Good luck trying to preorder the Oculus’ Rift. The virtual reality headset, priced at a hefty $599, is selling like virtual hotcakes.
And it looks like there aren’t enough hotcakes to go around for everyone to get their own taste of VR. Just minutes after the online gates opened for the Rift VR’s sale, Oculus changed the expected ship date for new orders from March to April.
Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, even tweeted that there would be “no chance” that Rift preorders would sell out. With newer orders getting later shipments, it looks like Oculus did just burn through its initial Rift stock.
For most consumers, shelling out nearly $600 for a headset (plus the cost of a high-end PC to run it) may seem quite an unreasonable buy. But new smartphones cost nearly as much, if not more, and VR may even usher in a new wave of communication technology.
The Oculus, and virtual reality technology as a whole, is as many experts and technologists predict, the future. Like every other disruptive technology, however, virtual reality can end up taking a toll on the human body. Besides the $599, there may be other prices to pay.
In an experiment conducted with rats, researchers wanted to see what would happen to their brains when they could no longer use smell and sound to navigate a virtual reality world. The results of their tests revealed that the hippocampal neurons had undergone drastic changes.
In the real world, hippocampal neurons are very active as our brains take in information from all our senses to create mental maps of our surroundings. The rats trapped in a virtual reality world, however, only used about half of their hippocampal neurons.
Of course, rats aren’t exactly humans, but there’s a reason why they’re used in experiments – their genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics closely resemble those of ours. But even within the human genome, virtual reality is picking favorites.
Our eyes make use of multiple forms of perception to see and differentiate between depth and dimension. Interestingly, sex hormones react on the eye differently between women and men. We literally see things differently from the opposite gender.
Women rely on what is known as shape-from-shading to react to what they’re seeing while men rely more on motion parallax. Unfortunately, computers (including VR headsets) rely mostly on displaying visual information through motion parallax. This could explain why VR makes so many women sick after jumping back into the real world.
Virtual reality, at the same time, can help humans overcome their fears. The technology has been put to use to allow patients’ first-hand experiences with their phobias – from bugs to heights to public speaking – to help them slowly but surely get over their fears.
Another way virtual reality could help humanity is in the way the technology can help build empathy in VR users by putting them in the feet of another person’s shoes. In one project, users lived through an episode of a homeless man living in Los Angeles who ultimately succumbed to a diabetic coma.
In another, French students recreated a scenario of being at the World Trade Center towers during 9/11. The experience in this harrowing virtual reality episode left viewers either suffocating from smoke or jumping from one of the two towers.
That’s how real virtual reality can actually get – it can bring users to tears or completely change their habits. As science fiction would have it, some of us may end up spending more time in VR than in the real world.
But whether or not fears over VR turn out to be overblown, such as those about microwaves causing cancer, we’ll soon find out. The long-term impacts of virtual reality are still virtually unknown.
As a brand new form of immersive technology, we simply just haven’t had enough human beings live in virtual reality worlds for a long enough time. Nonetheless, The Oculus Rift selling out so quickly may change all of that sooner than we think.