This guest post is by Mark Hardy, CEO of Chicago-based InContext Solutions, a provider of virtual reality solutions for retailers and CPG manufacturers.
It’s not often a technology comes along that has the potential to transform nearly every aspect of our lives. The internet certainly did. The steam engine did. And in 2018, it’s likely that we’ll see the beginning of an era that involves virtual reality as a mainstay in industries from education to retail to medicine to criminal justice.
Why now? Earlier this year, manufacturers of some of the most popular VR headsets—Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive–cut prices on the hardware, making the equipment more widely accessible than ever before. Meanwhile, the last few years have seen a variety of industries developing and transforming business functions through VR.
Here’s a look at nine ways VR may change your life for the better in 2018.
- Immersive classroom lessons
Forget reading the same dry textbook paragraph over and over. The combination of affordable headsets and education-specific VR apps means that students will have access to more vivid learning environments than ever before. Some teachers are already experimenting with VR and have found it useful in history and social studies, where fascinating topics are notoriously boring on the page, yet brought to life in a virtual setting.
Bonus: Education philosophy suggests that experiences stick better than words for helping people retain information, meaning introducing VR to the classroom could yield better educational outcomes.
- Inexpensive lifelong learning
If you’ve finished school, VR apps like Discovery VR (by the Discovery Channel) and Unimersiv let you interact with real places and historical sites. Whether you’re preparing for a trip or using the apps as standalone tools, they’re fascinating alternatives to traditional educational materials.
- Pain management
In part because of the opioid epidemic, 78 percent of Americans prefer non-drug alternatives to pain management. While physical therapy is currently the most popular alternative to drugs, VR has the potential to become a major player in the space.
Ongoing research suggests that virtual reality may help ease American dependence on opioids for chronic pain, partly by helping people stick to the non-drug regimens (of cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation, for example) shown to ease symptoms.
- Mental health treatment
Scared of public speaking? Flying? Snakes? VR may have a solution for you. Exposure therapy has long been shown to be effective for treating serious phobias, but it can be time-consuming and expensive. In some studies, though, virtual exposure to trigger situations yielded outcomes “similar to classical evidence-based interventions.”
It can take a while to get new treatments approved, but assuming it happens, exposure therapy could become as inexpensive and accessible as talk therapy.
- Lower-risk training
Heavy machinery operators often learn their skills through dangerous (and expensive) on-the-job training. With VR applications designed to teach these skills cheaply and safely, industry leaders are finding that they can save money and improve outcomes. It’s not just for risky jobs though. Walmart and PepsiCo have both reportedly adopted VR in order to easily recreate multiple on the job situations for faster, more comprehensive worker training, and 2018 could see even more widespread adoption.
- Cheaper retail store testing
Testing retail layouts (and even on-shelf product placement) used to be an expensive, time-intensive process involving mock stores and carefully observed customer behavior. Today, VR solutions for retail enable the setup and testing of stores and products digitally. This lets retailers and brands gather data on shopper preferences and behavior much faster (and more accurately), enabling data-driven decisions that yield real-world gains.
- More vivid testimony
If you’ve ever served on a jury, you know it can be a challenge to follow what the prosecution and defense are describing. If VR apps designed to recreate crime scenes gain in popularity, though, you may not have to.
Reports note that the main hurdle this particular application has faced is the cost of implementation; as prices for VR hardware continue to fall, the technology may finally have its day in court.
- Next-level online shopping
You may never again have to return clothes you bought online, thanks to new VR systems that would let you try on clothes and shoes while shopping via the web. The technology uses 3D hologram images, and while it’s not quite ready yet, some major retailers are backing efforts to that aim to make these systems work.
- Connect with distant friends
Sure, email, texting, and video calls have made it easier than ever to stay in touch with faraway loved ones. In 2018, virtual reality programs initially designed for concert-goers and gamers could help you feel even more connected. This write-up of the Oculus Go in particular captures how people can interact as if face to face–even when they’re hundreds of miles apart.