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Tech, gadgets, & trends

Tech, gadgets, & trends
(Mark Hill/Graphic Design Supervisor)

Virtual reality becomes a reality

Kevin Barnett/Reporter

OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — If you’ve ever found yourself feeling intimidated by and/or avoiding new tech because it is ‘unfamiliar,’ don’t worry you’re not alone.

Ever since seeing the 1989 film ‘Back to the Future II’, I have been fascinated by the latest gadgetry promising to make life easier and leisure time more enjoyable. My social media feeds are full of the latest software and hardware reviews of my profession, and I read them (well, I skim them if there’s no video); and still I feel as if I am, perpetually, behind the curve.

If you do remember McFly’s trip to 2015 then you may have been thinking fully automated restaurants, hoverboards and terrifyingly, convincing 3D movies were just around the corner.

While the classic film was a little optimistic in its vision, it is Hollywood after all; it wasn’t that far off the mark.

Restaurants around the world have begun installing automated kiosks, although not yet phasing out their human workforce, it does seem to be drawing closer to eateries becoming giant vending machines with dine-in areas.

And while we do have hoverboards, they are hovercraft only in name. Rather than a gravity-defying board, we have miniature, fire-hazardous Segways without handlebars.

There is, however, a technology that came out of the pursuit for better entertainment, in the same vein as life-like 3D, which is quickly surpassing what Hollywood thought possible. Virtual reality.

This tech is nothing new. The video game company, Nintendo, offered a VR line in the mid-90s called ‘the Virtual Boy,’ but due to poor reviews and sales it was abandoned after only a couple of years.

Today’s virtual reality is a misnomer though, what is commonly referred to as VR is, technically, 360-degree video, immersive video or spherical video. But why get technical?

VR is definitely on the verge of changing our idea of entertainment. Imagine attending a huge sporting event: courtside, ringside or from the 50-yard line, all from your living room sofa; and instead of watching a movie being ‘plunged’ into one. You think pay-per-view is overpriced now, just wait.

It is not just the entertainment industry developing this technology.

The fusion of virtual reality with augmented reality is beginning to offer digital cadavers to medical students; providing employees with realistic training (at least until their robot replacements are completed); and it’s also yielding promising results in the treatment of psychological and neurological conditions.

One of the more incredible findings using VR technology was published by Duke University following a study, which monitored eight people paralyzed from spinal cord injuries.

Each was fitted with an Oculus Rift (VR head rig) and was tasked with maneuvering their digital avatars through a soccer game. Brainwave activity was measured during every session and a vibrating device was also used to create a more convincing experience.

After the year-long study was concluded all eight had regained partial sensations and muscle control in their paralyzed limbs. Four participants’ diagnoses were upgraded from complete paralysis to partial.

Virtual reality is quickly becoming sci-fi turned actuality. Even though it is still at the front end of development and experimentation it has the future looking very exciting.

Goldman Sachs estimates that VR technology will be an $80 billion industry by 2025 with healthcare, engineering and live events taking large portions of the market behind, of course, gaming.

I think it is safe to say that the Virtual Boy is entering virtual manhood.

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