The Best of Not-For-Gaming Virtual Reality – Part 2

In our last post we began a countdown of what we think are ten amazing uses of Virtual Reality. Before that, we also did a quick rundown of some ways in which VR is being used for some fairly strange applications.

This article picks up where we left off and covers our top five picks for the best of non-gaming virtual reality applications today.

  1. Sport

You’re on the soccer pitch, blitzing with the ball. You’ve chosen the perfect angle to the goal. The goalkeeper’s focus is intense, but not as intense as yours. The defenders are closing in on all sides. You’re alone, far ahead of your teammates, sprinting for glory. There’s a chance, just the tiniest chance that you can score. But should you pass to a midfielder instead? Play it safe instead of going for glory? The decision is snap, pure instinct. You deliver a powerful shot to the far top corner. The ball curves through the air. You can’t breathe as you wait for it to pass the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms. The defenders turn to watch with bated breaths themselves. And finally it does cross the goalkeeper’s hands. And flies over the bar. You feel your heart sink. Maybe you should have passed the ball instead. Then you press the restart button on your headset and try the simulation again.

Virtual reality holds enormous possibilities for both viewers and players of sports. Events are already being filmed in 360 degrees so one can watch LeBron James as he soars overhead for a dunk or Christiano Ronaldo as he shoots on goal. Players are also now using VR to train so that they can learn to make better split second decisions on the field. The Netherlands team used VR to help train their players for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Virtual reality might just be what gives teams a winning edge in the future of sports.

  1. Crime Scene Investigation

Image traipsing into a crime scene and trying your hand at being Sherlock Holmes, deciphering clues and trying to solve the case. Using VR, police departments around the world are recreating crime scenes virtually, allowing their officers to study crime scenes as many times as is necessary to locate the smallest pieces of evidence. They have found that, if used properly, virtual environments can help the investigation process from its earliest stages all the way to a courtroom conviction. All of this without once contaminating physical evidence. Even after all materials have been removed from a crime scene, the virtual capture can allow police to revisit the scene again and again. 3D reconstructions of crime scenes can also allow juries to experience the environment in far greater detail and realism than they could ever do with photographs. Many investigators believe that by 2020, CSI using VR will be widely used, trusted, and being applied to solve a variety of crimes.

  1. Therapy

If you’ve known someone who’s been in a bad accident, suffered a stroke, or had brain injury, you would know how long and laborious the recovery process can be. It’s not inexpensive either and could cost upwards of $150,000 a year. For patients undergoing such therapy, it is vital that they are calm, relaxed and free from memories of the trauma they have undergone. Immersive virtual reality therapy is a new form of rehabilitation. Patients can wear headsets and walk on a treadmill while looking at relaxing and familiar scenes. Some biotechnology companies have shown that VR therapy enables patients to regain motor and cognitive function faster than with conventional physical therapy when treated in safe, controlled, and anxiety-free environments.

Not only is virtual reality being used for physical therapy, but also has vast potential for applications in mental therapy. An undeniable global mental health crisis exists today. An estimated one in five people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and many doctors tend to over-prescribe medications which may do significant harm while alleviating symptoms. For many disorders, there are effective treatments that don’t require drugs. These can be effectively administered using VR – for PTSD, cognitive behavioral problems, anxiety, phobias, and stress.

  1. Engineering

There’s some incredible stuff that VR is being used for in engineering today. Virtual environments are particularly useful in teaching the construction and workings of complex machines. Car and rail construction manufacturers are using VR for prototyping during the design process to produce several virtual test versions – a cost effective streamlined process. VR is being used to train employees whose jobs involve dangerous environments such as in power plants, and oil and gas rigs and refineries. Everything from the design of jet engines to genome sequencing is already being trialed in VR.

It is also already being applied extensively to architectural design and walkthroughs, a trend that is only expected to intensify as ever greater adoption takes place. Some educational institutions such as Deakin University (Australia), University of Michigan, and Stanford, among others, have already constructed dedicated Virtual Reality spaces specifically for teaching their students via VR. Nowhere else is there greater affinity for virtual reality than in engineering. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

  1. Shopping

Finally, we come to our winner. We’ve already written a lot about VR in shopping on the Bigthinx Blog. E-commerce is a massive industry. In developed countries, online shopping accounts for almost 15% of all money spent. Using VR, people receive a far more interactive and realistic shopping experience than with smartphones or computers. They can shop in real-time and even interact online with their friends.

