Gone are the days when virtual reality (VR) was seen purely as a gaming tool with few other applications. There are dozens of ways in which to use this technology, with many people coming up with ever more creative ways to utilise VR to help a host of people.

The Edinburgh Evening News recently reported on how the technology is being used in a hospice to help patients who are receiving palliative care.

In a trial scheme, six patients at St Columba Hospice in Edinburgh were given the opportunity to travel using VR. They could choose to visit a place that they had been before, or to go somewhere entirely new.

It’s a fascinating way of using travel VR services to deliver tangible benefits to people. The Interactive Initiative, which is the project being run by a university, will assess the impact of offering travel VR experiences to hospice patients. Researchers will look at how it affects people’s mood, stress levels, pain and wellbeing.

One resident of the hospice chose to go to Jerusalem, a place they had always planned to visit.

Meanwhile, a 101-year-old resident at the hospice decided to take one ‘trip’ to Darjeeling to revisit her childhood home, as well as another to go on a ‘journey’ along the Amazon River.

According to the news provider, the experience “triggered happy memories with the opportunity to reminisce about old times, as well as enjoying encountering new places”.

Dr Erna Haraldsdottir, director of education and research at St Columba Hospice, told the newspaper that residents found the experience “liberating and exciting”, whether they were going back to a place associated with fond memories or revisiting an activity they once found exhilarating.

She also stressed the importance of researching how this impacts patients’ mental and physical health, given that there is “little evidence of VR being used in palliative care with no published research which identifies its potential”.

Dr Haraldsdottir commented: “We are particularly keen to learn if VR sessions have the potential to alleviate symptoms in patients receiving palliative care, such as pain and anxiety.”

Five of the six patients who were involved in the pilot scheme described the experience as positive. One said that she became upset when she realised she would never be able to visit her favourite place again, although added that it had helped her come to terms with her situation.

This isn’t the only example of VR being used as a therapy to help improve people’s mental wellbeing. The Big Issue recently reported on a project being led by Daniel Freeman at Oxford VR, whereby the technology is being used to help people cope with mental health problems.

He explained that there are a number of ways in which VR can be utilised in the field of mental health care. His company is pioneering the use of virtual therapists and one area where they’ve seen particularly positive results is in helping people to confront their fears.

Mr Freeman said that because you know you’re in a virtual environment, even though all of your senses are telling you there’s a perceived danger, you’re able to act differently than you normally would when faced with your fear. Behaviour changes in the VR setting can then be transferred to the real world.

If you’ve ever studied history, or even taught it, there is no doubt that you’ve dreamed about watching historical events unfold right before your eyes. It’s one thing to read about it but to be able to live it could be a revolutionary advancement for both teaching and tourism. In fact, more people might start using VR services to travel to iconic moments in history.

The Wall Street Journal reports that companies and tourism websites are looking to harness the potential of virtual and augmented reality technology as “a way of immersing travellers in history when they visit notable locations”.

Andrew Feinberg, chief operating officer and co-founder of TimeLooper commented: “There’s an element missing from traditional exhibition design. It was practically impossible to put these people in these moments. We wanted to know what it was like to stand on top of the Great Wall and keep the Mongols from taking Beijing”

Now imagine being able to watch the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the Russian Revolution, Margaret Thatcher’s appointment as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom or even England’s triumph in the 1966 FIFA World Cup? Each one of these events has immense value to either educational teaching or a truly unique tourism opportunity.

Of course it is important to question how these types of services, when they become increasingly popular, maintain historical accuracy? This question is not being overlooked at all, with it being placed at the forefront of the discussion. TimeLooper, for example, says that it has collaborated with local museums and historians to make “depictions as authentic as possible”.

Most people visiting another country will want to learn more about different cultures and events in history. They might even take the opportunity to visit a museum and find out something they might not have known about. Companies that are using this technology won’t take all the business away from museums. In fact, the latter should no doubt be taking more notice of VR’s capabilities.

Museums could look towards a long-term investment in the technology to elevate people’s experiences, providing a fantastic way to create an engaging, immersive part of a tour that they might offer to the public. While there is no doubt that the tech could be expensive, museums would easily become more appealing to schools.

According to the Herald, parents have raised concerns about the expense of sending their children on school trips that cost up to £4,700 for countries like China, Peru and Borneo.

Professor Lindsay Paterson, who teaches at the University of Edinburgh, commented: “Enabling children to experience leadership is a good thing but what you might doubt is whether you need to go to the other side of the world to achieve it.”

The focus on expenses does return to the division between working and middle-class students that are able to afford these kinds of trips. However, VR is offering an alternative that combines both teaching and tourism into one package.

We all know that it’s getting harder and harder to grab the attention of consumers in today’s world of constant connection and instant information. Naturally, brands are looking at how to use new technology to get ahead in the race for customers’ attention.

And VR could well provide what you’re looking for. A recent article for Content Standard explained that using VR is about “serving as the centrepiece for a truly immersive, engaging experience”.

The best way to do this is to use VR as part of a dedicated event, where your customers come to you rather than you trying to break through all the distractions in their own home.

According to the news provider, it’s about more than just providing people with a VR headset that shows them some beautiful video. While this is an important component of the VR experience, you also need to include some interactive elements in the experience.

In a retail setting, VR offers the ideal way in which to help customers visualise their purchase in their lives. This can be particularly helpful for companies selling big-ticket items, like new kitchens or bathrooms.

In travel, it’s also a brilliant way to transport people to part of a destination, giving them a flavour of what’s to come if they book that package and commit to jetting off at some point in the future. Travel VR services could be particularly effective at a travel show or event where you’re going to be trying to engage a wide audience with your offering.

If you’re worrying about how you’re going to develop this kind of experience, don’t. An article for Business In Vancouver recently pointed out that being able to develop your own in-house VR experience isn’t practical - you should outsource this specialist work.

However, what you do need is to be “open to using the technology, conversant with study cases of successful implementation, and ready to experiment”.

By embracing VR in your marketing efforts, especially at this relatively early stage in the technology’s development, you’ve got a real opportunity to stand out from your competition.

The key to VR is engagement and making sure that whatever content you produce for your customers to enjoy, it engages them.

Content Standard pointed out that one of the main benefits to using VR at an event where you can set the staging is that you can engage people across all of their senses. That can include everything from temperature changes and smells, to touch and even taste.

The website cited Boursin’s Sensorium as a great example of how to do this well. The cheese manufacturer gave people a VR headset to take them on a journey through a virtual fridge. Moving furniture, cool air, product samples and smells were all used to great effect to make this a highly immersive experience.

However, the key is in controlling the entirety of the environment. That means that this kind of use of VR is only really possible at events where you can control every element of someone’s surroundings - this kind of experience doesn’t translate to homes. Not yet, anyway.

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