Virtual drugs, cars and changing rooms: what could VR and AR bring in 5 years?

Virtual reality has many possible applications (Credit: iStock)

Virtual reality has many possible applications (Credit: iStock)

If you have tried a virtual or augmented reality program, the chances are it has been a videogame. From the burgeoning console VR market to the breakaway hit that was Pokémon Go, many people might think of the developing technology as a novelty which could soon become a major entertainment source, but entertainment nonetheless.

However, at VR World in London this week, everyone from space scientists and football clubs to drug designers and motion capture experts were out to show how much more the technology can do. Our reporter Joseph Flaig visited to find out what we can expect to start seeing – as well as hearing and maybe even feeling – in five years’ time.

  • Medicines designed in VR. Scientists could use VR programs to design and test drug molecules in 3D, flipping and testing them alongside models of molecules inside human cells, said Jonas Bostrom, a drug designer from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Despite admitting the technology is “not good enough yet,” he told Professional Engineering that it could start being used in three or four years. Programs will offer unique new perspectives for scientists and bring them closer to their finished work, he said, adding that they will mainly be updating existing drugs for cancer and diabetes.
  • Virtual changing rooms at home. In five years’ time, awkwardly waddling to the changing rooms with an armful of clothes only to find that none of them fit could be a thing of the past. Robin Coles from HSO said retailers could embrace the technology, allowing customers to “try on” clothes in their own homes using VR headsets or seeing the clothes on a 3D-scanned personal avatar. The clothes could either then be delivered or held in a store, he said.
  • Companies feeding customers information directly to AR headsets. Simon Kendrew from new energy company Engie said AR programs on future headsets or glasses with in-built displays could help engage customers with their energy use, offering up-to-date information on their usage and how it could be adapted in line with conditions such as weather and power demand. It could become “part of their experience within their home,” he said, “giving them the right information at the right time in an easy-to-digest and seamless fashion. I think that will open up a lot of possibilities, probably not in the next couple of years, but certainly as we start to look, three, four or five years and beyond.”
  • Feeling as well as seeing. More haptic feedback – recreating the sense of touch through vibrations or other movement – is needed in the mainly sight-and-sound based programs, said technologist Alby Miller from Transport Systems Catapult. Speaking at the Five Years From Now: The Enterprise of the Future panel talk, he said many aspects need to be combined for a program to become truly immersive.

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