Changing basic infrastructure will create virtual reality (VR) a mass market by default.
By Prof. RICHARD MILLER
The next generation of accessible technology is Virtual Reality (VR), and its use is rapidly expanding and evolving. Once relegated to the realm of science fiction, it is now popular and like all technologies becoming increasingly cheaper as the commercial aspects start to be harnessed. VR literally makes it possible to experience anything, anywhere, anytime. It is the most immersive type of reality technology and can convince the human brain that it is somewhere it really isn’t. VR is still in its infancy, and opportunities are only limited to the imagination of the developers and those involved. The technology behind VR is in the software developed to have graphics simulating real life. So, as demand pushes software development to expand, the prospects are expected to grow exponentially.
With the largest technology companies on planet earth (Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) currently investing billions of dollars into virtual reality companies and startups, the future of virtual reality is set to be a pillar of our everyday lives. Businesses that range from the art world through to real estate have all embraced the medium as a means to expand and grow. In a recent New York Times article, artists in Berlin were profiled utilising VR creating unique changes in the art for the audience members that were not previously possible.
In many places there are ‘VR Cafes’, and it has been introduced into a variety of different applications, though mostly game based. But, like many applications that start out as ‘gimmicks’ in the eyes of detractors, there are business opportunities for a wide range of options. Blending entertainment VR and commercial applications will include a variety of options once the cost effectiveness drops off dramatically. The applications will grow, but one example would be real estate companies who can give various virtual tours of yet unbuilt property. The prospective customer will be able to view the apartment or office space before the property has even started to be built. Nairobi based Walkthrough Africa already has established the service.
Within the short term, the growth of virtual cafes and centralised meeting spots is expected to continue. Within Europe and Asia there have been dramatic increases in the number of virtual entertainment plazas – this is reminiscent of the internet café (increasingly rare in many parts of the world) and these are likely to drop off – though the rise of the VR theme parks, such as ‘roller coaster’ rides in 9D are growing.
Virtual Reality is a quickly being utilised by educators in different parts of the world as a learning tool. Cutting edge as it is, it is something that younger digital natives can pick up on surprisingly fast. The older ‘digital immigrants’ take a little longer, but quickly catch on due to the ease of use. From military and police to artisans, the cost savings is noticeable for training programs and HR departments.
In Japan, universities are now using VR to train and prepare senior university students who are set to graduate prepare for work and a career. The workshops are designed to have the students learn about office life, and to help decide which field they would like to pursue as a career. The advantages are numerous with objectives that can be achieved all without leaving the campus. Within the confines of a tight job market (the most recent university graduates saw 98 per cent employment), the partnership also assisted the employers to attract candidates as they are competing to get new employees, so they are trying to sell their jobs and industry.
Kenya educational case studies
Tigoni International High School is an unlikely setting, located in the leafy area of Brackenhurst beguiles the challenging Nairobi homes that the female-only students are from. Entering the former colonial home, a disused small airplane greets visitors, as a symbol of the educational philosophy of the founding director as they encourage their students to reach high, both metaphorically and literally (with a unique aviation course). In this setting, the donated VR sets (from Veative VR, Japan in March last year) are ideal for the usual lessons in physics, geography, history amongst other subjects. But, it is the atypical aviation experience, where students can sit in a real airplane for an authentic flight simulation that really sets the experience apart.
Grapesyard is a school located in the notorious Korogocho slum, a short walk from the Nairobi garbage dump. Within the walls of this NGO are slightly over a thousand elementary school students from the surrounding area. It is a haven for those attending and offers opportunities that are evident when one meets the successful alumni. Veative, VR Japan also donated 5 sets to their computer program, so the children can enter another realm of learning – far from the distractions that prevail through the neighbourhood. In addition to the coursework, there are the aspirational experiences of international travel through airports and dreamy places.
As with all new technology, the options are virtually limitless and new applications have yet to be thought up. We have corporate education, marketing and entertainment now, but possibilities in the future are vast. They include levelling the global workplace and giving competitive opportunities regardless of the physical location – just as the students at Grapesyard and Tigoni are already experiencing.
Prof. Richard Miller is a professor at the Department of English at Osaka Jogakuin University in Osaka Japan. He also works for Management University of Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org