Virtual reality is an artificially created environment which leads its users to suspend their perception of the real world and accept the artificial, or virtual world as reality. VR tech completely immerses its users into the software-generated world, overpowering the audio-visual senses of its users to change their perception of reality.
These virtual worlds range in complexity from just being an image or video to being powered by haptic interfaces that let users feel what they see on screen. VR Tech has taken the world by storm recently, permeating multiple domains like gaming, medical care, travel, and many more. Given its meteoric rise and vast predictions for the future, it is worth looking into some of the most interesting facts and statistics associated with VR tech.
Quick Facts and Stats about VR
- 1. The virtual reality market was worth $7.9 billion in 2018.
- 2. 88% of all virtual reality hardware sold is smartphone-based.
- 3. As many as 79% of people trying VR say they would like to try it again.
- 4. Only 4% of surveyed young adults (ages 14-17) say they are not interested in VR at all.
- 5. As of December 2019, Amazon has over 9000 products listed in the Virtual Reality category.
Timeline of VR Tech
While VR tech has only very recently entered the mass market and become viable for the general public to use, it has seen a very long developmental cycle. Before moving into exploring the fascinating virtual world, let’s take a brief look into the precursor of modern VR tech.
1. The first mention of VR in human history was by a fiction author in 1930: Stanley Weinbaum, a very well regarded science fiction author, first predicted VR in the year 1930. He wrote a short story titled ‘Pygmalion’s Spectacles,’ where he talked about a set of goggles that the user could use to experience virtual worlds. He mentioned how, by using holograms, the user could experience smell, taste, and touch as well as sight and sound.
2. The first successful attempt to create a virtual environment was in 1962: Visionary inventor and cinematographer Morton Heilig, wanted his audience to get to experience the scenes that he had captured. To this end, he built his ‘Sensorama’ booth. It was a machine that the user could put their head into, and it played a 3D film, along with stereo sound, aromas, and a wind machine blowing into their faces. This created a never seen before sensory experience that is widely hailed as the first virtual reality.
3. True virtual reality debuted in 1968 with the Sword of Damocles: All the attempts at VR before the Sword of Damocles were essentially just pre-recorded footage being shown back to the user, or the user controlling remote cameras. The Sword of Damocles, on the other hand, was a wearable headset that was linked to a computer. This computer could generate true virtual worlds, albeit very primitive ones, with wireframe rooms and objects.
(Source: The Next Billion Seconds)
4. 1987 saw the first commercially released virtual reality system: Early Virtual Reality systems were plagued with the issue of not having powerful enough computers to be able to create convincing virtual worlds. After home, computers started to get popular, a company named Visual Programming Lab started selling the first virtual reality glasses in 1987. These glasses (called EyePhone HRX) and gloves were prohibitively expensive, being sold for $49,000 and $9000, respectively.
5. Virtual Gaming started in 1991: Virtual Reality is being used extensively for gaming in today’s world. It all started off in 1991 with the introduction of virtual reality arcades. These arcades operated solely on VR and were linked together to enable multiplayer games. Following this, Sega and Nintendo also created their own VR goggles and games in 1993 and 1995, respectively, though Sega’s was canceled before release. Unfortunately, all three of this iteration of VR gaming were doomed to fail eventually.
(Source: Virtual Speech)
6. Oculus breaks the internet: Oculus VR was founded in 2012, with its flagship VR headset named ‘Rift.’ Oculus Rift launched its Kickstarter campaign in August 2012 to raise $250,000 but ended up raising $2.4 million. This proved that the world was still interested in VR tech even after it being essentially dead since the failure of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014 for $2.3 billion, propelling VR into the modern world.
(Source: Tech Crunch)
Applying Virtual Reality
While virtual reality has become near synonymous with gaming, it has a host of other uses. A lot of different industries are exploring the use of VR for a variety of purposes, from training to advertisement.
Here is a look into some of the industries of the world using VR to improve their service and experience for their customers.
7. Virtual Reality Gaming is expected to be worth $70.57 billion in 6 years: VR is definitely the way forward for the gaming world. With the introduction of highly affordable VR systems in PSVR and Oculus Rift, virtual gaming is more accessible than ever. This has led to gaming dominating the market in VR application with an expected growth of 40.1% combined annual growth until 2026 and be worth around $70.7 billion.
(Source: Fortune Business Insights)
8. Beating nicotine addiction with Virtual Reality: MindCotine is a startup company which offers a proprietary mobile application and a google cardboard-esque headset. They focus on creating a calming and meditative virtual environment in which smokers to lose themselves. This, they claim, can help smokers in beating their cravings consistently and eventually help with quitting completely.
