As far as consumers are concerned, virtual reality lives in the realm of developer kits and demonstrations at conferences and expos. Video games are probably the first category of virtual experience to come to mind when people start to think about what will come out soonest.

But virtual reality has applications reaching far beyond games and even beyond entertainment. Here are some of the more surprising uses surfacing as the new medium prepares to take off.

Therapy

Therapists, school counselors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been using virtual reality technology for decades to treat mental health issues including depression, phobias and substance abuse. The use of VR in mental health practices is bound to get only more common as the technology becomes more advanced and headsets more affordable and available. 

Sports practice

Virtual reality headsets have been trickling into the practice spaces of professional sports teams for years now, allowing players - especially rookies who don’t get a lot of play time - to practice individually on their own time. Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics owner and former AOL executive Ted Leonsis has predicted that all professional sports teams will use VR within the next six years or so.

Engendering empathy

An art student recently created a simulation of street harassment using virtual reality, in which the user gets heckled by men as he or she moves through the virtual world. “I designed the point of view to be small so you get a sense of the vulnerability you often feel in those situations,” Parsons MFA student Lucy Bonner told Motherboard. “A lot of men said the height thing really got to them, because that is something you can’t really experience as a six-foot-tall guy.”

Immersion in news

News media conglomerate Gannett Company has been experimenting with immersing its audience in news stories, creating experiences centered on topics ranging from a tour of an Iowa family farm to skiing down the slopes of Vail, Colo. during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Project Syria, created by the USC School of Cinematic Arts, takes viewers to the scene of a bombing and to a refugee camp. 

Real estate and architecture

Mountain View-based startup Matterport produces a camera that can take 360 degree video and cloud software that can stitch the footage into a virtual or augmented reality panorama of a space. The company has reportedly sold thousands of cameras to real estate agents. New York-based InsiteVR makes a platform into which architects can upload models to view them in virtual reality.

Published on: Sep 29, 2015