From Computer World’s Bart Perkins: If you think virtual reality exists today primarily in the gaming industry, you are seriously behind the times! VR springing up all over, and in some rather surprising places. VR videos are already available on YouTube, Android PlayStore and the Apple Store. Equipment prices and quality vary dramatically, from Google’s inexpensive Cardboard to incredibly expensive and complex systems.

VR has been evolving since the first commercial flight simulator was patented in 1931. That invention helped train over 500,000 pilots during World War II. More recently, consumer VR has been used in games, particularly shooter games. As processing power has increased and gaming engines have evolved, the virtual worlds created for games have expanded significantly. Realism has increased through better light and shadows, along with an improved representation of the physics of moving objects.

In parallel with gaming, VR is expanding into many other areas, including these:

Healthcare. Surgical Theater is working with UCLA, New York University, the Mayo Clinic and other major medical centers to use VR to help surgeons prepare for difficult operations. Virtual 3D models are constructed from MRIs, CAT scans and/or ultrasounds. These virtual models allow the surgeon to explore the site before the operation. The surgeon uses the model to locate tumors, explore injuries or identify other problems in order to plan the operation before the actual patient is anesthetized.

In Europe, stroke and brain-injury patients are using VR therapy during rehabilitation, to regain motor and cognitive skills. These tools permit individualized treatment plans that promote a higher “exercise dose” by using rewards, real-time feedback and other gamification techniques that increase engagement. MindMotionPro recently received the EU CE Marking, indicating that the product complies with relevant health, safety and environmental protection legislation and may be used throughout the EU.

Mental health. Meditation promotes mental health by reducing stress and anxiety. Guided meditation is now available on the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, the Google Cardboard and other VR headsets. The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies is testing virtual reality as a therapeutic tool for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder and other panic conditions or phobias. USC developed Bravemind to enable patients to relive their experiences in a controlled manner while their stress responses are monitored. Based on successful initial results, Bravemind is being tested by other leading medical centers.

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