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The dystopian world that has been created by COVID-19 is causing us to be stressed out. In order to maintain social distancing we are being deprived of the activities that help us keep physically and mentally healthy. However, we could all come together to have our social life back without having to compromise physical distancing with the help of virtual reality (VR) technology. Especially for people like healthcare workers, factory workers and delivery persons, where it is risky for them to be with their family due to their line of work. Even our playgrounds, classrooms and office spaces need to come back to life. Watching films like Ready Player One in times like this makes us wish that we could escape into the virtual world of “The Oasis” like Wade Owen Watts (the protagonist). There is hope though. For the past couple of decades, we human have progressed immensely in the field of VR technology and it is possible to create The Oasis in real life now. Virtual reality may not be reality but it can sure help us “escape” from our anxieties.
In order for this to happen, there are a few hurdles to overcome. The technologies that are required to create such a world exists but in isolation. There are VR headsets available in the market, like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive, which have come a long way in making the technology more usable and less disorienting for the user (a common problem plaguing the VR technologies for many years). Half-Life: Alyx, a VR game, is now playable as a first person shooter and is available in the consumer market while IKEA and Alibaba are experimenting with VR shopping. Microsoft with their HoloLens is attempting to augment virtual classes and offices to the real world. Companies like KAT VR are manufacturing Omnidirectional Treadmill which allow users to perform 360° locomotive motion in the VR worlds. Even, there is a complete digital world accessible online called Second Life that have been running since 2003. Moreover, other technologies like LiDAR and computational powerhouses like that used by Google Stadia can make the virtual worlds more realistic. Bringing all these different companies and their technologies together, as well as making broadband internet available to all, can make “The Escape” a reality.
All of this is possible, affordable and accessible only if we as a civilization make social development a priority rather than economic development; a healthy society will help maintain a healthy economy. Since it is hazardous for the health of the society to work and socialize together during this pandemic, the world economy is being decimated which will cause even more social and individual deterioration in the long run. If Epic Games can provide their world building engine, the Unreal Engine, for free for non-commercial use, then what is preventing us from making the technologies and the accompanying software platform required for “The Escape” available for personal use at an affordable cost for all?
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