Twenty years after its potential was discussed, virtual reality has finally arrived, with headsets such as Google Cardboard offering a taste of its possibilities.
Windy Day is just one of the apps for Google Cardboard, together with Google Street View and Google Earth, but is certainly its most charming. Google’s do-it-yourself virtual reality (VR) headset is designed to give the public a taste of the immersive possibilities of the virtual world, if you have access to an Android smartphone and can find some cheap glass lenses.
But it’s merely the crest of a growing wave of excitement about virtual reality, most famously led by Oculus VR, the company behind the Oculus Rift headset. Purchased this year by Facebook for $2bn, the Kickstarter that catapulted the company into fame in 2012 was one of the largest crowdfunding projects ever, raising around $2.4m. This is virtual reality’s moment in the limelight; it’s now time for the technology to deliver.
The early 90s saw a similar amount of excitement about the possibilities of VR, with visionaries such as computer scientist Jaron Lanier predicting a future where we worked and played in virtual reality environments online.
It soon became apparent that the technology wasn’t ready. Virtual reality was a nice idea, but little more than that.
This time around it’s different, says Professor Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.
“It’s 1994 all over again. It’s the same thing. But this time it’s real,”
Apps that can be used with Google Cardboard
SpaceTerrorVR: Similar to Halls of Fear, but with a space-station setting, even cooler graphics, and at least a few genuinely scary moments. Don’t let the monsters touch you!
Tuscany Dive: Ever wanted to visit a seaside villa? Tuscany Dive takes you there for a lovely afternoon stroll. Really it’s just a fancy demo, but still a great showcase for VR. If you look straight down, you can toggle on or off the auto-walk mode, which lets you move around without a controller.
VR Cinema for Cardboard: Released just two days ago, this simple app lets you view MP4 videos (stored on your phone or Dropbox) in all their full-field-of-vision, simulated-3D glory.
Another app that’s definitely worth a look is Flight VR Demo, though I had a hard time getting it to work (meaning I could never figure out how to take off).
A virtual revolution: How VR is changing the world
1. Flight simulators are perhaps the most recognisable form of virtual reality training
2. Surgery is an area that could see a lot of benefit from virtual reality technology.
3. When patients are recovering from an operation, virtual reality still has a part to play.
4. The most hyped area for virtual reality today is in gaming.