updated - April 27, 2017 Thursday EDT
Virtual reality has been discussed by both the mainstream and the specialty media in relation to entertainment, education, even New Zealand pokies, showing the world the possibilities this relatively new and fully immersive way to consume media. Now, a year after the first commercial VR gear has hit the market, the buzz surrounding the technology has seemingly died down, allowing other, more interesting and mainstream news to take its place. The industry is not sleeping, though - it is creating new and amazing ways in which virtual reality can create unique experiences for the users, and profits for the companies providing them.
As many other technologies, virtual reality has been rumored to have been developed first by the US military. Various reports speak of its use long before the 1990s, when the first commercial VR headsets started to appear. The "career" of VR in the 1990s was short-lived, though, as the technology in people's homes was by far not powerful enough to create the immersive experiences needed for it to gain traction. But technology is continuously evolving, making possible the rollout of better, fancier, and higher-performance devices each year - just look at the development of smartphones in the last decade. After decades of silence, VR has returned to the center of attention thanks to the ambitious developers behind Oculus' headset Rift.
Virtual reality is a technology people are excited about. Oculus, for example, exceeded its Kickstarter goals almost tenfold upon its reveal in 2012. Businesses are also intrigued by the idea - to stick with the above example, the same Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion only 2 years later. Other major tech companies, like Google (Daydream) and Samsung (Gear VR) have shown interest in the technology over time. They all know that VR will not be a spring (like smartphones have been) but rather a marathon - according to the estimates of Trendforce, the VR market that was worth only about $2 billion in 2016 will expand to a whopping $70 billion by 2020.
While most people think of VR as a product destined purely for the entertainment industry, it has the potential to impact many other businesses. Think education, real estate, shopping, travel, training, and the list could go on forever. The business applications of the technology can be endless, covering everything from engineering and design to testing and dedicated services.
American car manufacturer Ford has been using virtual reality in designing new vehicles and testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Healthcare companies use VR to create 3D models of their patients based on CAT scans. These examples pale in front of the technology's numerous uses in the world of education, ranging from virtual tours at historic landmarks to trips - in the style of the Magic Schoolbus - to the depths of the sea, inside living organisms or even to the surface of worlds millions of miles away. As the demand for virtual reality will increase, developers, creators, and trainers will surely be in demand.
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