Author: Jeslyn Guo

Have you ever seen what appears to be a chunky pair of sunglasses and wondered: how is this virtual reality? Or perhaps you have tried on a virtual reality headset or device and been instantly transported inside a video game or on a tropical vacation. Today, virtual reality is almost everywhere. It is readily available for consumer purchase, yet it is also used in world-class facilities for education, training, and treatment.

Simply put, virtual reality (VR) leverages computer technology to create a visual environment similar to the real world. By implementing computer science to duplicate what humans see, hear, touch, sense, and even smell, virtual reality can immerse a user inside a digital environment. Depending on the level of technology, users can interact with digital objects and experience real-time simulated interactions. While virtual reality has a variety of benefits, some common applications are in medicine, business, and education.

I recently attended a talk given by Dr. Valerie Taylor who works at Lehigh University to use virtual reality to improve interracial interactions. By integrating not only computer science and engineering but also psychology, social psychology and data analytics, she is able to conduct meaningful research about the role of race in STEM fields. This is an example of the far-reaching impact of virtual reality and how it goes beyond games or simple simulations.

The benefits of using this virtual world are especially prevalent when it comes to education, treatment, and therapy. As virtual reality becomes cheaper to produce and is more widespread, it has made its way into classrooms and into the hands of students and teachers. By using VR, students can better understand difficult concepts and engage in a multitude of activities to identify a passion. It has been studied and proven that learning in a virtual reality environment leads to significantly higher rates of retention and enjoyment. With treatment and therapy, often VR is used to help people overcome phobias such as public speaking or heights. Sessions produce realistic scenarios where people must face their fears and are aided through exposure therapy and a relaxed environment to eventually overcome these fears. Because virtual reality is, after all, virtual, it is a controlled, simplified, and stable environment for a person to be trained in.

Surgeons can practice innovative, life-changing surgeries before stepping into the surgery room. Companies can train employees in soft skills like communication and interaction without needing to go through awkward and flawed training sessions. So how can virtual reality be used for cybersecurity? While the intersection between the two is still on the rise, virtual reality can help organizations promote cyber awareness internally. Training employees in cybersecurity is an essential way to stay safe, yet it seems there are a growing number of concerns that must be addressed and managed. By using virtual training, employees can retain knowledge about security at far greater levels than traditional training and can make fundamental behavioral changes in security.

Virtual reality is taking off and is projected to be an integral part of transforming our lives in the future. In education, medicine, and especially cybersecurity, it is sure to change how we operate for the better.