The future of virtual reality technology remains up in the air. Even though we have seen a shift from fancy prototypes that companies dangle in front of us to get our money, to something you can now find on the shelf of Best Buy, many people are still skeptical about VR being the next greatest anything.
Some see it as nothing more than a fad, while others are convinced that this devilish technology will ruin the minds of our future youth in a way that even video games cannot do today.
Personally, I’m still hung up on the fact that I can go from my bedroom to a virtual theater to watch my favorite movies without having to pay $20 for microwave popcorn. Granted, the experience is like watching a movie through a screen door, but it’s a step in the right direction.
No one knows for sure where this technology is going to be in the future, but a look at the next wave of VR devices might offer a hint. Now that we have the inevitable slew of consumer devices flooding the market, this industry is about to expand in new directions.
Just recently, a new company introduced the consumer version of a device that can read and recreate your emotions virtually. Instead of having to find your favorite emoji or tediously describe your emotional state, it will simply read your face and move your virtual polygons when necessary.
From this, I can only assume that VR technology is moving in the direction we are already familiar with: reality itself.
History Of Virtual Reality
The concept of virtual reality is nothing new. VR devices have been around since at least the early 1990s. Star Trek even beat many people to the punch with the introduction of their fancy, fantasy suites: the Holodeck.
Many of the early VR prototypes were nothing more than a manifested technical wet dream from highly intelligent scientists and tech manufacturers. A few companies, particularly game developers like Nintendo, tried to introduce VR to the masses through products like the Power Glove.
Unfortunately, most of these attempts failed to gain any traction due to the technological limitations of the time. Issues such as motion sickness, overheating, and overall poor fashion plagued these early prototypes.
Many of these issues are the same challenges current companies have been dealing with recently. Great strides have been made to make the concept of virtual reality a more commonly accepted idea for people willing to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars for a limited experience that just might comically, yet seriously, injure you.
Just like tablets and smartphones before it, virtual reality was more myth than reality up until a couple of years ago.
The first few serious products are now common name within the VR world. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, the Samsung whatever, all were among the first to rediscover the VR pipedream and turn it into a potentially legitimate business model.
The technology has obviously improved over this time. For goggles, in particular, they have benefited from improved displays, motion sensing and head tracking capabilities, and even some semblance of a commitment to usability and comfort.
More importantly, the use of this technology is finding its way into many different industries. Chief among them is the gaming industry where we can now find a limited but growing, library of exciting games.
These days you can live out your wildest fantasies of floating around in space, exploring the depths of the ocean, or play Minecraft as if reality’s display settings were turned to “8-bit.”
For some, the more exciting aspect of this technology is how we can use it for education. Training practical skills, especially ones used in dangerous circumstances, is becoming easier and more effective with VR technology. For example, we can now put soldiers and first responders into dangerous, life-threatening situations without forcing them to sign a liability waiver.
There has also been an increase in using VR to conquer phobias and help with rehabilitation.
This technology would seem to be going in the direction of the impossible, bring people into situations and experiences that they could only dream of before.
However, when I look at the next wave of VR devices, I can’t help but wonder if this is accurate. Perhaps, the future of VR is focused more on the reality part than the virtual part.
The previously mentioned emotion reader is a good example of what I mean. Here we have devices that can put us into alien worlds and experiences, and yet, that alone isn’t enough. For some reason, we need to bring along our emotions on the ride.
This isn’t to say that emotion reading devices can’t be important. This company has already used them successfully in hospitals for helping rehabilitation patients after strokes and amputations. For the true dreamers out there, this technology might even put an end to the emotional ambiguity in texting that poop emojis simply can’t solve.
For VR, however, we don’t need technology to read and replicate our emotions. That’s why we have facial animators.
My emotional expression has no bearing on whether I can successfully save my virtual Enterprise from some nasty Klingons.
Yet, I find myself excited by the possibilities. In the future, we might be able to incorporate true emotional expression into the virtual world. In some ways, either accidentally or by design, it may even enhance the experience.
If we look closely at other developments on the virtual horizon, we can see more evidence of this. Other companies are currently researching and prototyping devices that will recreate other aspects related to human experience and expression.
In the future, we may have haptic suits that replicate the sense of touch or devices that create real world smells in our virtual games.
Even the promise of virtual sex that has thrust itself into the butt of many jokes holds the idealistic notion that human contact may one day transcend physical space.
Looking Forward To More Virtual Reality
It’s difficult to describe where this trend of recreating reality may ultimately end up. Perhaps the philosophical/stoned followers of the Simulacra and the Matrix are correct: this technology will simply recreate what we already experience but through a machine.
Or maybe we are headed towards the future with an enhanced reality. A future where we can expand our experiences while still holding on to the unexplainable sensation that lets us know what is real or not.
Whether it’s recreating emotions, smells, physical touches, or anything else we take for granted in the real world, I, for one, believe that VR promises more than what we have currently seen.