The age of virtual reality

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BY ANTONY MUTUNGA

One of the many privileges that human beings have nowadays is reading. But this was not always the case as history has shown us; once upon a time it was only a privilege to people of a particular class, which included nobles and top officials in churches. The fact that it was once reserved for a certain class shows how important reading is. It is very crucial because it gives human beings the possibility of learning new things without that firsthand experience.

Reading gives human beings the opportunity to use imagination to visualize anything, anywhere. However, this has changed in recent times as forms of entertainment have developed causing us to depend on other means of visualization other than ourselves. The creation of television caused a major change as most people moved from reading story books where they used their minds to visualize, to sitting in front of the television watching movies which would do visualization for them.

The more we advance in technology the more we reduce using our previous techniques like reading as newer techniques prove to be more entertaining and provide more intense forms of visualization. However, like the natural order of things we can only move forward and just as the likes of television reduced the reading culture, their time has come due to the introduction of the immersive virtual reality (VR).

Virtual reality can be described as a computer technology that replicates a real environment or creates a world that is believable and then simulates a user’s physical presence enabling user interaction in the environment.  In virtual reality the user is made to feel as if they are in the real world as much as possible, both mentally and physically, as the computer technology artificially creates a sensory experience. Reading can be considered a low form of virtual reality.

The term virtual reality was actually coined by Jason Lanier who is considered as one of the modern pioneers in the field in 1989. However, the idea of virtual reality is a very old one as it was first envisioned in the 1950s by Morton Heilig, a cinematographer, who developed the Sensorama, a machine that was able to make one feel as if they were part of the film rather than just watching it.

Later in 1968, Ivan Sutherland furthered the idea by creating the first virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) head mounted display (HMD) system. The head mounted display devices are what is used to show images to user when he is experiencing virtual reality. However, the first HMD was heavy as it was connected to a lot of other materials and its experience was not perfect yet, henceforth, more innovation was clearly required.

As the years went by, more modifications were done to make the perfect devices but the concept of virtual reality always remained the same. Over the years, virtual reality has advanced much with its experience being more life-like and the HMDs becoming less heavy and more portable, for example Oculus, Gear VR, Vive VR, as compared to Sutherland’s earlier design. This has enabled it to finally start hitting the mainstream in a major way.

Virtual reality is becoming the driving wheel of the new world economy. It has revolutionized the world not only in the gaming sector, as most people only associate this piece of technology with video games, but it is now more than that as it has enabled different sectors to be able advance to new heights.

Real estate developers, for instance, used to draw their buildings or use models and show them to investors and buyers who if they lacked the vision would not be interested but the introduction of VR enables a developer to take the prospectors through a created virtual model and they get to experience as if they are actually in the building creating more excitement and a more accurate idea of what to except.

It also helps by reducing costs for an investor or buyer as they do not have to leave the comfort of their homes, all they have to do is put on their HMDs and they will be able to check on units without having to change their busy schedules to travel to the site. Apart from helping in the real estate sector, it is also involved in the education sector where it is seen as a boon helping in more ways than one.

VR is expected to change how students view some school subjects, as it will help capture their attention making studies more exciting. In the history subject, for example, this technology will enable students to experience certain events as if they were actually there. Further from that, it can also be used in practical learning for example in military training where pilots are taught how to handle aircrafts from taking off to landing them using a simulator.

Other than in military training it is quite helpful as surgeon trainees are taught to familiarize themselves with the surgical procedures as well as learn what to do in the emergence of new cases. This shows that other than education, it is also a huge boost in health sector where apart from helping surgeon trainees, it is also a succor to professional surgeons as it has enabled them to do surgery while in a distant location by using a robot that they are linked to using this technology. An example of this is the use of the DaVinci surgical robot, which was released in 2009.

Other doctors have also not been left behind as some have started to use the technology on soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder to deal with the problem by replacing their fear of war with familiarity by simulating them to a war zone using the VR headsets.
Apart from this, virtual reality hopes to find its place in the courtroom where it would be used as a tool for remaking a crime scene for the jurors giving each side a chance to make their case through the virtual environment to enable the jury to make an accurate judgment.

In Kenya, the VR is just starting to hit the public. Although a bit expensive now, this is the future as every industry will be looking to incorporate this new technology. It is predicted that by 2020 virtual reality will have staggering revenue of about $120billion.

The best thing about this is that it is only the beginning. Virtual reality is still in its early experimental days and when it reaches its prime it is definitely going to change the world for the better. The reality is here, are you ready?

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