So, Oculus is out. Gaming is the main hype, the price is controversial, and I saw a couple of tweets about being excited for VR applications outside of games, but without clue on what to do or where to start.
I personally think VR outside of gaming has much more future, and in fact, I don’t see VR gaming taking off (note: doesn’t mean it won’t be profitable, it just means… it will be very far from being a must-have device for gaming as the hype suggest). There may be some huge VR-exclusive blockbuster hits with an amazing experience, but that will be it.
These are my ideas, in case you want to do VR, and wondering what to do, here they are:
Imagine Skype meetings, but you when you put your VR helmet, you are virtually in the other guy’s room and can see and talk to him; while the other guy can see himself in your room, as if this were a face to face conversation. I’m suspecting this is the reason why Zuckerberg bought Oculus.
This requires both users to own a 360° camera though. Multi-user conferencing is also possible. The 360° camera can be avoided if you put the users in a virtual room with virtual avatars, but it’s not the same thing.
Endoscopy is a (painful to think about) procedure where a tube with a camera inserted inside of the patient for organ inspection. By putting a 360° camera, the doctor could have a better insight of what’s going on. Though I doubt there will be 360° cameras of that size; so technology has to catch up (or if we have the technology, they have to be manufactured).
Another useful application is in surgery. Inserting 360° cameras would allow the surgeon to precisely operate a patient in an otherwise difficult spot to reach. If aided by robotic arms controlled remotely we may be looking at the next generation of surgery procedures to treat complex conditions. Maybe Leap Motion results better than a Razer Hydra device for controlling the robotic arms, I don’t know. It needs a lot of exploration.
Of course this is not cheap at all. It requires the VR headset, miniature 360° cameras, robotic arms, and lots of training.
But the potential is there. And there’s a lot of it.
Nothing like pitching a virtual tour to your clients before they decide to build their dream house, right?
Surveillance & Forensics
Ok, this is more an advantage of 360° cameras. And I feel I should say “George Orwell Alert” here.
But there’s no mistake that a VR headset can be used to “immerse” in a crime scene that got captured by (multiple?) 360° cameras. Good old CSI and 80’s science fiction crime reconstruction.
Though I wonder if VR will actually add value, or if it will just be a cool gadget, since looking at 6 monitors at once may result more productive. Probably this will depend on the forensic scientist’s subjective taste. And also heavily relies on 360° footage being available.
Car insurances could also benefit of this technology (i.e. whose fault was on a car crash?). Basically anything where litigation is involved: we’ll have more information available, and a VR headset is a tool at analyzing this information.
Adult Entertainment (Pornography)
Does this seriously need explanation? It’s probably the only one that is already being actively explored.
Half of these applications not only rely on owning a VR headset, but also on the consumer buying a 360° camera. If you thought the Oculus Rift was pricey, this addition only makes it worse. Adult Entertainment gets to split the bill by having the studios buy the camera, and the consumer the headset.
On the bright side, except the medical surgery one, these applications don’t require the high-end PC specs advertised by Oculus, as long as it can encode and/or decode 6 to 12 videos in real time at 60hz or 120hz. Those really high specs were thought with gaming in mind; where huge virtual worlds are simulated and rendered in real time; and must be done with low latency to avoid dizziness.
It will be a long time until we see them put in practice at a consumer level; but I’m particularly excited in seeing the medical applications, since while not cheap, common average medical budgets are waaaaay above a couple VR headsets and 360° cameras; and this cost can be amortized over many patients. The robotic arm and the software development costs are the ones to worry about. Plus this is the one with the biggest potential of improving everyone’s lives.