In an age when we were promised flying cars and self-disposing trash bins, it comes as no surprise that the technology of Virtual Reality surpasses the safety concerns of a hovering free-flying vehicle. But what’s more, is virtual reality sparking a reputation in the medical community as a treatment for acute and (sometimes) chronic pain. There are several questions that come to surface when the idea of using an HMD (head mounted device) such as an HTC Vive would re-“vive” somebody from the painstaking agony, leftovers from a torrential car accident. But the healthcare industry is looking into every facet of this technology to produce better results from chronic pain relief in addition to an alternative of combating the opioid crisis we face today.
Virtual Reality has been available in the medical community as a way of pain relief for the past two years with much thanks to Dr. Diane Gromala, PhD as she is the Director of the Pain Studies Lab and Chronic Pain Institute in Michigan. Dr. Gromala has attended conference after conference touting the beneficial uses of virtual reality in the pain management setting and it’s finally starting to catch on and bring aboard many new researchers.
Though researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly how this technology works in alleviating pain in a scientific explanation, there are some pretty easy to understand parameters for its success. One being the fact that VR content is used as a distraction. Being fully immersed into a different dimension, a whole new world practically—the mind and the central nervous system is able to refocus on the experience at hand instead of the throbbing excuse for nonchalant foul language and a need to chuck items across the room because “it” hurts so bad. Other theories suggest that VR might affect the “gating” system of how pain is transmitted to the brain and processed by the brain. Some have proposed that VR can help interfere with how pain is processed in the brain and/or central nervous system.
Additionally, it has been noted several times that if the availability of virtual reality could be more accessible to patients by 2018, the number of actual prescriptions for narcotic pain killers would decrease dramatically. Wouldn’t that make the DEA happy?… All the while bringing virtual reality to light in the mainstream of life more readily available and useful to those in society who don’t partake in complex gaming.
There’s been a drought over the past forty-something years and the tech industry is quite thirsty. Virtual reality has been around for decades through different forms, but it hasn’t stuck on a commercial level until just a couple years ago. Why now? You ask? As the number of millennials and GEN X/Y gamers increase, so has the need for an evolution in the gaming industry. Dynamics have rapidly immersed a conundrum for game developers. They’ve caught on that they need to propel beyond the dimensions of basic gaming. Not only for the gaming population, multiple industries have tested the waters using VR hardware in their fields as well- to include real estate and the medical industry. But what’s more—the availability of the hardware is easier to come by than previous failed launches in past since the joke of a console Virtual Boy or the hard to acquire NASA headsets in the 80’s.
For the unaware, there are two key components for virtual reality—mobile and extreme gaming and both are responsible for the technology’s usage wow factor. Recently, Samsung has been able to market their Gear headsets at a reasonably fair price of $99 due to the rise of smart phone users in the market. Not for complex gaming, but these headsets are where other aspects of the virtual reality industry can be implemented, such as real estate where home buyers can travel through virtual tours of homes without the need to leave their current residence, or medical field and training purposes. Commercially, the entertainment industry has released short videos and fun exploratory worlds where the consumer can immerse themselves into a different environment with complete 360 degree manipulation.
Since the technology has evolved, so have the pricing points. For an Oculus Rift touch bundle coming in at less than $600 on Amazon, it’s fair to say that the competitiveness in pricing has improved since a couple years ago when virtual reality really made a bang in the world. Its competitor, the HTC Vive comes in at $800 on Amazon.
Another main important factor that virtual reality is making a stick this time is that of money. With capital venturists seeking new scopes of the tech industry, some are game enthusiasts by nature and want to help broaden the research/development of the field. Big juggernauts have backed the major platform developers such as Mark Zuckerberg, in the hopes of widening the virtual reality gap between hardware manufacturers and game developers.
With all the advancements, enthusiasm and hype, the virtual reality world is here to stay. There’s no telling to how far it can go from here.
There’s more that meets the eye in the world of virtual reality besides long nights strung out on Redbull and waking up with Cheetos crumbs on your shirt. With the twenty-first century under our palms, it’s hard to imagine a life where churning butter is the highlight of the afternoon. Technology abounds and virtual reality makes living in a new dimension possible within multiple aspects of daily living from the medical field and construction to education.
In the classroom, teachers can utilize cost effective VR methods such as Google Cardboard and implement a new learning technique as opposed to the grit of dissecting the smelly, nasty organs of animals themselves. In a study that was conducted recently by Extreme Networks, one institution responded that they have the ability to see beyond what the eye can see at surface level of a cow and see its circulatory system, brain, muscles and skeleton. What can VR do to save the costs of fieldtrips? With Google Expeditions, a classroom can visit different regions and study their ecosystems without lifting a leg.
Of course the medical field has been ever changing since the mid-1900’s. But with virtual reality, doctors can do many things like improve the recovery time of a stroke patient or utilize VR hardware in operating rooms to improve precision and use them for teachable moments as well. Not only used by the clinicians, VR in hospitals have also been used to settle the nerves of patients by sending them on a warm tropical vacation while undergoing simple awake procedures and especially used on pediatric units.
Even our military uses VR to train soldiers in the effective and safe simulation of real life simulations that are relevant in battle. Not yet as popular as flight simulation, virtual reality technology in the military field has kicked off a trend amongst the branches into using ground vehicle simulators combined with VR hardware that moves through terrain of different aspects of earth and are held at an important part of the military’s training strategy.
Virtual reality is popping up in the real estate market, especially for higher price point homes at this juncture. This is popular amongst the international buying market where a client in another country is interested in purchasing property in the states. In this instance, the realtor just sends a VR headset to the client and they have a virtual walk through of the entire home, fully immersed into the location almost as if they were there physically. According to a recent study, it was estimated that in the next two to four years, VR headsets would be used for smaller price point homes as well. It was added that while the VR headset may not replace visiting the physical location itself, but it would limit the number of properties to visit and lessen the resources required for travel.
In conclusion, the VR industry is rapidly improving by the minute and no doubt it will continue to change the way society utilizes technology. Not only has the cost of VR technology made it more accessible to the general public, it has already affected our lives in some way or another whether knowing about it or not.