This week is a big week for the technology world, as thousands upon thousands of professionals, enthusiasts, journalists and vendors descend upon Las Vegas for the biggest technology trade show in the world – the Consumer Electronics Show, better known as CES. The 52nd iteration of the show, run by the Consumer Technology Association since 1967, the expo looks to be no different from previous years, bringing together a pretty fantastical array of kit to show off to the world. Though companies looking to make a splash might exhibit some fairly outlandish tech that’s unlikely to ever hit the shelves, a fair amount of it will be with us in the near-future.

It’s historically a hardware show, and it still is at its core, but it’s much more than that now. And, as some observers have noted, the gap between hardware and software is growing ever smaller as platforms become more important. Though there are what we might call traditional technologies gathering a lot of the attention – Samsung’s micro-LED modular TVs, for instance – there is something for everyone. As the folks at Techradar have pointed out, the venue is truly massive. It’s literally miles from one side to the other, with 24 product categories spreading across 2.75 million square feet of exhibition floor space.

But in one hall – Tech South – visitors can find an area dedicated to virtual reality and augmented reality. There, delegates can see pretty much all of the latest technology in these areas, and how they’re being applied. Visitors like tech reviewer Raymond Wong can try these out to their heart’s content, shooting imaginary enemies that they can see before their eyes, riding virtual roller coasters, or exploring vivid virtual reality worlds. But it’s not all fun and games. As we’ve looked at before, a lot of virtual and augmented reality’s promise does not necessarily lie in wacky and novel “fun” uses – instead, the technology is proving vitally useful in commercial settings.

And the companies involved clearly recognise that, with ZDNet reporting on a collaboration between VRHealth, a “healthcare technology company specializing virtual reality solutions and data analysis”, and AARP Innovation Lab. The idea, ZDNet says, is to “use sensors and VR technology to enable remote health monitoring”. VRHealth’s “telehealth platform” is available in the Oculus store.

Care in the Virtual Reality community

This is something discussed on this blog before, but worth going into more detail on – the role of VR in healthcare. In a way that was probably not expected at the advent of the technology, this seems to be the industry in which it’s having the biggest impact. A Wired article expands on this hypothesis. As its author notes, much of the popular view of VR and AR is around the fanciful and somewhat “hype”-filled use cases that we see – those that tech reviewers may sometimes be guilty of compounding. But this is what Wired has to say on the matter: “As VR moves closer to mainstream adoption, however, the possibilities for using the technology in actual treatment and care are beginning to emerge.

“We’re already exploring how “VR Therapy” can support conditions from visual impairments to autism. In 2019, we will see this technology become a valuable digital therapeutic in helping treat cancer patients and people with mental illness, and we will reach a tipping point in its use and acceptance in healthcare.” The cut and thrust of that article is that the technology is having an impact in the here and now.

At the same time, governments themselves are constantly bigging up the effect that technology can have in healthcare. The UK government today released its 10-year plan for the NHS, and a key part of that is to bring the organisation kicking and screaming into the 21st century – and with it a wealth of efficiency savings.

The cross-pollination effect

Coming back to CES, another big deal was announced recently; a partnership between Audi, Disney, Marvel, and a startup called Holoride, which, as The Verge puts it, is looking to spice up your Uber ride by strapping you into a VR set in the back seat. This, perhaps, is much more up the alley of the original visions of VR; escaping to other worlds while travelling, immersing ourselves in games in our spare time – more of that, and less surgeons practising for vital operations or helping Alzheimer’s patients.

But perhaps the two ends of the spectrum are inexplicably linked. As the technology gets used for “fun” applications like that put together by Audi et al, more money will get put into it, the technology will improve, and things will get ever-better for the patients benefiting from smart uses of headsets. It’s sometimes referred to as cross-pollination, and it means that maybe, a video game designer might be saving a life.

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