The Oculus Rift, perhaps the most advanced form of virtual reality available today, won the Best of CES award at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. The Oculus Rift's enhancements for video gaming are obvious -- the headset puts you right in all the action and allows you to immerse yourself and interact with games in more ways than ever before. Instead of simply focusing on better graphics like other gaming consoles, the Oculus Rift finally augments the gaming experience entirely, creating an exciting new gaming device by taking virtual reality to the next level.
But while the headset has mainly served the gaming industry thus far, it has the potential to affect and even revolutionize a wide range of industries: the military, NASA, entertainment, movies, museums, fitness, and autos, to name a few.
A-5. Splash! B-7. You sunk my battleship!
Leave it to the U.S. military to take a high-tech toy and put all other uses to shame. In this case, we specifically mean the Navy, which has taken the VR headset and introduced it to Project BlueShark, the Office of Naval Research's answer as to how soldiers might better communicate on the battlefield.
And admittedly, press photos of individuals using the Oculus Rift highly resemble that of a Battleship game board.
The military always means business, and taxpayer dollars will of course go toward funding the Navy's new toys—but at what cost and what benefit? With Oculus Rift developer kits only costing about $300 (speculated less than $499 retail), integrating this technology into other military tech might not be nearly as expensive as some other projects.
And what could its use mean for the Navy and other branches of the military? It could mean keeping more soldiers off the battlefield and preventing the high cost of potential lives lost. This development has already caused a great stir in the virtual reality community, and military adaptation could mean big bucks for this growing section of the gaming tech industry.
NASA has recently released a video that depicts how the combination of the Oculus Rift and Kinect can come together to control a robotic arm called JACO in real time, providing a first-person view for the user. NASA has combined the rotational tracking of the Oculus Rift with the position tracking of the Kinect to create this first-person view. Thus far, it has been able to pick up blocks with ease, and it could become new technology for the Robonaut 2 humanoid on the International Space Station.
This could play a major role in the future of space exploration and the space industry, as it could enable NASA to explore the Milky Way in a way that promotes better speed and higher attention to detail. Higher funding for NASA could be restored as this device could give way to a whole new method of exploring the great beyond, and the government might begin to take even more of an interest once again.
The mind-bending gender swap
As for another tantalizing use, how about using the Oculus Rift to switch bodies with your partner? BeAnotherLab's Gender Swap experiment-meets-art-installation did just that, and it allowed wearers to see first-hand how others see the world around them through the head-mounted displays and synchronized movements.
First-person cameras affixed to the outside of the headset capture what the opposite partner sees, and the two headsets' screens switch camera feeds so that the user and performer can see each other through the other's eyes. Synchronized movements trick the brain into thinking that what is on the screen is what the other user is actually seeing and feeling.
The user can even experience the perception of someone speaking inside their mind as they listen to the other user's spoken thoughts relayed by headphones—all of which create a full "embodiment experience."
This could be a use that pays big bucks in the future, as the entertainment industry—and let's face it, the sex industry—would be all over providing such an experience to consumers the world over. This revolutionary technology could provide a whole new aspect of entertainment never before possible, injecting a fresh new experience that could then be adapted for any number of entertainment purposes.
Other non-gaming uses for the Oculus Rift
In addition to users feeling like they're inside a video game, they might also find themselves virtually inside a movie as well. The same method of the headsets' surrounding, interactive screens would be an incredible asset to the film industry, which has gone to great lengths to fund technology such as 3D and D-Box to make viewers feel like they are really a part of a movie.
Movies could be adapted, but more likely directors will turn to the virtual reality option when creating new movies to truly bring their scenery and action to life. These headsets could be introduced both in the home and in the theater, and they would have good reason to charge more per movie ticket or blu-ray (or whatever type of disc they may use in the future) and generate more profits that way. At least in the beginning, they may at least go for creating an immersive movie experience in the home if adapting these virtual reality-enabled films for the big screen proves to be too expensive.
What about having the Oculus Rift in museums? Instead of simply viewing an exhibit, wearers could find themselves inside the exhibit itself, virtually both seeing and experiencing the historical and artistic world around them firsthand. Thus, museums would be able to charge more per ticket, or for the experience itself, which would generate more money to fund more exhibits.
The Oculus Rift could also be applied to the fitness industry, which could create walking, running, or biking-friendly environments for its customers to participate in while they exercise. It could also use videos of virtual trainers instructing users from the comfort of their living rooms.
Ford (NYSE: F) has already demonstrated how the Oculus Rift could be applied to the automotive industry. While wearing the headset, users can feel like they're sitting at the steering wheel looking out the windshield. This can give auto designers a feel for the design of their vehicles in detail, such as their color, material, or finish, and provide the chance to edit them as they see fit to provide the best and most stylish driving experience.
And this is just the beginning.
More than 50,000 Oculus Rift developer kits have already been shipped at a price of $300 a pop, and retail for the headset is rumored to be anywhere from $300 to $500. While not confirmed by the company, analysts have predicted a summer 2014 release. Where the Oculus Rift is headed is limited only by the imagination, as its applications run the gamut and have the potential to revolutionize dozens of industries as we know them.
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Fool contributor Carolyn Heneghan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.