As with the rise of any new technology, the uses of Virtual Reality technology are ever expanding, so aside from the obvious gaming and entertainment uses, what practical real-world uses can we get from VR, particularly in healthcare and military industries?
VR is being used to treat phobias and PTSD by allowing the person to virtually "experience" something that would otherwise be distressing in a controlled and safe environment. This allows them to practice coping strategies over and over without putting themselves at risk. An example is soldiers with PTSD can experience war zones in VR; this, in turn, helps them identify triggers and practise coping with said triggers to prevent panic attacks in the real world for example. As the patient will be aware none of what they’re seeing is real, it may not be as effective as the real thing, but is a superb building block.
VR is also becoming more and more common within medical training. Surgeons can now practice their skills on virtual patients rather than being limited to cadavers, allowing more realistic practise without any risk to patients and without the need for cadavers. Imagine a surgeon who is as almost as skilled and experienced as a surgeon who has worked on hundreds of patients without any risk at all.
Spinal Injury Rehabilitation
VR can be used to help paraplegic patients learn to use their limbs again in a non invasive way. The best way to describe how it does this is re-establishing the link between mind and body. When paraplegic patients are asked to think about walking, patients often showed minimal or no brain signals. The first step in improving this is the patient simply walking around a virtual world using an avatar, controlled via hand or finger signals. Once the patient gets used to walking again in the Virtual environment they are then moved into exoskeletons that activate when the patient thinks about walking. By the end of the process, nerve endings should be reawakened, giving the patient back sensation and voluntary movement. With this as a starting point followed by intense physiotherapy, walking again can become a reality for many that never thought it possible.
Read more about the rehabilitation process here.
Clearly the use of Virtual Reality as a military training system would be very limited. There wouldn't be the pressures of a life and death situation; however, similarly to its use in training surgeons, it could allow for vital "practise" in an unprecedented way. Up until now, military personnel have been limited to training in their own camps and although there are bases all around the world, it's tough to get scenarios that closely match that of a war zone they may be sent to. With VR, soldiers can be virtually "sent" to a war zone simulation that directly matches the real-life counterpart. This allows for soldiers to gain important decision-making experience, and to practise mission tactics without the risk and at a fraction of the cost of traditional training methods.
With the rise of the new technology, we may be inclined to forget that similar technology has been around for a while. "Flight simulators" have been used to train pilots in both aerospace and military capacities for many years now. Although these simulators are a lot more specific and have less of a focus on the graphics of the simulation and more emphasis on the technical aspects, they are the original VR training systems.
Artificial intelligence compliments VR perfectly, allowing for a virtual world that "learns" how to react in more and more realistic ways and with the ever-expanding virtual world, it’s going to be increasingly common to see VR being used in a practical way.