Today in tech

Making virtual a reality

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Charlotte Pernice, Editor In Chief

You’re driving down the street in a stolen vehicle, cop cars with their blaring lights and sirens are following close behind. This is it, you’re finally going to complete this mission! There’s nothing but the open road ahead, you can practically taste victory- “Jimmy!” you hear your mother yell in the background. She storms into your room, “take that contraption off right now, I told you to clean your room!” “Yes mother,” you reply, the sound of defeat in your voice. Slowly you remove your brand new virtual reality headset, placing it on the ground to lay amongst the clothes and trash that sit cluttered on your floor.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the future. Perhaps maybe not that exact scenario, but the part concerning virtual reality is certainly, well, a reality. Technology is already known to be wearable, but it has recently been taken to a whole new level. Several large companies, such as Google, Samsung, Sony, and even Facebook are beginning to incorporate this new technology in various ways.

No, you won’t be able to “wear” your Facebook timeline on your head, but other corporations are taking it in interesting directions. For example, Sony’s new “Project Morpheus”, is a codename for an upcoming virtual reality headset that was unveiled at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. This new technology will deliver a sense of presence, where you as the player actually feel like you’re inside the game, making your emotions feel that much more real. Sony’s current prototype features a head mounted display with 1080p resolution and a 90 degree field of view. Accelerometer and gyroscope sensors built into the head mounted unit as well as PlayStation Camera accurately tracks head orientation and movement, so as your head rotates, the image of the virtual world rotates intuitively in real-time. Project Morpheus also features Sony’s new 3D audio technology that re-creates stereoscopic sounds in all directions and changes in real-time depending on your head orientation. This might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is finally being made possible.

Samsung’s version of this new technology is a bit different. Pairing up with the company “Oculus VR”, who was bought by Facebook last year, they went with a similar piece of hardware, a headset that covers your entire field of vision, but its function and purpose are completely different animals. As of now, the “Gear VR” can only be paired up with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but surely that will change in the future. This is the very first VR experience that’s powered by a smartphone- just snap your phone into the headset and you’re instantly immersed in a whole new world. This product was not solely designed for gaming, although that is a large aspect of it. You can also view hyperrealistic photos and videos, making it feel like you’re actually a part of them. “Milk VR” is a virtual store that allows you to browse their different “channels”, consisting of sports, music, action and storytelling. Samsung’s system makes it clear that virtual reality doesn’t just have to be about gaming, but bringing yourself even closer to anything you could do on a regular screen.

On a more practical note, virtual reality has, and will continue to advance the medical field significantly. Everyone needs proper training in order to master something, but as an EMT, surgeon, etc, you can’t just practice on a living person who might be dying right in front of you. Virtual environments can be created to replicate real life emergencies, without putting human lives in danger. They can also help prepare for scenarios that simply cannot be created in the real world just for training purposes, such as a major accident on a freeway. Another incorporation of VR in medicine is in therapy. For instance, facing a 3D representation of your most predominate fear and knowing that it is actually harmless can very much help someone to get past it. This is actually known as “VR Therapy”, and can also be used in other situations, such as someone suffering from PTSD or schizophrenia. By engrossing them in a scene, the therapist can actually see how the person reacts, as opposed to just having them describe it to them, and offer them guidance to get through it.

As for education, virtual reality could have endless possibilities. Instead of just talking to students about certain topics, you can actually put them into the situation, giving them a better understanding of it. At a high school in Wexford, Ireland, students were able to learn about a rocket launch by putting on an Oculus headset and “traveling to space on board a Saturn V Rocket”, making it possible for anyone to go to the moon. It can also be applied in a human anatomy class, where students can virtually discover the ins and outs of the human body. There’s no denying that this would make students more interested in what they’re learning. Not only this, but it will better prepare students for what’s to come, allowing them to be better equipped and prepared for the field of their choosing.

Virtual reality is no longer a thing of the future, but instead, the present. Project Morpheus should be released to the public within the next year or two, although the price is still unknown, while Oculus has already put several devices on the market that average at about $200-400. These products may not be perfected as of now, but scientists say that by 2020, virtual reality will be even more impressive, and just about everywhere you look. Where exactly this will take the world no one can know for sure. It certainly is a major step in the right direction, providing technological advancements in every aspect it touches. Perhaps in 25 years everyone will have permanent headsets strapped onto their faces, and Jimmy will never have to clean his room again. Either way, we really must applaud those who are able to pull this amazing piece of technology out of science fiction, and into the real world.