West, a quarterback at William Jewell College,
demonstrates running plays while wearing a virtual
reality headset on June 22, 2015, at the Mabee
Center on William Jewell's campus in Liberty, Mo.
CITY, Mo. — You slip a smartphone into a pair of
clunky goggles and place them on your head. The room
around you dissolves and you’re standing on a grassy
field behind a lineup of football players. You hear the
time to play football.
the football players look more like video game
characters than real people. And you’re not physically
running on a field, nor do you have a football in your
hand. Those goggles, a lightweight virtual headset, are
your only equipment. You control the play with your
eyes, deciding when to snap and where to throw.
virtual reality program — which some call VR — is
not a video game. It’s a football training tool.
this technology, you can do four plays in a minute.
Cool!" said Brendan Reilly, CEO of Eon Sports, a
Kansas City startup company that produces the training
players work on mental reps in this simulation rather
than engaging in physical play, this simulation could
also lower the rate of injuries, including concussions.
football software is among a tidal wave of VR programs
being developed for introduction to consumers in the
next year. The military already uses VR in some training
exercises, but the technology has potential uses in
other areas, such as entertainment and home improvement.
Architects, for instance, can create life-size virtual
models of buildings rather than relying on traditional
companies gathered at the recent Electronic
Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles to show off
their products. A few are being sold already, such as
the $200 Samsung Gear VR headset, compatible only with
Samsung smartphones. Other devices and programs are
still in production as developers put on the final
will begin selling its virtual reality headset, Vive by
Valve, by the end of this year, and Oculus will follow
suit with the Oculus Rift in early 2016. Sony is
expected to release its own headset, Project Morpheus
for PlayStation 4, around the same time. Prices have not
been announced for these devices, but analysts predict
they’ll be more than a few hundred dollars.
RISE OF VIRTUAL REALITY
Reilly was a graduate assistant in 2010 to then Illinois
State University basketball coach Tim Jankovich, the
coach joked that he would fire him if he didn’t turn
his idea for a VR sports training system into reality.
Reilly graduated with a master’s degree, headed to
California and became the CEO of a joint venture of Eon
Reality and Eon Sports.
Reilly, who grew up in the Kansas City area, is back in
town. Eon has created Sidekiq software that trains
football teams with programs ranging in price from $39
to $999. He delivered his first product last year and
has sold programs to almost 1,000 consumers, high school
teams and college teams such as UCLA and Ole Miss.
had no idea how scalable this was going to become,"
Reilly said. "Five years in virtual reality land is
like 50 in the real world — it’s like dog years. It’s
been crazy to watch this industry evolve and grow."
the past few years, increasing numbers of established
companies and startups have turned to VR. At the E3
conference, companies touted virtual reality as the
imminent next step in gaming technology. Whether it
catches on with consumers, though, is unclear.
everyone’s going to want one," said Brian Blau, a
research director in personal technologies at Gartner.
everyone will want one immediately, at least.
reality programs are now directed toward hard-core
gamers, a demographic that skews heavily toward
millennial males. In addition, more sophisticated VR
programs require a game console, which not everyone has.
isn’t the first time virtual reality has caused
ripples of excitement in the tech community, nor is it
the first time doubts have surrounded its success.
Twenty years ago, scientists and gamers were overflowing
with the hype surrounding virtual reality, but that
anticipation eventually ebbed. The technology simply
hadn’t caught up with the grand ideas.
time around, developers feel optimistic that
technological development has finally aligned with the
ambition of the 1990s.
Facebook reeled in Oculus, one of the biggest fish in VR,
with a $2 billion acquisition in March 2014, the deal
sounded a "bugle call" for the industry, said
Skip Rizzo, a research professor at the Institute for
Creative Technologies at the University of Southern
California. Oculus had humble beginnings, raising money
from donors online. But under the ownership of Facebook,
Oculus now hopes to push VR into the mainstream
the Oculus-Facebook deal, "companies and devices
began popping up everywhere," Rizzo said. "It
was like the Wild West."
startups will continue to appear in the next two years,
which Rizzo predicts will yield both wreckage and
prices start high, but Rizzo is convinced that costs
will drop in the next few years, especially with virtual
reality applications that rely on mobile devices rather
than expensive, bulky consoles.
will have a headset in their home," Rizzo said.
