“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain
Since Google killed off Daydream in mid-October, there’s been a whole load of ‘it’s all over for VR’ articles.
Virtual Reality has everything, it’s new, it’s futuristic and it’s flashy. The perfect mixture of ingredients that draws the attention of analysts who then wait with bated breath for every hiccup.
It certainly didn’t help that the BBC shut down its VR hub the same week Google dropped Daydream just two years after launch. A cursory glance at recent headlines would indicate that VR is very much a trend that’s not quite been and pretty much gone.
Except beyond the headlines the reality is a very different story.
It’s the story of a technology that had 8.6 times the share of mentions relating to trends for 2020 in comparison to 2019, according to Talkwater’s sentiment analysis.
It’s the story of a technology that is gaining traction due to the rise of 5G next year – the analysis also showed that 62,000 mentions of VR or AR were linked to 5G.
It’s the story of a technology that didn’t quite fit phones but is making huge, revolutionary advances in the healthcare sector, yet it’s seen as not as ‘successful’ as AR.
Admittedly Augmented Reality on smartphones seems to have made more sense overall. Pokemon Go and Snapchat are perfect examples of AR games/apps that have been huge hits with users. Apple has even targeted 2020 for the release of its smartglasses, in an attempt to succeed where Google Glass failed years ago.
VR on the other hand seems to be more complex in terms of consumer appeal. For one thing, the headsets are too conspicuous. Unless everyone is wearing one, it’s pretty embarrassing to walk around with a headset on. Whilst wearers may not feel awkward at, say, a tech trade show, it’s a bit different sitting on a train or walking around in the street wearing one.
But why is mass consumer appeal seen as the be all and end all of a technology’s worth? As mentioned above, VR has had real success when applied to health. Earlier this year, the NHS ran a pilot using VR to help people with dementia. And VR has proved to ease the pain of giving birth – with some predicting that the technology could provide a pain management alternative to opioids.
Here is how VR is making waves in healthcare:
Virtual Reality can be used as a diagnostic tool along with other methods such as scans, removing the need for invasive surgery or procedures. In one study, it was reported that VR-based navigation was more accurate than ‘gold-standard’ cognitive tests currently in use.
Robotic surgery is on the rise, and expected to double by 2020. This is where surgery is performed using a robotic device which is controlled by a human surgeon and is highly accurate, with reduced blood loss and quicker recovery rates. Virtual reality is also used for training and when surgery is performed at a separate location to the patient, the surgeon can oversee delicate procedures.
Virtual Reality is helping to reshape patient education. VR can help patients to understand what’s going to happen ahead of an operation by stepping into a 360 degree reconstruction of their anatomy and seeing what happens during a procedure. An example is this tool at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
Previously I mentioned the NHS VR and dementia pilot. The same concept is at work when VR is used for mental health difficulties. The technology has the power to transport patients elsewhere using gamification to help them overcome situations where they experience psychological problems. VR-enabled therapy can also help individuals stay on track, as it’s estimated that 20 to 30 percent of individuals drop out of treatment. Many people struggle to get treated for mental health problems due to a shortage of qualified specialists and stigma, a huge problem as mental health illness has been on the rise since the early 1990s. With VR therapy, therapists are embedded within the programme, meaning that treatment can be delivered faster and that more patients can be treated at scale.
So talk of VR’s demise is greatly exaggerated. VR is on track to overhaul healthcare, leading to more cost-effective, accessible and patient-orientated treatment. This is highly useful in an era where healthcare queues continue to grow and there’s a distinct lack of original solutions.