In the not-too-distant past, many viewed virtual reality primarily as a fun addition to gaming and entertainment applications. But in recent years, more and more companies and industries have been exploring new uses for VR—uses that hold the promise to provide immersive simulations that could revolutionize the user experience.
From groundbreaking entertainment and interactive education to innovative medical therapies and enhanced workplace collaboration, VR’s possibilities and potential UX impact seem boundless. Below, 17 Forbes Technology Councilmembers dive into some compelling applications of VR that are poised to reshape how we perceive and interact with the world around us.
1. Engineering Experiments
Engineering education requires conducting experiments. It is not possible for universities and colleges to upgrade their experimental facilities frequently enough to keep pace with technological advances. VR technology can supplement existing experimental facilities and enrich the learning experience by enabling students to conduct experiments in virtual reality. It can also gamify content delivery and make learning much more enjoyable.
2. Healthcare Training, Treatments And Consultations
Virtual reality healthcare applications have the potential to completely change the user experience. VR can improve medical training, increase surgical precision and enable remote consultations and treatments by mimicking realistic medical surroundings and procedures. It can help reduce medical expenses, make specialized treatment more accessible and improve patient outcomes.
3. Information And Self-Service Instructions For Consumers
Virtual and augmented reality could revolutionize self-service for consumers, bringing more contextual experiences. This applies especially to physical products, which will benefit from having fun virtual information overlaid on the real world (similar to the format used on VH1’s Pop Up Video show). Further, VR could provide practical, live, step-by-step instructions that will enable novices to diagnose and fix issues with products and services.
4. Customized, Real-Time Conversations With VR Avatars
One example is interactive experiences leveraging generative AI, such as ChatGPT, that allow users to engage in real-time conversations with avatars inside a virtual reality experience. Currently, most interactive VR experiences are scripted, so the options for engagement rely on limited, predetermined paths. The true advancements in VR will come from custom, personalized experiences and interactions with infinite outcomes.
5. Immersive Education
Education is one field where virtual reality could revolutionize the user experience. With VR, students can interact with educational content in an immersive environment, improving comprehension and retention. For instance, visualizing historical events or complex scientific concepts in 3-D can make learning more engaging and intuitive, enhancing the overall educational experience.
6. Voice-Controlled Online Shopping
One of the ways VR will improve the UX for consumers is by offering flexible voice control options for browsing, shopping and searching content. I believe all of the work going into voice search will pay off and dramatically improve natural language processing, which will make it easier for developers to add fully functional voice options to their VR apps.
7. Global Tourism
Virtual reality has revolutionized tourism. It creates immersive virtual travel experiences, enabling the exploration of destinations, landmarks and cultural sites from home. This tech expands accessible and sustainable tourism, letting people experience global diversity while reducing their carbon footprint from physical travel.
8. Mental Health Therapy
One promising use case for virtual reality is in mental health therapy. Imagine a safe, controlled environment where patients can confront phobias, PTSD or anxiety disorders, guided by professionals. This personalized and immersive approach could significantly enhance the efficacy of mental health treatments, opening up a new dimension in therapy.
9. ‘First-Person’ Medical Research
Virtual reality can be of huge significance in the healthcare sector. It can allow researchers to viscerally experience what it’s like to be a member of the patient group they are researching, which would aid their work in formulating medication and healthcare solutions for them. If a researcher can experience life as a person who is elderly or as someone going through a specific illness, it can create the conditions for exceptional, personalized research.
10. Healthcare Collaboration
VR could play a big role in medical care—particularly in emergency situations. Right now, hospitals have specialists and training for certain conditions and treatments, but what if there simply aren’t a lot of experts in a given area? Virtual reality allows doctors and healthcare workers to collaborate across time zones within the same virtual world, opening up completely new possibilities for healthcare.
11. Realistic Training Simulations
I’d like to highlight VR’s potential impact on education and training. If we set aside tech education and examine, for example, healthcare or mining, certain real-life scenarios can’t be easily replicated for trainees—for example, we can’t allow surgeons in training to risk patients’ lives. In the mining industry, virtual reality can help trainers simulate emergency situations that occur at great depths and in darkness. Similarly, VR could be used to train pilots, military personnel and so on.
12. ‘Front-Row’ Experiences
VR has the potential to offer everyone “front-row” experiences. Very few people in the world have the means to sit in the front row at a Super Bowl, World Cup final or UFC fight. However, virtual reality could provide a similar experience to thousands of sports fans worldwide. Once VR technology is widely used in entertainment, it will leap to businesses, where it can be used in new car presentations, to market real estate, on fashion runways and more.
13. The ‘Ultimate’ Workspace
Imagine a virtual reality workspace for hyper-multitaskers that has infinite virtual screens, each for a different project, that can be navigated by gestures and voice. It would be an environment in which you could collaborate with team members’ avatars in real time, boosting productivity beyond physical constraints. It could be a customizable and adaptable VR experience, set to revolutionize workspaces.
14. Data Exploration
The killer application for virtual reality is data science. The ability to browse, review and perform analysis within a VR space that allows for exploration would provide flexibility and comfort. The trial-and-error process would be much easier and could be directly tailored to a use case, ability or understanding. Walking through the data—and performing joins, queries and so on as if inside the data—would be very powerful.
15. Design And Marketing Of Commercial Real Estate
Virtual reality could help revolutionize the commercial real estate industry by creating realistic, immersive property tours. Potential investors or renters could inspect properties remotely, reducing the need for travel. Architects could also use VR to visualize and modify designs before construction, saving time and resources.
16. Space Exploration
By creating immersive and realistic simulations of space environments, VR can allow users to explore celestial bodies, experience astronaut training and even participate in scientific missions. VR-based space exploration experiences could contribute to public engagement in space science, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of our universe while promoting scientific curiosity.
17. Gamified Exercise And Healthy Habits
Gamifying exercise with VR is a proven success, but there are more applications for emotional well-being. A company named TRIPP already does this really well. Their stunning, otherworldly VR environments leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to gamify and incentivize meditation. Meditating in VR is a whole lot more appealing and rewarding for people (like me) who have difficulty doing it regularly.