Gaming is just the beginning. Here are 8 innovative ways VR is being used today

Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of Ready Player One is introducing virtual reality (VR) to a whole new audience. But while Ready Player One is set in 2044, here in 2018 VR is capable of some pretty darn exciting things. Here are eight amazing ways that virtual reality is being used right now.

Gaming

HTC Vive Pro
NurPhoto/Getty Images

Gaming is the most prominent application for VR right now — not that, to quote Seinfeld, there’s anything wrong with that. The VR gaming industry earned an estimated $286.7 million last year, according to SuperData Research, and that number may grow to $2.3 billion industry by 2020.

Factor in the growing number of headsets and some pretty darn impressive immersive haptic technology research and you have VR’s most exciting use-case here in 2018.

Surgery

surgeons train haptic vr knee surgery

Don’t be surprised if the surgeons of the future are more about VR than ER. Virtual reality could be a handy tool for not just training the surgeons of tomorrow, but actually helping them carry out their jobs too.

The company Fundamental VR is busy developing VR scenarios which allow trainee surgeons to carry out virtual operations using haptic controls. These controls simulate what it’s actually like to perform procedures like sleeve gastrectomies without the whole, you know, risk of actually cutting into a human being.

Just as potentially transformative is work being carried out by an orthopaedic surgeon in Santa Catarina, Brazil, who is using augmented reality tech to help him perform spinal surgery in a safe and affordable manner. With the rise of medical robots capable of performing procedures without the risk of shaky hands, we can’t help but think that surgical VR may have an application here, too.

Live events

Imagine being able to get the best seat in the house at the hottest sold out Broadway play, visit all the top museums in the world without spending a dime on travel, or soak up the live experience at every sports game in a season.

All three of these scenarios have already been investigated by forward-looking organizations. Ten years from now, this will be standard fare.

Collaboration

Slack is about as thrilling as workplace collaboration tech tools get, but VR could offer a more exciting next step. Using VR, teams who are distributed around the world can log in to the same virtual space to work together on projects. That’s the basis for an existing VR collaboration solution called Vizible from the company WorldViz.

It’s already been used by the footwear designer Deckers, who have utilized it to work together on designing new shoes. Whether you’re a graphic designer or an architect, the ability to be in the same “room” as clients or colleagues could be a game changer.

Therapy

The ability to allow a person to face their fears in a safe virtual environment is understandably appealing to therapists. With that goal in mind, Lithuanian software company TeleSoftas has developed VR scenarios which let people confront phobias — ranging from a fear of heights to getting up and speaking in public — while wearing a VR headset.

In addition to wearing the headset, the software also monitors your stress levels, based on eye movement, heartbeat, perspiration, and skin temperature. A demo was shown off at this year’s Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.

VR has also been used for helping soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and allowing people to swim with dolphins for therapeutic effect.

Education

Don’t get us wrong: we don’t think you’ll be putting on your VR headset and learning in a virtual classroom any time soon. Nonetheless, virtual reality could play a valuable role in education.

Being able to go on a virtual field trip back in time, learn about the risks of polluting the ocean by experiencing it for yourself, or participate in an ethics class using a VR experience designed to put you in someone else’s shoes are just a few of the exciting possibilities.

Driving vehicles

virtual reality applications oculus driving
Toyota

But surely autonomous cars are going to do all the work for us in the future, aren’t they? That’s certainly true, but there are still some innovative projects in this space which hint at intriguing future possibilities.

United Kingdom defense giant BAE Systems has pioneered a system that would allow a submarine captain to pilot a sub using VR. The tech works by collecting data from various sensors dotted around a submarine, and then relaying it back to the submarine captain in the form of a detailed VR simulation. The idea is that this would allow the captain to “teleport” themselves around their submarine to get multiple different views of it as they pilot it, a bit like switching perspectives in a racing game — but with the benefit of real-time information.

Not only could this mean that a captain wouldn’t have to physically be present in order to command a vessel, it also hints at a future in which bosses will be able to teleport around their workplace to virtually drop in on whoever they like. Depending on what you think of your boss (I love mine, just in case he reads this!), this could be the most fear-inducing suggestion on this list.

Porn

virtual reality applications vr in bed
Inti St Clair/Getty Images

We had to mention it! There have been entire treatises written about the way that pornography has been a driver of innovation and new technologies throughout history. Why would VR be any different?

According to Pornhub, a website we’ve never heard of, VR is one of the fastest- growing categories of video on the website, in terms of both videos uploaded and users watching them. On a typical day, VR porn videos are viewed 500,000 times — and that’s before VR headsets have really even hit the mainstream in a big way.

Heck, there are even creepy adult industry gas masks for sale which add a smell component to your adult VR experience. But we don’t really want to think about that for too long!

Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Virtual Reality

Prototype Valve VR headset leaked: HTC Vive challenger confirmed?

Leaked images revealed that a Valve VR headset is in development, even amid Valve's partnership with HTC for the HTC Vive. Sources confirmed the device, which may be bundled with a Half-Life VR game.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Emerging Tech

Meet the 4K selfie drone that folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?
Emerging Tech

This exosuit can turn humans into strong lifting machines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.