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Why We Need More Than Reality

In the classic Greek tale “The Sword of Damocles,” a court jester, Damocles, is awarded the opportunity to experience the power of his king. But amid all the splendor atop the throne, Damocles saw that a sword, undetectable from the ground, swayed from a single hair above him. This made him realize quickly that with power can also come great responsibility.

In the classic Greek tale “The Sword of Damocles,” a court jester, Damocles, is awarded the opportunity to experience the power of his king. But amid all the splendor atop the throne, Damocles saw that a sword, undetectable from the ground, swayed from a single hair above him. This made him realize quickly that with power can also come great responsibility.

The developers of the first virtual reality headset in 1968 named their invention after this ancient tale. It was a nod, perhaps, to their thoughts at the time about their new technology. Though the technology was primitive, its developers surely must have wondered what kind of power a full spectrum of enhanced reality would eventually wield in our world.

Fast forward to 2016. We are living in a new world, decades in the making, where we actually do understand the positive power and possibilities of enhanced reality. Advances in computer-generated graphics and hardware, for example, mean that we now have the ability to truly alter our perceptions and engagement with the real world through state-of-the-art virtual reality headsets.

At the same time, the full potential of these new realities is still unclear. You may at times wonder: How would “enhanced reality” truly enhance your life? What makes it worth sporting hefty goggles to alter our perceptions? And why do we need more than reality, anyway?

Before we can begin to answer that fundamental question, here’s a quick lesson in enhanced reality technology:

Virtual Reality, commonly referred to as VR, places the user in an immersive, simulated environment.  VR systems typically consist of a head-mounted display (HMD), which is used to block out the user’s surroundings and replace the environment with a virtual one using internal screens within the head unit.  Advanced systems also utilize headphones, motion tracking controllers, and sensors to engage all of the user’s senses in the experience.

Augmented Reality, also known as AR, adds non-interactive, supplemental information to the real world. The information is contextual to what the user is seeing, so it relies on a system that can overlay information without being intrusive. The most successful AR systems use our smart phone’s camera and display screen to scan an object and obtain more information about it. The future of AR will integrate into a common wearable, such as glasses, to provide real-world contextual information without compromising fashion or functionality.

Mixed Reality (MR), is the hybrid between VR and AR, creating simulated, interactive, non-real experiences in real-world surroundings. Like VR, MR relies on an HMD to introduce complex interactive elements into the user’s visual space. Unlike VR, the user must still be able to see their surroundings, and the computer-generated visuals must interact with the environment in a realistic manner.

For this first post, we’re going to focus on VR and address a key way VR can be useful beyond its novel qualities. It is easy for people to currently see how VR can be used to whisk us away to a hyper-realistic gaming world. Real-world applications, however, are not as apparent.

This is because many VR applications are geared solely toward the entertainment business. But what is often overlooked in the VR discussion is how the same immersive technology used in gaming can be used to make a huge impact in real life.

Consider the following statistics about how people retain information, which is sparking how we at Vectorform are working to develop the positive power of VR:

According to studies conducted at the National Training Laboratories, retention of information from traditional passive learning techniques such as lectures, reading, or video ranges from just 5 to 20 percent. Demonstration of the technique only increases your retention to a mere 30 percent. It’s only when you can get your hands dirty and practice what you’ve learned that your retention can increase dramatically to about 75 percent. And the only way you can increase your retention to 90 percent is when you have the opportunity to make mistakes.

Picture yourself as a professional training in life-critical work such as electrical repair or surgery. You’ve learned the material only through traditional passive methods. Will you feel confident going into your first implementation with a 30-percent retention rate of the information you’ve learned?

Now imagine that you have the ability to practice the skills as you are being taught. You’re free to make—and learn from—your mistakes with no dire consequences.

This is where VR will make a difference in the future of high-stakes professional training. We no longer have to imagine a no-consequence, high-retention training scenario. Technology advancements in VR are making it a reality. From my perspective, the biggest impact VR can have outside of the gaming industry is in helping people “experience” high-consequence training before needing to use it in the field.

Consumer experiences in healthcare, travel, home design, and retail will also be revolutionized with the immersive capabilities of VR. It’s a fascinating new world—one where VR’s power will allow us to experience “more than reality” in order to positively impact the way we all live. In just one example of our work, Vectorform is partnering with DTE Energy in Detroit and HTC, the leader in advanced VR technology with their Vive headset, to develop better training for one of Michigan’s largest public utilities.

With future blogs in this series, we will delve deeper into this new frontier of enhanced reality, and we will use it to document our investigation into VR enterprise training. I’m excited to be your tour-guide as we follow Vectorform’s path to a safer, more effective method of training through VR technology—and to help us all realize more fully the positive power of enhanced reality.

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