Holodecks, you know, those incredible training areas in Star Trek (that were WAY underused by the way), aren’t just a piece of science fiction any more. In the 21st century we call them virtual reality simulators…though honestly, holodeck is easier to say. Regardless, the technology is growing closer to what we always saw on TV in reality. To put some definition to the name, a virtual reality simulator does just what you think it’d do, simulates reality without actually being where you “think” you are, by any means possible. This results in an area that is free of what many would consider harmful consequences, and allows for training or experience one could not otherwise receive.

Virtual Reality Simulator Holodeck
Captain Janeway and the Doctor – Star Trek Voyager

Current Virtual Reality Simulators

Today, true virtual reality simulators look something like a floating ball that is housed inside two bars that look like a gyroscope, or maybe even like a blue spaceship. Military pilots can sit down in the “cockpit” of a jet and turns on the monitors, showing him takeoff then simulating the flight itself. From the inside it will move according to how he flying. On the outside it just looks like a weird ball with two orbiting bars around it. Now admittedly these more immersive simulations are incredibly expensive. Let’s say we’re not astronauts or jet pilots (though we want to be).

Stuff We Can Use

Commercial virtual reality simulators have taken a massive leap in just the past five years. The Kinect has brought virtual reality right to your living room, where you can raft down a stream, or just hit a couple balls with friends in tennis one afternoon. Take that up a notch, and you’ll find Microsoft trying to expand on the virtual reality simulation idea with their Illumiroom that displays your reality on the walls as you play, simulating the environment that you are in. I’ve read reviews that say its just plain overwhelming, but it’ll improve with time. Even more immersive are the glasses built by Oculus Rift that will give you a complete 360 view and visual experience. Want to take a walk along the beach? Strap these goggles on, and just watch where you step, because the dog isn’t going to like it if you step on him!

Oculus Rift VR Headset
Oculus Rift VR Headset

Future Simulators

So that’s where it stands, but where could it go. Well, just go watch an episode of Star Trek and find out. Or step outside and look around. Yep, that’s where it’s headed. That bridge down the road a couple miles? It’ll have been built and tested inside of a virtual reality simulator. That sign that dictates what trucks can weigh over the bridge? Virtual reality simulated, yep. Military’s could test how soldiers react in combat scenarios, doctors could practice open heart surgery, and more.

A downside would be that people might go into virtual reality simulators and not want to come out. But that’s a problem we’re going to have to face anyway, given trends. Maybe they’ll just boot you off the server sometime. I mean…somebody’s got to do jury duty.

Additional Applications

Practical uses include things like training for military or commercial use. Gaming with a more intense experience than we are already used to. Immersive rooms could be built for specific simulations and you could have anything from war games to jaunts in the woods. Research in fields where you want to test something as comprehensively as possible before release. Engineering that requires you make something and “test” it. Business could use to have new virtual reality conferencing, maybe from the comfort of your own home.Movies experienced in entirely a new way. Imagine the combination of having “people” acting out the film all around you.

Wrapping It Up

So, virtual reality simulators are cool, and they have a lot of potential. Are they a household item yet…almost. But not quite there. Just keep your eyes open for it to happen in the next few years!