Virtual reality will be the next major computing platform, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is doing all he can to prove it. Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014 is Zuck putting his money where his mouth is. And while the company is making huge waves in the gaming industry, there’s another market where its head-mounted VR display, the Oculus Rift, is looking to innovate: healthcare.
Take engineering student Jennifer Patterson for example. She used the headset to create virtual settings, such as a Middle Eastern-themed city or desert road, to test soldiers with scenarios they would otherwise feel pressure to avoid. Patterson’s hope is that doctors and therapists around the world take the time to study and better understand how virtual reality can provide a powerful and unique approach to helping soldiers recover from PTSD.
Virtual reality is no recent revolution for medicine or therapy. Medical professionals have used simulators for years. The difference here is that, in many instances, what used to cost $30,000 to $300,000 is now only $350 to $400. The significant decrease makes experimentation not just more cost-effective but available as well.
This doesn’t mean the more high-tech headsets will disappear altogether. They’ll still be necessary for more complex treatments or severe patients, at least for now. Doctors remain hopeful and excited for VR’s cheaper future in the field.
“As more and more companies get involved in this, we will keep seeing inexpensive and very accurate systems,” said Dr. Felipe Medeiros, a UCSD professor who used the Oculus Rift to evaluate the responses of glaucoma patients as they “moved” through a simulated tunnel.
Oculus has already gained strong ground in a market that’s figuring itself out. Companies like Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google have released, or are actively developing, virtual reality headsets, but it’s unconfirmed whether they have intentions to compete in the healthcare tech field.
They certainly don’t have the numbers. None have come close to the 100,000+ units Oculus has distributed as part of its development phase, and the market leader has made itself easily accessible to researchers and developers by allowing them to create their own software. This has earned it early brand recognition with the medical research community, which, while no financial estimates have been assigned, could prove lucrative.