Virtual Reality in 2018 and beyond

December 11, 2017

All of us probably remember the year 2016 and the
phenomenon that was ‘Pokemon Go’. No matter where you went you saw people
running around with their phones in their hands trying to catch virtual
monsters inserted into our real-life environment. For a number of people this
would have been the first time they would have recognised the technology that
mixes our real world with a simulated one.

These new digital ways of interacting with your
surroundings are based on a technology called ‘mixed reality’. It mainly
consists of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR is an artificial, digital
recreation of a real-life setting, which is normally achieved by wearing a
headset consisting of head-mounted googles and a screen in front of the user´s
eyes. The user´s feeling of being physically present in an imaginary world is
simulated by generating authentic images and sounds. The fact that you can
‘move around’ and interact with virtual features makes you believe that you are
experiencing everything first-hand. AR technology layers computer-generated
elements on-top of an already existing reality. Normally this can be realised
by an average smartphone – all it needs is a camera and a screen.

Combined, the two technologies are already used in
the entertainment industry but it would be wrong to link them only to this
area. The healthcare, fashion and construction industries are also benefiting
from them. For example, surgeons, soldiers and pilots are training virtually to
prepare themselves for challenging real life situations. VR and AR tools
support architects and industrial concerns to gain insights into how the
planned product or construction should look at the end of the relevant process.
These tools help identify and solve problems in the early stages of
development. Moreover, the technology also facilitates the treatment of autism,
depression and psychological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorders.

This year, apps that display virtual stores have
proven that mixed reality can also support us in our every-day life. Now, for
example, you can start previewing furniture virtually up close within your own
home. Or, if you are in need of new reading glasses but you do not have the
time to visit a store and to try frames on, there is an app that helps you to
try them on virtually. Additionally, education systems benefit from VR and AR with
apps that allow the user to get to know foreign places and learn about
different cultures and languages.

At the moment, most of the VR goggles on the market
still lack sufficient convenience, style and affordability, so the next big
challenge is to make the technology really consumer-friendly by developing
glasses which you can wear all day long without them limiting your ability to
interact with your environment. Apple and other companies are already working
on evolving these kinds of products. Developers are also working to enhance the
overall illusion by stimulating more senses like your smell and taste.

In the field of medicine, the next major
development will be ‘remote surgery’. This kind of surgery will enable a doctor
to perform surgery on a patient even though the two of them are physically at
different locations. Instead of the surgeon, a robot will carry out the actual
manoeuvres based on the instructions it receives.

In a similar vein are remote inspections of areas
that are inherently dangerous for humans to visit, such as sites with nuclear
contamination. In these cases, VR and AR are being used to get an overview of
an area and then to send out drones or robots to fulfil certain tasks while
observing from afar.

There is also good news for the online shopping
fans among us: the general vision of the industry is that any brand or retailer
will be able to create discovery-based shopping experiences. This means,
compared to the ‘standard’ ecommerce offering, where every product online
essentially looks the same, consumers will be given the digital opportunity to
purchase things in the same way as if they actually went to a store.

Sport is another interesting area. Did you ever
dream of sitting in the front row in a stadium and watching your favourite team
play in a key game? These tickets are so often just too expensive or already
sold out. Proponents of AR foresee that you will soon be able to experience
games as though you were actually sitting in one of the front-row seats.

Even the way we shop for our groceries in a
supermarket may change significantly in the near future. The idea is that
consumers will walk through the store wearing a pair of virtual reality
glasses, or just simply use their smartphones to call-up on demand not only a
product’s ingredients but where it was grown and from where it was sourced,
including details on the grower’s chemical usage and labour practices.

Looking further ahead, experts are even talking
about the opportunity of using VR and AR to insert chips into human brains in
order to modify them, to create perfect memories, to enable brain to brain
communication and to expand humans’ learning capacities. This is definitely not
something we expect to see in 2018, but there is no doubt that we will only see
the use of VR and AR continue on its upward trajectory next year.

David Bate is Senior Counsel at Taylor

This article first appeared on Taylor Wessing’s tech and media law