Another Home Run: Inside The Advancement of Virtual Reality

By Olivia Barker Dell

Virtual reality has been an ongoing technological advancement that will affect every aspect of our everyday life. It will influence the sports industry, medicine, education, and so much more.  Virtual reality creates millions of different simulated experiences, from playing tennis to surgically operating on a patient. 

For decades, our world’s greatest minds have attempted to create a virtual reality simulation. The idea of “virtual reality” began as early as 1838, when a man named Charles Wheatstone discovered that human brains process two-dimensional images and transform them into three-dimensional ones. This discovery led to the development of the view-master stereoscope used for “virtual tourism,” which has aided in the making of many of today’s VR devices. In 1929, the first flight simulator was invented. Edward Link created a device that was able to simulate a commercial flight and the cockpit environment. Later in 1961, the first VR headset was created, a clunky instrument with an endless amount of wires hooked up to different inputs and outputs. This has since evolved into what we now know: the wire and computer-free piece of technology that can be set up in your living room or poolside!

Many companies such as Meta, PlayStation, and HP have created standard headsets with a range of accessories in aiding the consumer. Using these headsets, consumers can participate in activities ranging from using the Force in Star Wars to fighting Apollo Creed in the ring.

More recently, VR headsets have been modified  to assist athletes and coaches in sports. Our world’s most popular sports, such as football, basketball, baseball, and tennis, have begun to use VR to create simulations for players to practice in. For example, VR application Sense Area configured  a virtual reality simulation of the tennis court. These simulations can put any tennis player, whether they’re a top 10 professional or a recreational player, in a large stadium with an opponent and fans cheering them on. But if that’s not what the consumer wants, this simulation can also be transformed into a regular practice. In sports such as football and basketball, players can run through different training scenarios to strengthen their reactions in pressured situations and endurance. The best thing about virtual reality in the sports industry is that anyone can play whenever and wherever, as the opportunities are unlimited when engaging in a virtual simulation. Many athletes have also resorted to virtual reality when recovering from an injury that has limited them from practicing in a more physically straining way. 

Not only have athletic professionals used virtual reality, but so have our nation’s surgeons– preparing them to save  countless lives. Both medical schools and professional surgeons use VR to practice procedures and explore human anatomy. Instead of having to travel to medical facilities, students and professionals can access these simulations at home and online, leading to both a more cost-efficient and easily accessible way of learning. 

VR is used  similarly for firefighters . In 2020, the US Fire Administration began to advocate for the use of virtual reality  to help save the lives of firefighters in training simulations. In the span of 41 years, from 1977 to 2018, 361 lives have been lost due to training injuries in real-leaf simulations. Before VR, fire companies would use abandoned warehouses to create their training simulations, but now they have begun to use VR to help prevent injury and eliminate some of the extra cost for this training. 

There are so many advantages to virtual reality– it brings excitement, entertainment, practice, and resourcefulness to the human population. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, and founder of Facebook said “Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming.” Our technological world advances as we go to work, to school, to the coffee shop, and VR is a reflection of that. Virtual reality will continue to influence the way we communicate and learn.  Only time will tell how much virtual reality will change our lives– but hopefully we don’t all get trapped in the metaverse along the way.