5 ways VR is changing the world for the better

When Oculus Rift kickstarted virtual reality (VR) headsets back in 2012, I didn’t see them as anything more than a cool gadget to have. It was a novelty that the world of tech could probably do without – like swegways.

My opinion was changed this weekend, after the BBC shared the story of a resident of a hospice in South London who has incurable cancer. Thanks to a VR headset, she was able to fulfil her dying wish and revisit Jerusalem (where she grew up).

With a little research, you find that there are loads of wonderful uses for VR headsets. People are finding more and more inventive ways to use this technology for the power of good. Here are just some that I think are share-worthy:

1.      In medicine

The health care industry has jumped on the VR trend, using it to help inform diagnosis and treatment. Surgeons can embark on a simulation of an operation and can ‘practice’ a surgery before the real thing. The technology can also be used to help them identify the best way to locate tumours and where to place surgical incisions. In this instance, VR technology could quite literally be saving lives.

But that’s not all – VR can also be used in the rehabilitation of patients, such as those who’ve suffered a stroke or brain injury. A ground-breaking biotechnological company in Switzerland named MindMaze have created an immersive VR therapy, which is said to help patients regain motor and cognitive function faster than with traditional physical therapy. It has engineered the therapy to feel like games, motivating the patient to ‘play’ them every day and beat their previous scores.

surgeons training using virtual reality VR headset technology

2.      Exploring new worlds

NASA have adopted virtual reality for various uses. The technology is being developed to one day control rovers or other instruments that are sent to distant planets, so that they can be controlled from the safety of Earth.

At CES in 2016, NASA teamed up with Oculus Rift to give attendees the chance to experience life onboard the world’s largest Rocket – the Space Launch System (due for completion in 2018). The impressive project will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty at 325ft tall and weigh 5.5 million pounds.

3.      Road safety

Anyone who’s attended a driving safety course or seminar (I had one at school) knows how much of a sobering experience it can be – hearing from someone who was involved in a fatal accident due to reckless driving. But imagine if you could actually live it, with the aid of a VR headset? It’s chilling just to think about.

Toyota are using Oculus headsets to educate teens and parents about distractions while driving, as part of their TeenDrive365 campaign.

4.      Jury duty

Another great example of VR use is in courtrooms. Imagine you’re on jury duty and you’re presented with photographs documenting the crime scene – it can be hard to paint the picture in your mind. VR headsets can enable juries to take a virtual tour of the crime scene and see it in 3D, helping them visualise the location of people, bullets and other evidence. It could prove crucial in complex cases and is currently being trialled by a research group at Staffordshire University.

VR virtual reality tour of a crime scene used for juries in a courtroom

5.      Museums

Technology has advanced so much in the last 100 years that it’s hard to imagine what life was like without it. The irony is that the development of VR technology means that we don’t have to imagine any more – we can take a virtual tour.

In 2015, both the British Museum in London and the American Museum of Natural History in New York embraced virtual reality to give visitors a more immersive experience. They made some collections virtually accessible through smartphones and the use of Google Cardboard. After huge success, it won’t be long before we’ll be encouraged to don a headset and explore different periods of time throughout museums for the ultimate experience.

Have you heard of any other useful applications for VR? Post in the comments below!