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5 surprising uses for VR

Today’s virtual reality (VR) technology is helping veterans ace job interviews, training police to deal with active shooters, and making fitness more fun. Here are five uses for VR that might surprise you.  

Climbing the virtual ladder

If you’re up for a promotion at your job, you might expect to meet with your manager and answer tough questions about your performance. But what if your employer asked you to don a virtual reality headset?

Qualifying for a promotion might mean donning a headset and showing supervisors how well you perform in stressful scenarios. Courtesy Walmart.

That’s just what Walmart, the US’s largest employer, has been doing for the last few months. Candidates experience a simulated store environment via the Oculus Rift VR headset. Then they’re immersed in scenarios such as resolving a customer conflict or given a limited time to choose which of multiple simultaneous crises to respond to first.

Walmart executives say it helps eliminate bias in the internal hiring process, by demonstrating which skills a potential hire actually embodies. Walmart also uses VR to train employees in new skills, gain confidence, and acquire empathy for customers. 

Protecting the vulnerable

In 2016, Florida police fired at an autistic man holding a toy truck because they believed it was a weapon. The man’s caretaker was wounded in the encounter as he begged the officer not to shoot. 

A virtual police officer lets people with autism practice responding to commands and staying safe in case of a real-life encounter. Courtesy Floreo.

Behaviors such as looking away or failure to respond to commands can make police encounters dangerous for people with autism. But researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Autism Research (CAR) hope that virtual reality training can give them the experience they need to practice potentially life-saving communication skills.

The Floreo learning tool, used in the study, was created by the parents of a young boy with autism. Technology is especially motivating for people with autism, says psychology professor Julia Parish-Morris, co-author of the study. But it’s not the end stage: The virtual training ends with a chance to practice with a real police officer.

Large scale training in small spaces

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is using virtual reality to train officers for active-shooter scenarios. Last April, around 200 NYPD patrol-level officers participated in a pilot test of 3D virtual reality technology developed by the company V-Armed.   

Preparing for the worst. NYPD officers train for active-shooter scenarios in crowded public spaces that can't accomodate a real-life rehearsal. Courtesy V-Armed ASB.

VR training allows officers to experience scenarios of varying complexity in locations that could not be used in real life. For example, closing the National September 11 Memorial in New York City to accommodate an eight-hour training for hundreds of officers is not an option.

Additionally, in a virtual scenario, the number of obstacles and people—both friendly and hostile—can be adjusted easily. This challenges trainees to think critically and prepares them for real-life events.

After the training, officers review a report and video footage with the instructor. They find out what they did right and where they could improve.

Life after the military

For veterans returning to civilian life, finding a job can be a challenge. Veterans are less likely to have a college degree, and their military training may not easily translate to skills valued in the current job market. In addition, the stigma associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may make potential employers wary of hiring someone who has faced combat.

<strong>Can you keep your cool?</strong> A hostile interviewer asks rude questions so veterans can practice reacting in a low-risk environment. Courtesy USC.Researchers at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies are using virtual reality to help veterans answer tough and sometimes offensive questions, such as, “Did you kill anybody?” that they may be asked in a job interview.

Interviewees don a headset and face questions from virtual characters that range from friendly to hostile. The hostile characters are openly antagonistic. They sound impatient, scowl, or even walk out in the middle of the interview. These encounters give the veterans a chance to practice reacting to a difficult person in a low-risk environment.

U.S. Vets, a Los Angeles nonprofit that assists veterans began using the technology in 2016. Out of the 37 vets who went through the VR interviews, 36 found jobs. 

Virtual fitness with real fun

Are you looking to get in shape but feel uncomfortable sweating beside total strangers at a gym? A VR headset and fitness game like Beat Saber or BoxVR could be the solution. 

<strong>Private boxer.</strong> If you prefer to exercise in private, virtual reality could be the answer. From swordplay to boxing, workouts are designed by fitness instructors. Courtesy FitXR.In Beat Saber, the player wields two ‘sabers’ using the motion controllers that come with VR headsets. The task is to rhythmically slice boxes of varying sizes and sequential complexities as they fly toward you.

Box VR, made by FitXR, places users in a virtual boxing ring and features workouts designed by fitness instructors. Players see cues for boxing moves like hooks, jabs, and uppercuts. Dodges and squats can also be added. FitXR co-founder Sameer Baroova says that people who previously saw exercise as a chore are using the game regularly to stay in shape.

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