While Virtual Reality broke through to wider consciousness in 2016, today we’re only just beginning to understand the full potential for the technology. In this blog, we’ve gone back to the future to predict five key ways VR will drive change in workplace training over the next five years.
VR devices are fast offering more power for less money. Oculus’s Asynchronous SpaceWarp, for example, almost halves the hardware requirements for users, hugely increasing the range of machines that can power the device.
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Oculus is also working on a standalone headset, while Google’s Daydream is travelling in the other direction by creating a significantly enhanced VR experience for mobile devices. These changes will make VR available to a much wider audience, as well as adding power and flexibility in professional contexts. Bridging the divide between desktops and mobile devices means employees will soon be able to take VR learning experiences home with them – improving retention rates by making lessons more accessible.
The device used to ‘steer’ a users’ VR experience mark the difference between an immersive experience and a passive one. We’re now seeing a rapid increase in functionality for VR tech. When Oculus announced their Touch controllers, Vive went one better and announced new motion controllers to give users direct control of what they see in virtual worlds.
To date, motion controllers in VR experiences still ‘feel like’ using a motion controller, whether the user is interacting with a virtual lever, switch or a steering wheel. This is set to change with Valve opening their SteamVR ‘Lighthouse’ technology to developers. Now, any peripheral can be included in a VR experience. This will allow developers to better simulate complex real-world situations within virtual worlds. A user could pick up a spanner controller to manipulate virtual fittings. A submariner could use a control panel controller to work in a simulated control room.
Haptic feedback uses electrical stimulation or ultrasound waves to mimic the feel of real objects in virtual reality. The technology works in several ways: by preventing the user ‘reaching through’ a virtual object using mechanical feedback, as in the Dexmo Robotics glove; by using vibrations to simulate contact like Manus VR; or by using electrical stimulation to mimic sensations, as with the Teslasuit.
While the potential of haptic feedback is certainly exciting, it isn’t key to learning experiences. If, for example, your aim is to achieve process-driven learning – perhaps disassembling a machine or operating a submarine – then haptics may well be superfluous. On the other hand, if the activity is motor-based – for example, using a brush to apply paint, or oil evenly – then haptics could come in very useful.
For many, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 seemed like an odd fit at the time. Today the rationale is clearer, as social interaction shapes up to be a powerful new application for virtual reality – allowing users to meet, interact and socialise with one another in a 3D space. As Tawny Schlieski, Director of Desktop Research at Intel, put it, “It’s the difference between going hiking with someone and being on the phone with them while doing laundry.”
FaceRig can map facial expressions onto a computer avatar in real-time. In the near future, it will be possible to embed sensors into a headset, to achieve a face-to-face virtual conversation that conveys facial expressions and tics in a way that has never before been possible. This enables the realistic simulation of social encounters, useful in fields from medicine to the military. Furthermore, it will allow groups of people to share virtual learning environments and to work together to solve problems virtually, where today VR experiences centre on the individual.
Developments are also making higher-end devices more mobile. Oculus’ forthcoming standalone headset will bring real power to portable devices, while HTC is also working on a wireless accessory kit for the Vive. By cutting wires and untethering devices, users can achieve full freedom of movement. This unlocks the potential for even more engaging virtual experiences and dramatically increases the range of classroom and office spaces that can be used for VR and VR learning.
As a technology, virtual reality has spent the past years bedding itself into popular consciousness. The building blocks for change are in place: now, we can look forward to the sector growing and maturing – and in turn, increasingly immersive and interactive simulated worlds. From teaching mechanics how to build engines to putting police recruits in simulated street riots, the lessons being taught by using VR will be more powerful as a result.