9. Go to far-off lands without ever moving an inch: Virtual travel is shaping up to be one of the biggest uses of virtual reality. Pioneered by the Marriot chain of hotels, virtual travel aims to create the illusion of traveling to places that people may not be able to go in real life. This was created to incentivize people to purchase travel arrangements with Marriot if they liked the virtual experience. Soon all major hotel chains followed suit, and virtual travel emerged as a full-fledged industry. There are now dedicated apps and companies which aim to create the perfect travel experience for its users without losing the comfort of their couch.
10. Experiencing movies like never before: Movies have gone for being a reel of photos in a small box controlled by a wheel to being projected onto gigantic screens with beyond lifelike visual clarity and audio. So, the next obvious move for movies is into virtual reality. Showcasing this move was the winner for Oscar’s ‘Special Achievement Award’ in 2017, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Carne y Arena. This award has only been awarded 17 times in the past, most recently to ‘Toy Story,’ which pioneered the way for animated featured to be widely accepted into the modern world. Similarly, we hope Carne y Arena marks an increase in the presence of virtual reality movies in the mainstream.
11. Playing Operation V2: Virtual Reality is increasingly being used for training medical students. It allows students to practice dangerous and difficult procedures without actually putting someone’s life at risk. It also aids experienced surgeons in practicing rarely used surgery techniques before the actual surgery to help familiarize them. New advancements even let entirely custom virtual bodies to be built using MRI and CT scans, giving surgeons an unprecedented resource to help them understand each patient intimately.
(Source: Virtual Reality Society)
12. NASA sends repair crews in space with an Xbox controller: Satellites and space stations require constant maintenance and repair work to remain fully functional. Often sending up a dedicated repair crew isn’t financially feasible. This is where NASA uses VR tech to aid them. Using a modified Oculus headset, coupled with an Xbox controller, NASA technicians can perform critical repair operations in space without ever leaving the planet.
(Source: Houston Press)
13. US soldiers play Call of Duty to prepare for war: Well, not exactly Call of Duty, but the US military is currently developing a VR training program that will allow their soldiers to prepare for war. The realistic combat simulations help a soldier adapt to the chaos of war much faster than with traditional boot camp methods. They are also trained to operate various deadly machinery and vehicles using VR before being allowed to operate the real thing.
14. Meeting strangers on the internet: We have always been cautioned against talking to strangers on the internet. However, with the development of new virtual chatroom application, we might have to change that moniker to say, ‘Don’t meet strangers on the internet.’ Virtual chatrooms, as claimed by Facebook, will be the most immersive way for people to interact with online. It allows users to create their own virtual avatars and meet and interact with other users online. Imagine a Virtual Club Penguin!
15. Designing virtual sofas, building, and cities: Architects have been creating 3D models of their work to present to clients for decades. However, now, with VR tech enabling them, they are able to create models of buildings that their clients can take a walk through before even a single brick is laid. Interior designers are extensively using VR tech so they can show their clients what their house will look like before they approve of any modifications. Currently, VR tech exists that is powerful enough to simulate entire cities to aid in city planning.
(Source: Arch Daily)
Virtual Reality in Popular Culture
Virtual reality has always been a favored topic of science fiction authors to explore. It started off in 1930 with Stanley Weinbaum and has only grown in interest since then. Here we look into the most popular and influential examples of virtual reality used to great effect in popular culture.
16. All of us have taken the Blue Pill: The Matrix was a major touchstone in cinema history when it comes to stunts and cinematography. However, its plot completely revolving around Virtual Reality is what caught most of its audience’s attention. The concept made them question their own reality and spawned near-infinite parodies and references.
(Source: The Matrix)
17. Recalling the 90s: Total Recall is the epitome of 90s campy action movies. It featured Arnold’s Schwarzenegger’s life turning upside down when he goes to a company offering to create a ‘virtual memory’ for him. He asks to be a secret agent and is suddenly thrust into a web of intrigue and danger. Throughout the movie Arnold, and the audience, and constantly forced to question the reality around them, making for a pretty great experience.
(Source: Total Recall)
18. Player One press start: Ready Player One is a cult classic novel written in 2011 by Ernest Cline. The book is based around a Virtual Reality MMORPG called the OASIS. The OASIS is what every single MMORPG in the world aspires to be. It is worth a reportedly $5 trillion and is played by 95% of the world’s population. The book got so popular that it got adapted into a feature film in 2018, directed by Stephen Spielberg.
