The Emerging World of Virtual Reality


Society Staff Writer | Ben Vizy |

Major technology companies are developing virtual reality headsets, like this one from Samsung. Source: Nan Palmero via Flickr
Major technology companies are developing virtual reality headsets, like this one from Samsung. Source: Nan Palmero via Flickr

Welcome, once again, to the future. Humans have built virtually invincible monuments, infiltrated outer spac, and combined dozens of recreational hobbies into an object that fits in the palm of a hand. On March 28, 2016, the Oculus Rift became commercially available, adding to this list of human achievements that, 20 years ago, were only seen in science fiction. The Rift is the first affordable, consumer-targeted virtual reality headset to hit the market, followed nearly a week later by the HTC Vive.

The Rift and the Vive emerged with over 30 immersive games each, ranging from space adventures to office emulators. These devices strap onto your head in order to encompass the wearer’s entire field of vision. While the Rift is currently used more often when sitting, the Vive, though more difficult to set up, actually allows its user to walk around in a 15-by-15 square foot space.

Before these headsets emerged, Google Cardboard provided a less complicated virtual reality system: A headset made literally of cardboard, with a slot for a smartphone. Though this technology does not allow for the immersive gaming of the Rift and the Vive, it is still a viable option for virtual reality art and augmented reality. Even children can begin to test out VR technology with toys such as the View Master Virtual Reality. This toy has a spot to stick in a smartphone using the View Master app or Google Cardboard, and can emulate riding a roller coaster, playing with dinosaurs or being in space.

As this technology continues to expand, whether simple or complex, Ohio University students have taken notice. Art student Adam Mayhall has found his niche with creating art for virtual reality. Mayhall uses a 3D modeling software called Blender to create 360o animations that will be posted on YouTube and may be used with Google Cardboard. Mayhall says that the level of accessibility that virtual reality technology has attained, “will allow for immersive new forms of entertainment and media that can present stories and ideas in new ways than what was previously possible.”

The narrative that Mayhall is currently working on places the viewer in a virtual area that emulates pollution in large cities like Beijing and New Delhi. According to Mayhall, “The viewer will be placed into a virtual space that gradually fills up with a cloud of smoke over time until they are completely immersed in it.” Art is meant to inspire unique emotions in the viewer, and virtual reality provides a huge frontier for artists to play with as they find new ways to immerse their audiences into something previously unheard of.

One type of art that is already being explored through virtual reality is film. Jaunt ONE is a new company that is creating 360o cinematic experiences. To date, they have used their camera to record concerts of Jack White and Paul McCartney.

Some companies, like Magic Leap, are focusing on a communion between the real and virtual world as they develop augmented reality. Augmented reality allows its user to view the world through his or her headset with virtual hallucinations periodically inserting themselves into the world. A video on Magic Leap’s website, for instance, shows a crowd of kids watching as a large whale splashes into the center of their gymnasium.

A company named Blippar also uses augmented reality to place tidbits of information amidst everyday objects, similar to QR codes. For instance, holding a phone up to the cover of a movie brings up a menu detailing the filmmaker, cast list, and other information that the user may want to know. This will also be a new frontier for advertisers, as many companies like Heineken and General Mills have incorporated augmented reality into their products through Blippar.

In the near future, virtual reality is set to expand quite rapidly. PlayStation VR is set to come out this fall, and the Microsoft Hololens is sure to be released within the year. Ambitious projects like MindMaze are researching ways that virtual reality could be used to address psychological maladies by “tricking” the mind. This VR technology will continue to expand with new ideas and frontiers. In five years, this technology may be as commonplace as the iPhone as it appeals to artists, gamers and students.