By Eve Lyons-Berg of Virtual Reality Pulse
There’s no denying it: VR has taken the world of gaming and entertainment by storm. Go to the homepage for Vive, Rift, or Oculus, and you’ll see game after game being displayed. Even though these stores offer non-game apps as well, they’re outnumbered two to one on Vive and Oculus - and the Rift store has about five times as many games as apps.
But Augmented World Expo (AWE) is celebrating all uses of Extended Reality (XR), not just entertainment. From data visualization to healthcare, eLearning to military, and retail to event management, every industry has its share of ambitious developers who are pushing the boundaries of what AR and VR can bring to their field. AWE will showcase over a hundred exhibitors who are all expanding the XR world - and we’re getting ready for it by looking at four of the most innovative uses of XR that exist today:
From artists working in the new medium of VR, to museums implementing AR technology to enhance the experience of their visitors, the art world is teeming with possibilities for implementing XR. In this article, Emily Friedman uses the historical partnership between technology and art as a lens to discuss the way that new technologies force the very concept of art to change and adapt.
It’s not only the art itself that is changed by new technologies. Virtual spaces have the potential to change the experience of the viewer, the artist’s sense of ownership, and even the situations in which the piece can be viewed. Some museums have begun to provide extra information via AR glasses as an improvement to the traditional audio tour, a program that Friedman describes as “a new form of storytelling.” But Friedman also raises concerns surrounding museums and the evolution of VR art. Why would someone pay to get into an art museum when its full collection is viewable from your living room? What are the potential ramifications for traditional art museums? It’s impossible to know what the future holds, but these will be important questions for the art world to ask as technology progresses.
The possibilities that surround VR in healthcare are extensive. Organizations like the MedVR Lab at USC lead advances in mental health research, and are constantly investigating the applications of VR in mental and behavioral health, rehabilitation, and PTSD. In physical health treatment, VR is also being used to great effect in physical therapy and rehabilitation, particularly in a pediatric context, and has demonstrated itself to be effective for reducing chronic pain.
Institutions have also started to use both VR and AR in training the next generation of medical professionals. In 2016, a company called Medical Realities produced the world’s first operation to be livestreamed in 360-degree video, which could be viewed using a simple smartphone headset setup. The livestream was accessible to anyone with a smartphone, and this virtual operating theater was just the first step into the world of VR in medical training.
Looking beyond medicine, there are all sorts of innovative ways for XR to enhance our lives as individuals and improve our connections with each other. There is a great deal of opportunity for XR products to enrich the lives of people who are differently abled as well - and many companies are already working to do just that. Aira and eSight are two companies with similar goals: they have both developed smart glasses that use AR to enable people who are blind or visually impaired to see clearly. Brain Power, another AR developer, is using wearable artificial intelligence systems to help children with autism perform tasks with which they may struggle, such as reading faces or interpreting emotions.
In the greater global community, XR’s great propensity for storytelling also makes it a well-suited medium to both raise awareness of current events, and preserve history and cultural heritage. For example, The Zamani Project at the University of Cape Town takes cultural preservation to new heights. The project isn’t limited to a picture frame, or a TV screen - instead, it uses VR-ready 3D models to immortalize decaying heritage sites across Africa for future generations.
Where VR puts the viewer into a totally immersive virtual experience, AR takes virtual elements and puts them into the real world. As a result of this, AR can provide assistance for real-time work in real-world situations.
A utility company in New Jersey has combined the Microsoft Hololens and vGIS, an XR adaptation for GIS data, to allow users to see utility lines under the street in real time. The system allows field workers to operate hands free, bringing all of the information that workers need when responding to a situation together into one place.
In another example of the potential for this technology, the U.S. Army has created a prototype minesweeping device that detects foreign objects under the ground and then projects the information back onto an AR headset. The user can then see the exact shape and position of any potentially dangerous objects. The information is also uploaded to a closed military network, so it will appear on the heads-up display of any bomb technician approaching the area.
The world of AR and VR is growing by the day as countless industries begin to realize the incredible potential of this technology. The team at Virtual Reality Pulse is excited to watch where this growth will take us. We hope to see some of you breaking out new ideas and innovations too, at the 2018 Augmented World Expo!
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