Science Fiction is dedicated towards exploring the fantastic things that might be possible in the future with science and technology. Often, they explore how these developments can be a two-edged sword. That doesn’t stop us from dreaming about what may be possible, but some of those possibilities are far closer that you might think, thanks to developments in immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR).
Have you seen Kingsman: The Secret Service? If not, you should, because its a brilliant film. There’s a couple of scenes where characters are sat at a conference table, but most of the seats are empty – until you see the view through the glasses they are all wearing and realise that other people are there as augmented reality (AR) avatars.
There has already been a huge rise in VR and AR tele-conferencing software, with companies such as Hyperfair producing enterprise-based social VR to allow users collaborate with colleagues from all over the world, bringing up virtual prototypes and designs for others to examine, comment or improve upon.
One of the low-key but impressive things about Star Trek technology was its ability to just let someone lay on a bed and wave a device over them to discover what ailed them. Though this kind of magical technology is still a few years away, VR and MR bring us tantalisingly close.
Doctors can now take advantage of immersive imaging technology to overlay X-Rays, ultrasound or MRI images on a patient, giving significant insight during complex surgical procedures. It is also possible to simultaneously take advantage of the tele-conferencing technology mentioned above to consult with world experts on the procedure being conducted.
Design and Prototyping
When the Iron Man movie came out in 2008, almost everyone I knew – and myself – really, REALLY wanted for those magical holographic display interfaces that Tony Stark uses to be real. The easy, intuitive nature of simply using your hands to pick up, turn expand or throw away something cannot be over-stated.
This idea is starting to seep into reality with the use of finger-tracking, haptics and immersive CAD technologies. The newly emerging generation of haptic gloves allows for a level of precision when interacting with VR, AR and MR objects that has previously been out of reach. Some companies are also already using things like the HoloLens for inexpensive prototyping options. Though this still requires a headset, very soon developments in light field technology could mean we are all using magical holographic interfaces.
Education and Training
Many of us dream of acquiring new skills, whether that is learning how to play an instrument or getting into martial arts, or simply trying to keep fit. The impossible fantasy of having new skills downloaded into your brain like in The Matrix might still be pure fantasy, but another idea from The Matrix, the training program, is moving ever closer to reality.
If you are trying to take up regular running its difficult to remain enthusiastic if you are jogging through a typical grey, overcast English day. Similarly, its easy to feel ridiculous trying to practice your drumming skills in your garage, surrounded by dusty boxes and broken furniture.
With VR, you can strap on a headset and enter your own training program, which can become any environment you like. Want to jog across an idyllic tropical beach? Or drum on stage at the Albert Hall? There’s a VR app for that.