Surgery, education and architecture among the possible real-world uses for virtual reality

VR could be used for more than just games as it gives surgeons to train from other countries or even perform operations using the technology.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 5:36pm

With virtual reality (VR) devices such as Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive being released this year, a lot of focus has been placed on how the new technology will transform the gaming industry.

But VR has more real-world applications that just gaming.

VR devices could be used to simulate training scenarios for doctors and first aid responders, according to Karl Woolley, creative technologist and VR lead at visual effects company Framestore.

"Rather than poking around in a prosthetic dummy and trying to locate the heart of the patient and operate on that, there's no reason why you can't have a virtual reality or mixed reality application where you could have virtual tools in your hands,".

Woolley also described how surgical specialists in one country could advise doctors in another country using VR. In the future, VR may be a key element of allowing surgeons to operate remotely using machines.

"Either you could remotely survey and give advice to the local people in the theatre or you could potentially have that specialist operate," he said. "It's a possibility, but we're not quite there yet."

As well as training, VR applications will allow students to interact with digital objects in virtual locations.

"I see a lot of potential within the education, health and wellness space," according to Richard Gallagher, founder and chief creative officer of digital agency Engine Digital.

"A lot could be done around immersive learning, allowing students to better experience things that no longer exist (dinosaurs) or they don't have access to (foreign countries)."

VR is also improving distance learning. For instance, in 2014 a professor at the University of British Columbia was able to remotely deliver a lecture to students using VR devices to attend a virtual classroom.

The travel industry is using VR in order to advertise tourist locations and experiences to consumers.

"It can be especially valuable for destinations that may not have a top-tier attraction with a lot of name recognition, but has great natural cultural attractions that can give travellers confidence that this is the place to go," says Douglas Quinby, vice-president of research at Phocuswright.

Recently, Samsung announced it was partnering with Carnival and AT&T to let potential customers explore cruise liners using VR headsets .

Theme parks are also looking at how to use the technology. In March, Six Flags announced plans for VR roller coasters , where visitors wear VR devices while riding on the attraction.

Virtual reality will also benefit designers by allowing them to clearly visualise things that have not yet been built or do not currently exist, Woolley explained.

"You are in the environment where you are building that object, placing that object," he said. "Where you are doing a big CG scene in a film, to actually be in that scene and move the camera around has a lot of use cases."

For instance, architects could explore the inside of their building blueprints in order to understand its scale.