"They’ll be like toasters."
IN THE MARKETPLACE: THE DESERT OF THE REAL?
everyone is convinced of the toaster theory.
virtual reality, developers are making a very big
leap," Blau said. "Developers may make killer
apps that draw people in, or they might not."
Wong, a product analyst for Mashable, said: "I’m
not sure if people want to put these goggles on at home.
It’s a very isolating experience."
total immersion in a world that occupies most of the
users’ senses could lend itself to previously unseen
Kopper, director of the Duke Immersive Virtual
Environment at Duke University, is concerned with how
people make sense of their physical surroundings in a
you wear a head-mounted display, you don’t have your
own body," he said. "In the physical world,
your body is an anchor, and you lose that in virtual
reality. How do you re-create touching your leg in
one of many big questions VR researchers must confront.
Simulation sickness is another. While many users’
senses are occupied by the virtual world, other senses
are left behind in the physical world. This discrepancy
can cause a motion sickness similar to the feeling of
reading a book on a bumpy train.
are investigating sometimes unexpected ways to combat
simulation sickness. Scientists at Purdue, for instance,
found that adding a 3-D nose to VR programs reduced
symptoms of sickness.
sees more potential for VR in commercial industries such
as marketing or engineering.
has already pointed to VR’s advantages in the medical
field, Rizzo said. Once interactive intelligent agents
— virtual characters — are advanced enough to
respond like people, surgeons in training may be able to
practice procedures with these characters. VR
simulations could also be used as a way to distract
patients from painful procedures, possibly becoming an
alternative to pain medicine.
may also benefit from advances in virtual reality.
a student struggles with conceptualizing the atomic
structure, for instance, he could plop on the headset
and be immersed within a virtual atom.
companies sell, developers invent and gamers play, one
philosophical uncertainty looms over the industry: How
will virtual reality alter human interaction?
a tricky question.
interaction in virtual reality is a double-edged
sword," said Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford
University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. "On
the one hand, networked avatars allow us to ‘be with’
anyone, anywhere, anytime. … On the other hand, as we
rely more and more on virtual interactions, the very
nature of what it means to be social changes."
media powered by wireless connections have already
transformed certain types of communication. Several
researchers say virtual reality is just another medium.
since it will engage more human senses, there is the
potential for more problems," Kopper said.
"People might not be inclined to socialize as much.
They might get drawn into the VR simulation."
Whittinghill, an assistant professor at Purdue, isn’t
convinced. He predicts that simulation sickness will
limit how long one person can stay within a virtual
world. In that sense, real life is still more appealing
than virtual life.
many virtual reality developers, though, the utility of
VR technologies outweighs the risk of uncertain
in Kansas City, Reilly had trouble containing his
excitement for the possibilities of his company’s
dream is that I’m a kid in Seattle and I’m playing
against a kid in Kansas City. And we’re on our own
physical fields playing these holographic guys," he
said. "That gets my geek juices going. And it’s
becoming more and more realistic."
REALITY VS. AUGMENTED REALITY
companies are also playing with augmented reality,
which, although similar to virtual reality, has its
reality immerses users into an entirely reconstructed
world. Further, users have the ability to interact with
reality blends virtual life and real life. Developers
can create digital images — something like holograms
— that blend in with the physical world. Users can
interact with these digital objects.
biggest name in augmented reality is Microsoft HoloLens,
which shows users holograms within the real world.
HoloLens is still very much in its prototype phase,
though, and consumers won’t see it on the market for a
REALITY AS SEEN THROUGH … CARDBOARD?
has already introduced its own virtual reality headset
that won’t burn a console-size hole in your pocket.
The headset is called Google Cardboard, and it’s just
that — a device that connects some of the most
advanced technology with one of the world’s most basic
headset is delivered to you as a sheet of cardboard,
which you then fold up like a piece of origami. Strap in
your smartphone and voila! You have a fully operational
VR headset ranging in price from $15 to $32.
the worst VR experience you can try," said Raymond
Wong, product analyst for Mashable.
certainly doesn’t reach up to the technological
heights of Oculus Rift or even the Samsung Gear. But for
the curious and impatient who don’t have a ton of
cash, it’s a start.