For decades, Disney World has taken their guests on virtual rides through the human body and space. Disney used dark theaters, high-definition imagery, moving seats, and an occasional spritz of water to provide a total immersion experience.
Now technology can create a similar experience in the privacy of your own home. Virtual Reality (VR) technology has made its way to department store shelves and online retailers as a personal entertainment device. No doubt, many people will find VR headsets in brightly wrapped packages this gift-giving season.
But, before you strap on that headset, take a moment to review the risks and uses of virtual reality. Here are eight points to consider.
#1 Some virtual reality headsets block both, sight and sound.
The goggle-like headsets are effective at transporting people to another place or time by design. Once a person puts the headset on his or her face, there are no visual or audio cues to the outside world. Many of these VR goggles require a cabled connection to a computer or other device.
When a person walks around in a virtual scene, he or she is moving blindfolded in the real world. Cables, wires and other items in the room can become real-life tripping hazards.
#2 VR technology can boggle your mind and break your body.
The goal of a total immersion experience is to create an alternate 3-D world that comes alive before your eyes. Developers have created interactive software that:
- Tracks your head movements
- Changes the perspective of images you see based on your eye direction
- Projects the movement of your hand, arms and legs on the screen
The software is so intelligent and responsive that many people forget their bodies exist outside the virtual world.
Individuals engrossed in a VR experience have run into walls and punched hard objects. Some have had the chair virtually pulled out from under them as took a seat that didn’t exist on the other side of the screen. Others have removed the goggles to find themselves in precarious situations.
One of the most common VR injuries happens when a person tries to lean or climb on a virtual surface. They fall flat on their faces from a standing position.
Some of these injuries have resulted in strains, broken bones or concussions.
If you are planning to purchase a VR system, look for technology capable of running software that overlays the outlines of the walls and furniture on the screen’s display. This may help you avoid falling, tripping or bumping into things.
#3 Virtual reality can make you dizzy.
Some applications may cause users to experience dizziness and motion sickness. If you’re prone to getting sick, while riding in a car, you may want to take extra precautions while watching a roller coaster or mountain climbing experience through virtual reality goggles.
During active rides, it may be helpful to have someone nearby to keep you from falling.
#4 VR poses an injury risk to spectators.
Use caution if you’re watching someone use virtual reality. Standing near a person who is enjoying a virtual adventure can put you at risk for injury. The person under the influence of virtual reality sees nothing but what is on the screen. If they happen to be in a world where they need to flee danger, fight an intruder, or kick a ball, you could get hurt if you are in the way.
#5 More study is needed to determine VR’s effect on a user’s eyes.
We know that computer screens cause eye strain. That’s one reason optometrists recommend people look away from their screens frequently. If tired eyes result from looking at a screen a few feet away from our faces, the same condition may result if we look at a screen a few inches from our eyes. Be aware of your eye health as you enjoy your virtual world. If you notice a change in your vision, call your eye doctor.
#6 Experts are concerned about the impact virtual reality may have on the brain.
Guided imagery and active visualization have been used for years to improve performance, stop unhealthy habits, deal with pain or make positive life changes. Many behavioral health professionals wonder how participating in violent or scary games will impact a person’s brain. More study is needed to determine if VR will:
- Cause neurological problems
- Reinforce negative, violent and harmful thought processes
- Create psychological trauma for people who watch violence or thrillers
Others are concerned that children experiencing violence through the imagery of VR will have a hard time distinguishing between right and wrong in the real world.
While these are valid concerns as they relate to entertainment and gaming, developers have been exploring other uses for virtual reality.
#7 VR is an asset in healthcare.
Medical professionals have used virtual reality to calm patients who suffer from chronic conditions and distract adults and children during cancer treatments. According to techrepublic.com, a military study conducted in 2011, found VR was more effective than morphine to control pain for soldiers who were burned in IED blasts.
Other programs allow hospitalized or home-bound patients to visit their homes or attend family gatherings virtually.
Medical schools also use virtual reality as a training tool. Medical students can watch real-time operations and experience the procedures with a bird’s eye view.
Programs also are being developed to help people recover from strokes, PTSD and phobias.
#8 VR has value as an educational and training tool.
VR has unlimited potential as an educational tool, not only in medicine but in all areas of life. It can be used to enhance training for everyone, from people learning specialized trades to elementary school students.
Imagine learning to weld by virtually working on the joists of a skyscraper or learning about the Serengeti by experiencing a virtual safari. VR will be able to take students of all ages to exotic locations, immerse them in interactive language training, allow them to be a part of history, or enjoy a myriad of other experiences that move education and training from a textbook or manual to an immersive experience.
Texas Mutual is already putting VR technology to good use. The company created an economical safety training video that helps employees avoid dangerous situations. Texas Mutual hopes virtual exposure to real-life hazards will keep people safer on the job.
Virtual reality is still relatively new in the marketplace. In the coming months, developers will advance its use, image clarity and function.
In the meantime, if you use VR technology for interactive gaming or thrilling experiences, have fun, but take care to avoid injury.