(Source: Ready Player One)
19. Ending a civilization with a thought: Ender’s Game is another ultra-popular book, written in 1985 by Orson Scott Card. It features a top of the line military training program that uses VR Tech to train young strategists for war against an alien race known as ‘The Buggers.’ Due to its status as a cult classic, the book was adapted into a feature film in 2013.
(Source: Ender’s Game)
20. Trekking across the stars on the Holodeck: The holodeck on Star Trek is one of the best-known examples of virtual reality. It features a room that the characters can go into and interact with naturally as if it were real. It is remarkable for one of the very few fictional iterations of the technology to not feature a headset or interface; rather, it is a physical room with tangible holograms.
(Source: Star Trek)
Virtual Reality’s cousin, Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is quite similar to Virtual Reality, in the sense that it uses computers to generate an environment and immerse its users into it. The key difference is that while VR aims to completely remove the user from the real world and into the virtual, AR just aims to use the virtual world to enhance the real world.
Augmented reality has also seen a meteoric rise alongside its cousin. While it isn’t as popular as VR, AR also has a whole host of applications, advantages, and disadvantages. It is definitely worth taking a look into AR. First, we’ll explore the history of AR, followed by some of its applications in the world.
21. The first dedicated research in Augmented Reality was conducted in 1974: Myron Kruger created the ‘Videoplace’ at the University of Connecticut. It was a laboratory to explore the possibility of humans interacting with a computer without using peripherals. He used projection and camera techniques to create white on black sprites that with which a user could interact.
(Source: ACM Digital Library)
22. 1992, the US Airforce created the first Augmented Reality System: The US Airforce was interested in creating a safe control scheme to enable technicians to operate a set of robot arms for various purposes. However, they found that the graphics technology in the 1990s was very primitive and wasn’t able to create photorealistic images that were necessary for the application. They instead opted for a system where a camera was mounted in such a way that it would make the user’s vision rest exactly above where the robot arms were positioned. This created the illusion of the robot’s arms belonging to the user. They then used computer-generated overlays over the camera’s visuals to aid the user.
23. 1994 marked the entrance of AR in entertainment: Julie Martin, a writer and producer, is credited with the first instance of entertainment relying on AR. She created a theater production titled ‘Dancing in Cyberspace.’ It featured acrobats and dancers performing on stage with several projected objects on the stage. This show used smoke and advanced lighting to create these holograms.
24. 1999 saw the usage of HUD elements by NASA, on the X-38 space plane: X-38 was a space Plane developed by NASA for the purpose of being used for reusable space travel. They implemented their recently developed AR HUD into them. It displayed information directly on the pilot’s windscreen. It was a green overlay that the pilot could use to gauge all their metrics instantly. It was met with overwhelming support by the pilots and is now standard in almost every fighter jet in the world.
25. The face of sports broadcasting changes forever in 2003: Sportvision was a company that specialized in covering a variety of sports using their proprietary ‘SkyCam’ system. This system used overhead footage of the game and overlaid it with various graphics and information to aid the viewers. One of the most popular uses of this technology was during races, where they would overlay information like the car’s country/company flag, the number of laps, the number of pitstops, etc. over the car.
26. Google Glass was introduced to the public in 2014: In 2014, Google unveiled their newest innovation in AR technology, the Google Glass. Glass is a pair of spectacles with an attached processor and a display that projects directly on the lenses of the spectacles. It would work with a variety of Google and third-party applications, and it had a 5MP camera as well. Unfortunately, it was a commercial failure, which prompted Google to change it into an enterprise product and re-release it in 2019.
27. IKEA changed the retail market completely in 2017: The furniture giant IKEA unveiled their AR app IKEA Place in 2017. It allowed users to place virtual furniture in their actual homes to browse the catalog more efficiently. It directly led to a huge boom in sales for IKEA. Soon, almost every single consumer product manufacturing company followed suit with apps allowing users to test out glasses on their faces, seat covers in their cars, and even harnesses for their pets.
28. Giving multiple rallies across India simultaneously: The Indian national elections of 2014 were a very tense time for the country. The leaders of the race were being forced to choose between multiple locations to give their rallies. However, Narendra Modi was one step ahead. He opted to give his speeches via a 3D hologram in multiple locations at the same time. A hi-tech podium was set-up in all the locations which used sophisticated projectors to create a virtual 3D image of Modi on the stage.
