By Michael Raffety
Every time I see photos of someone wearing one of those virtual reality headsets all I can think of is, “That’s goofy looking and nerdy with little actual real world value.”
Dana Perino, former presidential spokeswoman and current Fox political commentator, described a recent experience she had with a virtual reality headset. It was obviously some kind of psychological test. The VR experience was to take an elevator up and get off. The elevator goes down but the door remains open and you are asked to jump into the shaft.
Well, who would do a darned fool thing like that?
Other than seemingly pointless experiments like that is there any value to virtual reality?
Apparently there is and it’s simply amazing. It is so astounding I have to quote the entire first three paragraphs from a June 6 Wall Street Journal article written by Betsy Morris:
“Gary Steinberg, Stanford University’s head of neurosurgery, has been operating on brains for more that three decades. Only in the past year has he been able to do something that gives him a significant advantage: preview surgery and practice it.
“Donning a virtual reality headset, the 64-year-old works through thickets of digital blood vessels in a precise computer simulation of a patient’s gray matter before he cuts into the real thing.
“’I can figure out how best to approach a tumor and practice it so that when I get into the operation, it’s as if I’ve been there before,’ Dr. Steinberg says. ‘It makes surgeries safer. Outcomes are better.’”
Practice makes perfect. Practice also increases the odds of success. Who wouldn’t like to have their surgeon practice with virtual reality before performing open-heart surgery or some other delicate operation?
I believe this VR practicing is going to be picked up by other brain surgeons and will spread to other kind of surgeries.
And the guy who started this is 64. There’s a doctor who is still open to technical innovation and is obviously extremely bright. I would have to give brain surgeons the edge over rocket scientists in the smarts department.
Are virtual reality headsets going to spread beyond surgeons? Apparently so, because the same article notes that Wal-Mart is using them to train 140,000 employees annually. At $800 apiece they are less than a new iMac computer but similar in price to an iPhone.
I wouldn’t want to go to a movie and experience it in virtual reality, but my guess is practical applications of virtual reality are going to bring about the productivity boost that computers did for the 1980s and the Internet did for the1990s.
They will also provide a boost to technical education. Think about teaching high quality welding by virtual reality before working with the actual materials. Think how it can enhance a student welder’s ability to read blueprints by converting those blueprints into 3-D on a VR headset.
When my wife and I worked with an architectural designer to create our custom home we had no difficulty visualizing it, but that is not always the case with all people who hire architects. To put on a virtual reality headset and take a tour of what the architect designed would be a huge benefit for not only potential homeowners but also school superintendents and school boards preparing to build a new school. It’s not just touring the rooms by VR but seeing how every door opens where all the plugs are, what the light coming in the windows looks like in different times of day and different seasons, and how the overhanging rafters may help cool a room in the summer.
When the Navy sent me to my first specialty school for a piece of UHF radio equipment I used colored pencils to mark out the different type of circuits to help me understand and remember how the entire radio worked. A VR tour of the circuits in that radio would have enhanced and sped up the learning process. Not only that, with VR I could have done the actual maintenance and repair before I got assigned to the base shop at Quonset Point, R.I. Fixing that radio required specialty tools to adjust the frequencies by loosening and tightening gears until each point on the dial lined up with the frequency counter. Not your modern solid-state electronics.
No longer just a gimmick or something for gamers, virtual reality will change a lot about how the civilian work force and the military are trained. In 10 years we’ll look back and say, What did we do without this virtual reality?