Most people still prefer to shop in-store rather than buying online, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom that online shopping is the be-all and end-all of retail. A staggering 76% of shoppers still prefer to shop for apparel in brick and mortar stores. But consumer behavior has changed. Combining convenience with experience is the new way forward, say recent studies. VR/AR is the next step in delivering such in-store experiences to customers at home or, well, in stores. Although still in its infancy, 55% of consumers believe that VR e-commerce will impact their buying decisions. 62% are interested in trying VR shopping. Nearly a quarter plan to buy a VR device in the coming year. (See our full article on it here)

(On a side note, Bigthinx has developed an app that creates an entirely virtual apparel shopping experience. It’s called “Lykagluv” because, well, that’s the way one wants their clothes to fit. Follow Bigthinx on Twitter or “Like” us on Facebook to stay updated on it.)


That concludes our list of the best not-for-gaming virtual reality applications today. Of course, beyond this list there are plenty more uses for VR emerging every day. Adoption is rapidly growing and virtual reality seems like it is set to be the mainstay of humanity’s arsenal of productivity boosting tools. Are you a believer yet?

The Best of Not-For-Gaming Virtual Reality – Part 1

In our last post we covered a number of ways in which Virtual Reality is being used for some fairly strange applications which range from slightly odd to plain bizarre. However, the effectiveness of VR for education and skills training is astounding (see our article on it here). Learning simulations are incredibly effective with VR, delivering up to 100% greater retention and 30% higher test scores than with traditional teaching methods. In addition, VR is opening up new avenues for teaching and exploration in vastly diverse areas.

This article (and the next) are a countdown chronicling the pioneer attempts of some very useful, and practical, ways in which virtual reality is being applied right now.

  1. Space Exploration

The movie Gravity did a fairly bang up job of what it’s like to be in space. It’s tough and it’s hostile. So it’s no surprise that simulations have always been a go-to for trainee astronauts to understand such environments. NASA’s Mars 2030 program is using virtual reality to simulate life on the red planet. Astronauts are being trained for spacewalks and simulations on the International Space Station. Scientists are using 360 degree video from the Mars Curiosity rover to virtually experience the planet’s terrain and plot safe exploratory routes that are a far cry from the often wrong predictions previously based on 2D images. With the growth of affordable VR headsets, soon every one of us could have the opportunity to explore different planets from the comfort of our own living room.

  1. Surgery

Surgery is tough. It’s complicated. The tiniest mistake could cost a life. Students go through several years of high intensity training to become surgeons, and they need to be nearly perfect by the time they do. VR allows students to practice procedures as many times as it takes to get them right without the limitations of equipment availability and cost implications. In April 2016, Dr. Shafi Ahmed famously performed an operation on a cancer patient which was filmed in 360 degrees. Through the use of VR, students worldwide could watch as if through his eyes and observe the entire procedure. VR is also useful in simulating new surgical procedures and testing them on virtual models before ever attempting to replicate them on living patients.

  1. Military

Solders need a lot of rigorous training. They need to understand and operate a lot of equipment. They need tactical knowledge and spot decisions that don’t cost unnecessary lives. VR allows them to practice and hone their skills in safe environments. The Air Force has long used simulators to train pilots. Now similar training can be imparted to every soldier using virtual reality, giving them the opportunity to test their combat skills and decision making in simulated combat environments.

  1. Tourism

Visit the pyramids at Giza after breakfast, take a tour of the British Museum before lunch, spend the afternoon going for a relaxing scuba dive off the coast of Mexico, and climb Mount Everest before teatime. Fantasy, you say? VR makes it possible. 360 videos already offer tours of various tourist destinations around the world, and it’s only a matter of time before it is part of street views so you can wander around just about anywhere in the world. Without ever leaving your chair.

  1. Film

Ever wanted to play Marlon Brando’s role in The Godfather? Or tiptoe around the house in Paranormal Activity? What about gaping while Godzilla leveled an entire city around you? In 2014, interactive film viewing premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and now there’s even a virtual reality cinema in Amsterdam. YouTube horror series have already gained massive viewership from die-hard scare junkies among the millions of VR enthusiasts around the world. It won’t be too much longer before VR cinema is mainstream everywhere.

This has been half a countdown of the various exciting doors opened to us by VR technology. The next post will cover our top five picks for amazing uses of virtual reality. Stay tuned.

The Weirdly Wonderful of VR

Virtual Reality is the talk of the whole world right now. Well, maybe only half the world so far. But it’s getting there rapidly. There are a lot of uses for VR – apart from entertainment, its applications in learning tools are astounding (see our article on it here). However, with a medium like VR, one just had to know that the ever inventive human mind would find some rather strange uses for it. And not only have we delivered, we have excelled – with applications ranging from the slightly odd to the outright bizarre. Maybe these things will catch on and become a part of a vast group consciousness. Like Pokèmon Go. But we doubt it, seriously. Anyway, here are our ten picks.

