A wave of user-friendly devices is making the technology an attractive research tool.
By Davide Castelvecchi
Devices that have slashed the cost of virtual reality, and transformed its performance, have implications for scientists as well as gamers. Researchers who are experimenting with the head-mounted displays say that they have the potential to find widespread use as a research tool.
Virtual reality (VR), which lets users experience a computer-generated, three-dimensional world, has produced recurring waves of hype since the 1980s — but this time could be different, says Mel Slater, a computer scientist at the University of Barcelona in Spain who has worked in the field for two decades. Thanks to technologies originally developed for smartphones and video-gaming graphics, the performance of these headsets is now comparable to that of high-end devices that cost tens of thousands of dollars. They are sophisticated, affordable and user-friendly enough to become a staple of research labs, says Slater, rather than tools available to only very few researchers.