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magine a week at work when you have successfully put out a fire in the post room,

adeptly handled a complaint from an irate customer and demonstrated perfect judgment when presented with an ethically ‘iffy’ opportunity. Virtual reality is now developing

at such a pace that you could soon be experiencing all these situations in training scenarios through the safety of your very own virtual reality (VR) headset. Added to this the bonus of taking it off to see colleagues tackling the same training simulation, mouth-agog, ‘VR face’ and goggles both firmly strapped on.

The birth of VR

Te virtual reality industry has finally burst into life after a number of false dawns through the latter decades of the 20th century. It is almost 90 years since Edwin Albert Link unveiled his flight simulator to the world. However, the first head-mounted display wasn’t produced until the 1960s, when Philco Corporation released its Headsight hardware for helicopter pilots, before the American aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas tried to move the technology on further in the late 1970s. Around the same time, the potential uses of VR were being tested in a range of industries and institutions. In 1978, students at MIT developed the Aspen Movie Map, a precursor to Google Street View. NASA has been using the


technology for many decades and today it routinely prepares its astronauts for the harsh realities beyond Earth’s atmosphere at its VR Lab at the Johnson Space Center. Te first time NASA made meaningful use of VR was more than 20 years ago, in readiness for a mission to repair the mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope. Now VR helps to ensure that when astronauts need to conduct mission-critical work for the first time in space, it’s not completely unfamiliar to them as they have already practised in the lab. So from the start, our tentative steps into this brave new world were not driven by consumer brands or entertainment companies but business and academia. Back on Earth, virtual reality can

help transport us to another place for the public benefit. For instance, Staffordshire University is currently testing virtual reality technology to see whether it could be used to allow jurors to enter a crime scene.

Ubiquitous uses

Of course, when most people think of VR, their immediate thoughts are of entertainment. One of the earliest examples of this was Morton Heilig’s Sensorama. In the early 1960s, this machine had a screen that gave the illusion of depth within an enclosed booth, with other elements that the user could feel, hear and smell. All of Hollywood’s major

studios are now dabbling in virtual reality experiences, with favourites from Batman to Star Wars recently getting the VR treatment. Of course, the gaming industry has

also had a long interest in the use of virtual reality technology. Tere was a lot of hype in the early 1990s that quickly dissipated. However, the in- variably nauseating experience of nigh on 30 years ago is totally unknown to

Deloitte estimates that about 2.5 million virtual reality headsets will be sold worldwide this year

gamers today, who are being blown away by vastly superior hardware. With Facebook declaring its appre-

ciation for the technology by buying Oculus VR for more than £1 billion in 2014, and PlayStation and HTC also releasing quality kit, spectacular and affordable virtual reality experiences are now within touching distance. Meanwhile, the general public

is responding. Deloitte estimates that about 2.5 million virtual reality headsets will be sold worldwide this year, while other commentators expect that there will be 50 million VR users in the world by 2017.

The business case

Consumer brands have been quick to follow the boom in the entertainment industry to try and capitalise on their

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