Mad About Science: Virtual reality applications

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

We learned about the origins and function of virtual reality last week, but what about its applications?

It’s a common belief that virtual reality is only for gamers and that it serves no purpose for anyone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. VR has immense potential for countless fields outside of gaming. As is true of many forms of technology, the newest stuff will tend to find greater popularity in entertainment before finding new applications elsewhere.


Entertainment remains one of the greatest beneficiaries of the technology, blending the ability to manipulate your environment with the safety and security of staying at home.

The pandemic temporarily altered the ability for people to go out and enjoy a movie or play at a theater. While many of us opted to retreat to our shadowy dens and drown our loneliness in binge-streaming, the social experience of going to a theater and seeing a performance with loved ones has been sorely missed. Yet, even as restrictions have eased, many prefer the convenience of staying at home and streaming the new flick from the comfort of their couches.

Virtual reality offers users a compromise, allowing them to stay home while still being able to attend a theater with friends remotely. Using a VR headset, you can emulate the experience of sitting in a theater and even talk with your actual friends viewing remotely from their own headsets. This has applications far beyond the pandemic cinema landscape, as it offers friends on different coasts a chance to meet up regularly and share an experience.

This technology also benefits the live performing arts. Audiences can watch and interact with comedians, stage actors and even musicians with a front row seat from anywhere in the world. This is especially helpful for people who may be hospitalized for extended periods, elderly people in facilities or people with physical disabilities who struggle to get in and out of venues but still want to enjoy live entertainment.

Some programs allow people to attend a show and only communicate with one another using body language and hand gestures. This program makes it so the audience can’t talk over the performers, who can spawn objects into the space and even directly interact with the audience by throwing things for them to catch and interact with, or changing the environment to an otherworldly space that may not be possible in a traditional theater.

Sports and fitness

Sports fans and players have a lot to gain from virtual reality, and professional athletes have already been adopting virtual reality for training. Gone are the days where players spend hours in front of a projector retracing their steps; now they can jump straight back into the game to see what they could have done to improve. They can also run simulations to train for upcoming games based on data fed to the programmer by scouts and analysts, which gives the players heightened awareness of opposing players’ strengths and weaknesses while actively testing what tactics could work against the opposition in real-time.

People who want to improve their physical fitness can use VR and AR to do things like running on a glacier or exploring trails around the world from the comfort of their own home. Other benefits to VR training include being able to dynamically track your heart rate and calories burned, or metrics such as your distance traveled or amount of weight lifted. A program can take this data and feed it into an algorithm that is suited for your body, to help you increase muscle definition or lose weight more effectively.

Health care

The benefits of using VR and AR applications for the field of health care are incalculable. Surgeons are able to review three-dimensional scans of patients before operations, which can save lives by reducing the need for exploratory surgeries. Medical students can review the structure of the human body in real-time and even interact with individual organs without the need for a cadaver. Epidemiologists can study how viruses infect cells by watching simulations in real-time, giving them a vantage of the microscopic world our species has never experienced before.

Patients can visit doctors remotely in a three-dimensional space without needing to go to an office or rely on giving their doctor accurate information without proper visual demonstration. This was done recently on the international space station when NASA flight surgeon, Dr. Josef Schmid, appeared on the station as a hologram. Crew on the space station were able to interact with Schmid by using an advanced camera and a set of eyewear called a HoloLens. This technology has far-reaching implications beyond health care, as engineers and inventors can consult people in developing countries and help them build life-saving infrastructure like water purification systems or renewable energy generators without having to make a trip across the world or depend on an unreliable cell phone or radio.

Are you curious about exploring virtual space with your own eyes? Don’t forget to swing by the Sandpoint library for Sandemonium on Saturday, May 14 from noon to 4 p.m. The VR room will be open to the public during that time, as well as a number of really cool programs and meet-ups including a cosplay contest to close out the event. If you want to dodge the crowd, that’s fine. Beginning Thursday, May 19, the library will have the VR room open from 3-5 p.m. every Thursday.

Stop by the library and say “Hi” on Saturday!

Stay curious, 7B.

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