I have seen the future of technology and its name is virtual reality (VR).
Most technologies unveiled to great fanfare are incremental improvements on what already exists, but I believe that the arrival of VR headsets in 2016 will be as era-defining as mainframes, PCs and most recently mobile phones.
I had my VR epiphany at a Facebook event a couple of weeks ago where I got to try out the Oculus Rift headset that will launch next year for around £350.
The first experience I tried was ‘watching’ a street battle between a War of the Worlds-type robot and a police department. Bullets spiralled past me, rubble was thrown up and a car even exploded and catapulted past me as the two sides did battle. Everywhere I looked, in a full 360-degree environment, all I could see was this battle taking place.
It was impossible not to get caught up in the situation, whatever I tried to tell myself, meaning I found myself ducking and weaving to ‘avoid’ the debris around me, all the time feeling my heart rate rising owing to the ‘intensity’ of the situation.
I then tried a space shooter game called EVE: Valkyrie on an Xbox that put me in the cockpit of a space fighter, watching enemy craft soar past my window, missiles fly past my head, all against the huge expanse of space.
The full 360 view felt utterly unique. At one point I did a barrel role in my ship and, even though I obviously didn’t move at all in my chair playing the game, I genuinely felt sick as my brain told me I was spinning through space. In fact, this is something many people complain about the first time they try VR.
These descriptions fail to do justice to the immersive, all-encompassing experience of VR, but I have no doubt that the first time most people try it with the right experience it will prove revelatory.
You can watch a video below showing the experience I played, but it in no way does justice to the sense of really being there that the headset provides.
To me, this is real living-in-the-future stuff, the sort of thing we've seen in comics and films set in the future, but arriving very soon as the first units are set to hit the market next year.
Furthermore, the potential for this technology feels almost endless. Gaming will move to a level that will make everything before seem laughably basic, while films and other entertainment will become utterly engaging.
You could float through space, dive in the deepest oceans, navigate the human body, stand on stage at Glastonbury, sky dive into a volcano, almost anything you could imagine wanting to do, all from the safety of your VR headset.
Companies could walk in and around architectural plans, practise medical operations, explore hotels, test drive cars, sell museum tours. Again it feels limitless as to what you could create and experience from the comfort of your own home or office.
Of course, the headsets are not much to look at right now. They still require fairly hefty ‘goggles’ to house the technology, which may well put some people off.
But for me it’s no different to the first mobile phones. Those, as we all know, were huge brick-like things that are now laughed about but were responsible for kicking off one of biggest technology revolutions since the computers of the 1950s.
As such it’s not hard to imagine VR headsets evolving in a similar way to become small, stylish glasses no bigger than a normal pair of swimming goggles, say, that become second nature to use at home or the office.
For the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Sony and no doubt many others, the VR future is too impressive, too all-encompassing, too much of a game changer not to justify huge investments.
Give it a few years and VR will be commonplace, found in the majority of homes and businesses, and a technology that, just as now we wonder how we ever coped without our phones, we’ll wonder what we ever did before for fun.
In fact, perhaps the only thing that will hold us back is the motion sickness, but I'm sure we'll evolve.
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