When anything new comes along, everyone, like a child discovering the world, thinks that they’ve invented it, but you scratch a little and you find a caveman scratching on a wall is creating virtual reality in a sense. What is new here is that more sophisticated instruments give you the power to do it more easily.

—Morton Heilig

In Virtual Reality [VR], we’re only just scratching the surface of what the technology can do, change and replace. In recent years, VR has exploded in the gaming industry and according to a report by SuperData, by 2020 will generate 15 times more than what it did in 2016.

But what lies beyond the gaming industry? When we dig deeper, where does the potential for VR technology lie?

Education

VR designer, Saxon Dixon, believes when it comes to VR a lot of low hanging fruit is now in training and education. In large industries like mining where negligence can lead to fatalities, training is paramount

With VR, Saxon explains risk environments can be recreated for training purposes, creating greater immersion and retention of lessons.

“You can still give workers muscle memory and the ability to train to at a high level without putting them near the machinery. It’s saving industries like mining millions of dollars.”

“VR as a technology is designed to immerse, it’s designed to encapsulate. If you use that fundamental design to educate, it’s incredibly powerful.”

Also realising the potential of VR in education is Australian startup Equal Reality. The startup uses VR technology to create diversity and inclusion training for corporates, startups and schools.

“We put you in the perspective of minorities in the workplace to experience social interactions from their point of view,” explains Brennan Hatton, founder of Equal Reality.

Marketing

The results are in and it seems that VR will work miracles for brands who use the technology to market their products.

In a study by Greenlight VR, it was found that 71 percent of respondents engage higher with brands that are using VR, and believe brands using this technology are “forward thinking and modern.”

“We’re seeing specific VR activities have unique emotional footprints, offering fascinating insights for those who are considering their VR strategies,” says Steve Marshall, svp of research and consulting for Greenlight VR.

Large brands like McDonalds, United Airlines and The North Face have been trialing VR experiences in their marketing. These companies are at the forefront of re-designing how consumers engage with their brand. For example, McDonalds worked with HTC Vive to allow consumers to paint their own Happy Meal Boxes.

“Through brand testing we find that people had an engagement with [VR]. I think marketers are going to be looking at these numbers and understanding this is a very powerful tool to use,” believes Saxon.

Health

From treating people with phobias of flying to reducing pain in ill children, VR is transforming the way doctors approach mental health. According to Dr. Greg Wadley, University of Melbourne technologist, through exposure therapy, VR is proving to be an effective treatment for anxiety and phobias.

“You can actually visualise your thoughts and emotions as objects that you have control over, that you can manipulate or deal with in some way,” he told the ABC.

For example, people are overcoming their fear of flying through VR flight simulators. The environment is controlled and places people in difficult situations they can easily come out of or return to.

Also in Melbourne, technology startup Phoria is working with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Melbourne Zoo to design a VR experience for chronically ill children. The VR experience, is currently delivering virtual zoo animals to 80 patients in Melbourne, taking kids out of the hospital environment to help reduce their anxiety and pain.

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