How the Oculus Rift is going to change the world—probably

Mandi Goodier

It's causing a huge stir among gadget nerds and gamers, but what is the Oculus Rift and how might it change the world we live in?

What is that curious device?

Oculus Rift. Just its name rings of something right out of science-fiction. Is it a futuristic medical device? Some form of mind control? No, wait, a space mask? Well, not quite but maybe one day. For now, Oculus Rift is the most accessible, immersive virtual reality device ever made.

The prototype has been in development since 2011, then in 2012 it was unveiled as a Kickstarter crowdfunding project, that's when people really started to get excited. It would be a matter of time before virtual reality would enter our homes. That time is now!

 

See it in action

The below video shows a group of users all over 50 experiencing an Oculus Rift for the first time. In it, they are permitted to explore a home in a picturesque setting, have a go on a rollercoaster, and sit in a rather disturbing living room. At the end the group tell their thoughts of the futuristic device, and how they feel about its potential uses.

 

Ultimate gaming device?

The Oculus Rift is a logical step for the gaming industry. Within a video game, the player has essentially always had the freedom to move around a computer-generated environment, that was true of early platform games such as Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, as it is now of 'open world' games such as Grand Theft Auto V.

With the fifth generation of gaming consoles (PlayStation One, Nintendo 64 circa 1994), game developers started creating 3D immersive environments; you can turn your character 360 degrees, look up, down, and go wherever you choose within the boundaries of the game. These environments lend themselves perfectly to the Oculus Rift. 

Donkey Kong Arcade
Donkey Kong, arcade version via wiki

The user places on the virtual reality mask, connects to a game via a PC and then is free to move around in the environment. Its motion sensors track the head's movements, so the display always responds to the direction you are looking. Further motion, such as walking, is controlled with an external controller. 

Although the games aren't super advanced stylistically, the feelings they evoke are incredible, allowing users to experience things they never thought they could.

Gaming is just the first step for this incredible device. It's a matter of time before its further potentials are fully unleashed. 

 

A whole new world for social media

Second Life virtual reality
Second Life via Wiki

Connectivity brings not only a new potential for the Rift, but could see a whole new dynamic for social media.

Second Life, a social media platform-cum-game, was once dubbed the 'next big thing', that was before anyone realised how big such a bland looking internet space like Facebook would become. Essentially it mimicked real life, peaking in popularity around 2006–2009, then it just kind of got forgotten about.

The Rift has provided a new opportunity for this once forgotten virtual social world, and Linden Lab (the people behind Second Life) have been developing this new application since 2013.

Interestingly enough, Facebook own the Oculus so it's pretty safe to assume that its social applications are a key interest.

 

A home cinema—literally

Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift via Oculus

Believe it or not, there is an application that replicates a cinema environment permitting you to watch your favourite films on the big screen, via a little screen. As absurd as that may sound, it actually does give the perception of watching a movie in large format. 

On top of this, you can watch with your buddies who may be elsewhere, but the appearance of their avatar in the faux-theatre and the ability to talk to them gives it an extra realistic vibe. And no one will be able to throw popcorn at you when you're being too noisy!

 

360 Cinemascope

Presented in Dobly Stereo
Dolby still via YouTube

Dolby Stereo revolutionised the sound of film in the 70s. It was no longer flat, it came at you from various places. The Oculus Rift, with the help of some new 360 camera technology, could change not only the way we view movies, but the way they are made. With fancy rigs already available for this method of filming, it is a matter of time before the film industry catches on.

It's more likely that home videos will be made first, and of course no doubt a certain industry gets its dirty mitts on this technology.

 

Virtual reality movies

VR movies aim to incorporate the viewer into the story. In some ways it's difficult to distinguish this idea from modern games but these types of film are already in development. Story Studio are already working on these Virtual Reality films, and screened their first movie, Lost, at the 2015 Sun Dance Film Festival, it was received very well

 

Space travel

With the ability to combine real-time film and motion, the Oculus could mean wonderful things for advances in space exploration as a lot of it can be done remotely—from Earth. They've combined the Oculus with Xbox Kinect (the motion sensor for the video game console) and have been using it to control JACO, a soon-to-be space-dwelling robotic arm. 

Beyond JACO, NASA has also been developing virtual environments to help ease stress among their astronauts once they are in space. These environments will be multi-sensory, including smells, sights and sounds. They are even developing digital therapists.
 

 

Work and more work

War Games still
Still from War Games

Of course, like all technological advances, it will eventually seep through to the workplace. With all good intentions: to lighten the load and make life that little bit easier. But from the dawn of the printing press, to the industrial revolution right through to the advent of the internet, these technologies have only really strived to make us work harder. Who knows how it may impact your work environment:

Consumer marketing and advertising: Of course this industry are interested in how to make money from its everyday users. Who remembers the days when the internet was free from advertisements? Now it's everywhere, YouTube, Facebook, even Google.

Architecture and design:  3D modelling is about to enter a new dimension! Realistic visualisation will be able to give an accurate impression of what buildings will look like in situ, giving an idea of scale that was previously impossible.

Army and warfare: Remember the 1983 film War Games starring a baby-faced Matthew Boderick? Well, it may not be exactly like that but one does wonder whether war zones might one day take place in a virtual space. The Norwegian Army are already experimenting with ways that the Oculus can increase situational awareness of armored vehicle drivers and commanders.

Conference spaces: Skype has already entered the workspace, enabling people working in remote spaces to connect easily. Could the Oculus be the next step in this form of telepresence? 

Multiscreen computers: As with the virtual cinema, it would be possible to create an office space with as many screens as you need. This may seem a bit excessive for those who barely venture outside of Microsoft Word, but multi-screen workspaces are becoming commonplace, particularly in the design industry.

Medicine:  There is much speculation about how it might impact training and surgery, but this industry already contains a lot of bespoke, expensive, simulation equipment. One of the key areas which may be enhanced via the Oculus is in the treatment of mental health and psychological issues, especially treating phantom limbs among amputees and helping people cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

 

Anything else?

Yes! As with most advances in technology we're bound to be seeing the effects for decades to come!

 

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