by Tom Kuster, CMI Executive Director

I can almost guarantee that anyone who had the experience like I had would not easily forget it, and would feel compelled to ponder its meaning for a long time. Because the implications are profound, on numerous levels.

I’m talking about the few minutes I spent in that bare black room, wearing the goggles and earphones, holding two sticks in my hands, and experiencing real virtual reality in the CARISMA lab at Michigan State University – Brian Klebig’s project. You can take a look at the lab and its capabilities in this video:

Brian “dressed” me with the equipment, then went into a side room, did some magic on his computers there, and instantly I found my self standing on the deck of a sunken 18th-century sailing ship, dozens of fathoms under water. I could watch the schools of fish swim by. I could walk to my right, over to the railing, and look down into the abyss below at the edge of which the ship was teetering. And then, when I looked over my left shoulder, there it was: a huge whale swimming up alongside the shipwreck, stopping right in front of me with its eye looking me over top to toe, and then, apparently finding me uninteresting, swimming off into the distance.

With the flick of a switch or the press of a few buttons (I couldn’t see which), Brian suddenly rescued me from underwater and plugged me instead into Google Earth. On the virtual “wall” before me was a menu of world heritage sites from which I could choose. I passed by the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal and chose Florence, since I had actually visited there. I found myself floating a few hundred feet above Brunelleschi’s red-tiled dome of the Duomo. Using the sticks in my hands, I maneuvered myself down to street level, and walked along between the Duomo and the Baptistry of St. John, with its gilded-bronze Ghiberti doors. Before I could make my way to the Ponte Vecchio, I was whisked away again to the…

Clearly I was “carried away” – albeit only virtually. This was real VR, in which I could move around, and interact with the environment, not just the 360-degree movies some have called virtual reality. The experience convinced me that VR had passed the “only a toy” stage, and deserved to be taken seriously as a major new component of our culture and civilization.

You’ve seen hints of this already, I am sure. In this morning’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune appeared an ad promoting events being planned around the upcoming (and unfortunately Viking-less) Super Bowl. One of them was a virtual reality event, promising those of us who choose not to afford the $1800-average ticket for the real event a chance for a mere $35 to experience virtually what it will be like to be in this – and other – NFL games. But that is still VR as a toy, as entertainment.

More serious applications are already emerging. Here are a couple of recent news reports.

Here is the headline of a New York Times video: “Brains, Hearts and Heroin Addiction: Medicine in VR – Addiction treatment, heart surgery and brain research are just some of the areas where virtual reality is helping to improve traditional approaches to treatment and training in medicine. Step inside a human heart or experience addiction treatment in VR.”

In a recent Minneapolis StarTrib:  “VR helps seniors cope with depression, anxiety, Minneapolis center finds. A test program has yielded promising results at Ebenezer Care Center.

Clearly not just a toy any more.

Now, how to harness this technology for the Lord? Brian wrote something about that a year ago.

More to come.