating viewers on what kind of produce to avoid and ways to monitor a healthy diet. Others have found that showing a pleasant environment, such as a beach or a familial space, can calm down anxious patients. Currently, VR technology is limited to visual and auditory experiences, so it’s possible that technology companies are working towards engaging with virtual smells and touch.

Do you see the trend of VR/AR technologies making an impact on your company? Comment below.

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