Virtual Reality

At the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, we champion innovation and creativity. We’re always on the lookout for new developments in engineering and technology, so we were pleased to be able to attend virtual reality event ‘VR The Future’ this week. The event, organised by technology website Gadgette and VR marketing specialists Virtual Umbrella, promised to introduce us to a range of virtual reality experiences with the latest hardware.

Virtual reality is a major new development in technology, with consumer devices to become available in 2016. The equipment includes a headset which covers your eyes, headphones, a controller and various sensors placed around you to detect your movements. The aim is to completely immerse you in the world created by the software, so that you really feel like you’re part of the game. To move around the space inside the game, you move your head to look in the direction you want to go. This is what makes the experience so realistic – the movements you make match those of the character you see in front of you.

There were various headsets to try at the event, including the Samsung VR Gear, Occulus Rift and HTC Vive. Whilst the different headsets looked similar, there was a wide variety of different types of games we could play. They ranged from a space-based mission to a Strictly Come Dancing simulator, with various puzzle games in between.

My favourite game was Esper, a puzzle game which required focus and accuracy. It began with an exercise that trained you to use the controls and made sure you were fully immersed in the game. I used a small touchpad at the side of the headset to pick up objects and move them around. The tasks seemed repetitive at first, but after a bit of practice, I discovered I had learned to move the objects without much thinking. I then moved onto more advanced stages which required depth perception in the virtual space to fire balls at targets. The game took a lot of concentration and I was completely unaware of the world around me, until my time was up and I was tapped on the shoulder to finish.

Another highlight for me was a game called Caretaker; a flying experience which led me through a space world in search of elusive golden blocks. Whilst standing up to play the game, I became so engrossed in searching for the blocks that I came close to turning 360 degrees and falling over! I was very surprised to take the headset off and find myself facing a group of people, rather than the screen where I had started.

Talking to the developers, I discovered that there are huge possibilities when it comes to the future of virtual reality. One of the developers compared the launch of consumer VR devices to the launch of the first iPhone – people will be astounded by what they can do. Furthermore, VR has revolutionary applications in medicine and the military. The technology can be used to train people how to react in an emergency where time is short, using real-world scenarios created in the software. It can also be used in conjunction with robots to enhance surgical and exploratory medical procedures. As the technology advances, it seems likely that VR will spread widely across many industries, both as a training tool and in other specialised applications.

Many thanks to Gadgette for tickets to the event. You can visit their website here.

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