  1. Cooking – Yes, using VR software and slipping on a headset can take you to a world where you’re learning to cook virtually. But cooking is much more than just looking at the food. There are specific ways to cut, knowing what the hot spots on cookware are, and being able to recognize the various smells that are essential indicators of correct progress. So, um, better to go into the kitchen and just get to it, no?
  2. Reading – You can put on a bulky headset and use it to – read a book?? Why? Just, why?
  3. Dining Out – Slip on a headset and you can experience dining underwater, on the moon, in the vineyards of Napa Valley or just about anywhere else. We’re relatively certain there would probably be a lot of takers for this eventually. But for now, it’s being made available only at a few high-end restaurants in exotic locations. We question why one wouldn’t just eat in the said location in the first place.
  4. Work – Why would you want to do work in VR when you already have to do work normally? Maybe if you’re unemployed? Is it because you just love the feel of those headsets? Or is work just so great that you want to do more of the mundane sameness in different ways? Go figure.
  5. Public Speaking – This might be legit if only VR could mimic the behavior of a real audience. Like rolled eyes. Yawns. Cellphones. Angry Birds. You just can’t prepare for those things.
  6. Guillotine Simulator – Just in case you’re one of the very few who want to experience the last sights through the eyes of a political criminal at the height of the French Revolution moments before being beheaded. In that case, heads away!
  7. Migraine Simulator – Because, wouldn’t all of us absolutely love to experience the torture that migraine sufferers go through? The overly bright lights, the distorted vision, the absolute pain. Mmmmm. Not.
  8. Spreadsheets and Documents – Peruse your documents for those pesky, hidden typos and scan your spreadsheets for that one cell with the overconfident price estimate that you just know is wrong. All while relaxing in the Amazon rainforest, the Scottish highlands, or on the beaches of Bali. One can now do exactly that – view work in pleasant virtual surroundings. Would you do it?
  9. Feel like the other gender – Put on a VR headset and experience what it is like to have the body of the opposite sex. That’s it. Really.
  10. Porn – Well, because it’s porn. In VR. It was bound to happen.

That concludes our special on the weird and wonderful of virtual reality. How many would you try? How many would you adopt? How many of them would consume you? Dwell on it. Or not. Whatever.

Virtually Possible – A New Frontier for Skills Training

Imagine walking up to a Porsche 911 and knowing exactly how to take apart and reassemble its engine – even if you’re not a mechanic, and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the car. Or operating an MRI machine to scan a patient. Or conducting a surgical procedure. Or checking an entire power plant for malfunctions. Think it’s something out of the realm of science fiction? Well, think again.

Virtual Reality can make every one of the above scenarios, and many more, possible to learn from anywhere in the world. It has long been agreed upon that the most reinforcing form of education is learning by doing. Its advantages over traditional educational methods such as text, pictures and videos are numerous, allowing dexterity and spatial awareness to supplement visual and audio cues. In fact, a recent research study at the Miami Children’s Hospital concluded that when using Virtual Reality based simulations, students remembered up to 80% of transmitted information. When compared to the modest 20% recall from traditional learning, the implications for not only education, but any sort of skills training, are staggering.

A talent shortage survey of over a thousand US employers revealed that 39% face difficulties in finding staff with the requisite skills for the job, and nearly half reported that such shortages adversely affected their ability to carry out their functions satisfactorily. Training is expensive, though, and there was no way to get around it. Until now.

Virtual Reality (VR) is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world is designed in such a way that users find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Augmented Reality (AR) is the blending of virtual reality and real life. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

A US navy study found that student pilots who used Microsoft Flight Simulator were 54% more likely to attain better scores in real life flights, as compared to students who did not use the game. The advent of VR in the workplace took place when simulated welding training using VR was widely adopted as far back as 2014. Now, there is little doubt anymore that VR/AR vastly speeds up the learning process, imparting vital skills faster and at lower cost.

An ever larger number of employers are turning to VR and AR to fill the employability skills gap, and early results all indicate that they are correct in doing so. VR/AR provides realistic environments for trainees to practice and hone their skills repeatedly before ever applying them to the real world where, as often happens, the costs and/or hazards encountered may be significant. High-risk and high-stress situations particularly benefit, as trainees gain greater liberty to make snap decisions without provoking unpleasant consequences if wrong. Safety-critical tasks such as emergency plant shutdowns are perfect examples of such scenarios, and trainees can repeat simulations as many times as necessary to gain the confidence to ensure that such processes minimize the endangerment to anyone involved. Not to mention significant time and cost savings to boot.

It’s a great time for the workforce to embrace VR to learn new skills, as well as to keep existing ones recurrent – positioning men and women at the forefront of industry, healthcare, education, and various other fields, to stay eminently employable and ready to supercharge their career graphs without a moment’s hesitation.