29. Augmented Reality helping surgeons with real-time information: Surgeons perform some of the most complicated tasks with some of the highest stakes in the world. They need all the help and information they can get. To this end, AR technology has allowed the development of a suite of tools that can provide real-time information in critical moments. AccuVein is one such device. It is a handheld tool that can accurately track a patient’s vein network.
30. Repair and maintenance made easy: Information about a piece of complex machinery is usually only available in bulky repair manuals, which can get outdated quickly. AR removes the need to spend hours thumbing through the manual to look for details on a minuscule part. Repair techs can directly scan the part in question using their headset and all the relevant updated details for it. AR headsets for use in repair will only grow as machine to machine IoT improves, allowing the machine in question to directly interface with the headset.
31. Airport human traffic management: Gatwick Airport’s award-winning AR app is designed to help patrons navigate their airport. By utilizing more than 2000 beacons placed all across the airport and the user’s camera, the app ensures that the patrons always know where they have to go. It also includes up-to-date information about the passenger’s flight status and more.
(Source: VR Focus)
32. Improving warehouse efficiency through AR mapping: Amazon and DHL operate giant warehouses that contain millions of products. Using traditional tracking methods proves to cause significant delays in looking for a product. To combat this issue, Amazon and DHL have begun to use AR headsets, which give their employees the shortest path to take to get to the desired path. This directly leads to an improvement in warehouse efficiency, which in today’s ‘Same Day Shipping’ obsessed world is of paramount importance.
(Source: Science Soft)
33. Take a selfie with Thanos and Batman: One of the most widespread uses of AR is in smartphone cameras. Almost every smartphone contains an AR section where the users can edit their surroundings to include fictional characters or put an explosion behind themselves. Snapchat’s entire filter system revolves around using AR to put cool looking effects on the user’s face and surroundings.
34. There are expected to be around 1 billion users of AR tech by 2020: Due to the introduction of reliable and affordable AR headsets in the market alongside hundreds of apps that use AR, the users of this tech have grown exponentially. Since it focuses on improving the real world instead of replacing it like VR, it is much easier to adopt.
(Source: newgen apps)
The bad side of Virtual Reality
As is the case with all new technology, VR tech comes with its set of restrictions and drawbacks. While it may be the next step forward for nearly all industries, as of now, it is in its very preliminary stage. Let’s explore some of the negative effects that VR tech can have on an individual and their health.
35. There has been at least one case of death due to Virtual Reality: A man aged 44-year-old was the first reported case of death due to VR as far we are aware. This Moscow resident was reportedly using his VR headset and walking around his home when he collided with a glass table. He tripped over the said table, which broke and lacerated him, causing his death due to blood loss on the spot. The police did not mention what this individual was doing with his VR tech.
36. VR Tech can cause severe cases of addiction to the virtual world: Due to the limited amount of data, there hasn’t been a conclusive study conducted on the addictive effects of VR Tech. However, many addiction experts have claimed that looking at the addiction trends laid forth by gaming and other entertainment media, it is highly likely that VR tech could cause extreme addiction. This higher risk is due to the full immersion that VR provides, giving a never seen before chance for troubled individuals to escape their environments.
37. VR Tech causes nausea, dizziness, lack of balance, and disorientation: VR Tech has brought a new form of illness, namely ‘cybersickness,’ to the forefront. It causes nausea, dizziness, and other motion-sickness like symptoms in its users. As many as 45 – 70% users experience this sickness, with some applications even causing 90% of its users to get sick. This effect is more exasperated in women than in men. In some extreme cases, it can even cause effects that last for hours after removing oneself from the virtual world.
(Source: Inside Science)
38. Difficulty in adapting to the real world after virtual training: While many industries are beginning to adopt virtual training environments to complement classic teaching methods, they aren’t always suitable. There have been many instances of students performing exceptionally in a virtual environment but failing to transfer these skills into the real world. Some of the reasons that were reported for this phenomenon were the lack of dexterity in VR that students had adapted to, the inclusion of tactile feedback proved to be distracting, and the presence of other people in proximity in contrast to VR’s complete isolation.
References and Data Sources
- The Next Billion Seconds
- Virtual Speech
- Tech Crunch
- Fortune Business Insights
- Virtual Reality Society
- Houston Press
- Arch Daily
- The Matrix
- Total Recall
- Ready Player One
- Ender’s Game
- Star Trek
- ACM Digital Library
- VR Focus
- Science Soft
- newgen apps
- Inside Science