The announcement of Apple’s mixed virtual reality (VR) headset, the Vision Pro, caused much excitement among consumers. However, VR has already gained traction in both the industrial and educational sectors. GAM Investments’ Pieran Maru explores the use cases and the challenges of the technology and evaluates whether this is just the beginning of a new era of computing.
Q2 saw the announcement of Apple's much-anticipated Vision Pro, a mixed virtual reality (VR) headset that blends digital content with the physical world. Although VR has been readily available to consumers since the 1990s, only in the last decade has it emerged as a transformative technology offering truly interactive and immersive experiences.
So what is VR? VR refers to a simulated 3D computer generated environment that fully isolates the user from their physical surroundings. It is achieved through a head-mounted display that covers the eyes, enabling users to interact with virtual objects or perform various actions. The term VR is often interchangeably used with augmented reality (AR); however, the key difference is that AR superimposes digital content onto the real world, overlaying virtual elements – allowing the user to be aware of their surroundings.
Aviation leading the way
VR has gained traction in both the industrial and educational sectors, offering a range of impactful use cases that enables enterprises to scale faster through rapid prototyping and immersive training. One industry at the forefront of adopting this technology is aviation; Airbus has been developing VR procedure training without the requirement to utilise high-demand flight simulators or fixed training equipment. VR allows pilots to be immersed in a virtual cockpit, performing repeated drills to build sequence knowledge and muscle memory. Meanwhile the US Air Force found using VR for flight training reduced their training course length by several months.
In healthcare, VR has been trialled as a tool to assist in preparing medical students for clinical practice. This ranges from models to visualise and improve accuracy for complex procedures to patient interaction training. A study1 led by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that training with VR was subjectively higher-rated when compared to reading/video and had similar performance results when compared to training with physical simulations.
VR still faces numerous obstacles and challenges. Cost is a restrictive barrier for the average casual consumer. Further, VR headsets can often feature complex designs with multiple sensors and displays. For instance, Apple’s Vision Pro is anticipated to undergo significant production cuts before its release date early next year, due to production inefficiencies and yield issues. Perhaps the most significant challenge for VR, though, is ‘VR sickness’. The perceptual system can be disrupted when receiving visual information of motion without corresponding physical sensations. Exposure to these sensory conflicts can lead to symptoms resembling motion sickness, including dizziness, nausea, eyestrain and disorientation. These effects can be minimised by reducing latency between users’ inputs and the virtual world’s output, as well as increasing frame rates. Content design also plays a crucial role, more so when it involves intense visual effects or rapid movements.
VR is at the cusp of potentially revolutionising the way we interact, learn and play with the world around us. As we enter a new era of computing, we eagerly await the developer community to design and create innovative end-use cases to leverage VR headsets. While VR can be a leading player in the workplace, industrial setting and educational environment, we have yet to see this replicated meaningfully in a home environment. Will this be the App Store moment for the iPhone, or will it follow the demise of home 3D TVs? Only time will tell.
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