The idea of fully immersive, realistic digital environments that can allow you to get completely lost in another world or a gripping narrative (or both) is incredibly enticing. Interestingly, Virtual Reality (VR) technology doesn’t seem to cause as much unease amongst the general population in terms of possible negative impacts on human society as other emerging technologies do, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) or widespread robotic automation. Part of the reason for this may be because VR tends to be viewed as a new technology primarily for entertainment purposes.
Indeed, in the minds of many, VR is closely associated with entertainment, in particular video gaming. Most of the major gaming/computing giants, as well as many smaller gaming SMEs, have experimented with VR technologies over the past decade, some with more success than others. Admittedly, the technology is still in its infancy – VR games today make up a small percentage of game releases and in no way can VR be considered ‘mainstream’ yet. As the gaming industry is now larger than the film industry in terms of total revenue, innovation will definitely still come from this sector over the next few years.
But we must also emphasise strongly that VR and its technological siblings, Augmented Reality (AR) and Extended Reality (XR), offer extremely practical real-world benefits that could enhance our lives in more ways than simply entertaining us. From trainee surgeons learning to do open-heart surgery in a completely safe VR environment, to virtual exhibitions that have helped museums ride out the pandemic, and realistic VR avatars that help us to do our online shopping, the possibilities are endless. The idea that VR isn’t just a technology that solely caters to individual whims but can also have valuable social benefits on a wider scale is also being explored by researchers – for example, VR environments could be used as a neutral staging ground to build intergroup trust and reconciliation following conflict or deep political polarisation.
The projects showcased in this month’s special feature have all been funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and they highlight both the entertainment and practical sides of the VR coin. The EU strongly supports the growth of a world-class European VR sector, due to its potential to really transform our lives and the exciting employment and growth opportunities it offers.
Other topics in this edition include the following highlights:
- A 1-hour test to diagnose children with fever
- How do international courts develop international criminal law?
- High-voltage storage could soon move from the margins to the mainstream
- Bridging the climate innovation gap
- Digitising Europe’s forests with the help of satellites
- New microwave microscopy platform spurs development of high-quality semiconductor materials
- Deep learning transcends the edges of our imagination
- Eyes and ears everywhere to protect Europe’s ports
- Measuring and understanding the Earth’s wobble with greater accuracy
The Research*eu magazine is the main source of information for all findings related to EU-funded science projects. It covers a large spectrum of scientific topics and is published 10 times per year in English (and online in five additional languages).
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