Virtual Reality (VR) uses computer-generated sensations to immerse the user in a reality that doesn’t exist outside of the computer. The initial senses to be overridden were sight and sound and are so far, the most developed. Sound is, of course, the easiest with surround sound. Sight took a lot more work. It was only with Oculus Rift’s initial developments could VR take that important step forward. With HD stereoscopic displays with a high refresh rate and a large field of view could immersion really take effect. This immersion was enough to convince a large number of people that the eyes could be deceived and take you to another world. Although a downside, nausea caused by wearing the headset is proof. Your eyes are telling your brain you are in this virtual world, but your vestibular system was telling your brain you are still sitting in a chair.
There are now several Eye-Ear immersion systems; the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. Although Oculus Rift had a head start it looks as though HTC Vive is currently the most technologically advanced, with the PlayStation VR giving mass market exposure. PlayStation VR won’t go very far, but it will serve its purpose of VR awareness well. The HTC Vive will continue to innovate and be the go-to choice for hardcore gamers. The Oculus Rift is then put into a tricky position as to what its role is. It’s saving grace is that it was bought by Facebook. If it hadn’t, it would be almost gone from the market by now. Now Facebook has it, and it spent billions on it, there will be a desperation to make it the market leader. No Expense will be spared in trying to make it the #1 VR system going into the next phase.
That next step is conquering the touch and vestibular senses. Basically, VR haptics and VR movement. Attempts have been made at this already. The Vive comes with had controls and work reasonably for what they are. The Virtuix Omni (Omni-directional treadmill) tried to solve the movement by allowing the user to walk, run crouch and jump. However, it has been plagued by delays. It’s a challenging problem to solve, but it will be solved because, as always, there is significant amounts of money to be made.
Haptic gloves are in development so we should expect to see them in the next 2-3 years. The treadmill is further behind, so we shouldn’t expect it before 2020. In 5 years (circa 2022) immersion will be almost total with haptic clothes and greater fidelity of control. Smell will also be a sense that will become virtual, with products already on the market (FeelReal & OhRoma). Although scents are limited, this technology will be expanded. Taste will be the least explored sense to override. Perhaps an oral spray rigged to a headset might be developed. A mic on one side and an oral spray on the other. I hate to say that it will also be developed for virtual sex, but given OhRoma exists, it probably will be.
Around 2027 there will be immersion rigs and detailed virtual worlds will be populated by millions. The virtual worlds will offer sports, social activities, sex, paying jobs and of most obviously, games. If anyone has read Ready Player One, The Oasis is coming.
Precarious Prediction: By the 2050s virtual reality may be a viable reality. Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) will have significantly improved, and the fidelity and accuracy of the worlds that are created for users will seem so real, some people may opt out of the real world. Their physical bodies, most importantly their brains will be kept alive for a monthly fee. This is possible as the science and equipment already exists to keep people alive while that are unconscious. This will form some system similar to the Matrix (from the 1999 film The Matrix).