Today’s VR is a far cry from the Pygmalion’s Spectacles written about by Stanley G. Weinbaum in the 1930s. These days, we have VR games, interior designers using it to plan spaces, and even medical treatments for autism and amputees. It’s no wonder that businesses are finding more and more uses for the technology.
VR as we know it made its debut in 2014 with no more than 2000 users. Last year, 43 million people used VR in their day-today lives, with analysts predicting as many as 90 million VR users by 2017.
In Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africans can visit VRCade, a VR arcade that allows visitors to play games or experience wonders like walking on the moon. However, VR is seeing increased interest from businesses in a variety of sectors. It’s already being used by some car dealerships , allowing prospective buyers to create and drive a customised car without entering a showroom.
VR offers boundless opportunities for teaching and advancing engineering, medicine, mining, and construction, among others. The commercial world is also finding uses for the technology, with many evaluating how to change the shopping experience. Internationally online store Alibaba released a VR shopping experience that allows buyers to go into a store, pick up what they want, look at it and buy it.
Cultural endeavours are another area where VR is growing. The Salvador Dalí Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, puts you inside a painting created by the Spanish surrealist in 1935, Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet's “Angelus”. You can venture into the painting's towers, peer from them to distant lands and discover surprises around every corner, the museum promises.
Madame Tussauds wax museums also recently piloted a “ghost busters” experience in which visitors could explore a physical environment, augmented with VR ghosts.
While the technology is still in its infancy, relatively speaking, it is already opening up new opportunities in education. In the future, we may well see medical students learning how to operate without the threat of hurting someone; archaeology students wondering around the pyramids; history students watching the meeting between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin that ended World War 2 – all from the comfort of a chair.
Interactive entertainment has been predicted by analysts to be the third most important future market for VR, right after biotechnology and robotics. However, VR’s true power will come to the fore in education – with the ability combat distances across Africa, and providing a teacher who can keep students excited and engaged, VR will create a future in which education is not only accessible, but of the highest international standard.
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