From Lockheed Martin to the National Science Foundation, government entities and private companies showed off a diverse set of new applications for virtual reality technologies in the SXSW exhibition hall.
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Virtual and applied reality technologies, which just a few years ago started showing up at SXSW at a trickle, have now arrived at the conference en masse.
In fact, it’s almost hard to walk through the exhibition hall without someone asking if you want to check out a black hole, learn to drive a forklift or fly some sort of aircraft.
Two of the larger VR applications on display at SXSW this year came courtesy of the ACLU and Accenture. The ACLU for its part had a popup installation in which participants had a chance to take a virtual walk through interactive exhibits about immigration, voting rights and other topics relevant to the group’s work. Accenture, meanwhile, is hosting a panel Tuesday about the diversity of use cases for VR/AR, as well as its potential.
Here are five other interesting uses for VR/AR we found in the exhibition hall at SXSW.
One of the most obvious uses for the technology is in training personnel to do jobs that are either complex or too dangerous to just hand off the keys and say, "Good luck.” Take for example, the VR equipment used by Raymond forklifts to familiarize workers with the heavy machinery. The immersive technology allows a trainee to get behind the “wheel,” and raise and lower the fork without ever moving from the training platform — or endangering anyone else.
At the National Science Foundation booth, visitors were able to chart the path of a neutrino from earth to the deepest, darkest parts of space — also known as black holes. Augmented and virtual reality has become an increasingly promising proposition for teaching as the technology becomes more accessible and interactive.
One of the tools that promises to advance search-and-rescue operations is augmented reality. At the Lockheed Martin booth, visitors could take a trip to Mars or check out the latest prototype military helmet, which offers a heads-up display. Staff at the booth say the kit is still in the works and would need military input before being battle-ready, but to a civilian's eye, it doesn’t look like it’s too far off.
The technology also seems to have substantial promise in getting humans to work smarter. At the Kuka installation, a robotic arm was being controlled remotely (by a trained professional), but it gave a nod to a future in which humans literally work remotely, controlling devices via headsets and the like.
We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the amazing things being done with VR and AR just for the fun of it. Drones flown by a groups of pilots zipped around the Lockheed Martin installation as proof that the future may be a lot of things, but it won’t be boring. Video games and computer simulations are also getting more realistic and less glitchy as the technology advances.