After years of false starts, the technology is finally sophisticated enough to deliver on its promise to help us forget where we are and allow us to experience things we never thought possible. But as the first generation of virtual reality devices from different manufacturers starts hitting the market, what are the implications for enjoyment, productivity, social interactions, man-machine-interfaces, and health? How will opportunities within these areas help create a preferable future for both VR brands and their customers?

From rehabilitation to virtual robotic surgery, from field trips to Machu Picchu to empathy-building experiences, from enjoying Henry the hedgehog to creating your own magic with Tilt Brush – healthcare, education and media and entertainment are emerging as the areas where VR can have a clear positive impact. But how much more fun would a school trip to Mars be if the kids could see their classmates and interact with them while they are there? Having just created an amazing Tilt Brush artwork, wouldn’t it be great for a kid to be able to make eye contact with her dad to see how he approves? As VR helps us to develop empathy for people afar, will it at the same time numb us in understanding and sharing the feelings of the person next to us?

“Artefact presents two VR headsets that could feasibly exist by 2020– and the medium never looked so promising.”

With Shadow, the computer and battery are built into the hood and shoulder cloak, untethering the user from cables (and reality). Immersion extends beyond sight – it incorporates the sense of sight, hearing, and touch. Sensors in the arms, hands and body bring the experience to a new level of ultra-immersion. For the hardcore gamer, inclusion is meaningful primarily in the context of a shared gaming experience. Eye tracking enables Shadow to detect the user’s emotions, which can be reflected through a virtual avatar or using displays within the mask that mimic the user’s eyes.

It allows the user to stay connected not only to the virtual reality but to her environment and the people around her. A front facing camera allows the user to “see” what is going on around her, while a shareable mode gives them a chance to show others the content they are experiencing. Light connects wirelessly to other devices, letting others share the experience on a phone or a larger screen. Sound is transmitted through adjustable bone conduction audio system that allows the transmission of ambient sound. Ease of interactions is key for this concept– from putting on the lightweight device, to switching modes – everything is designed with the social user in mind.

No technology is inherently good or bad. VR has been called the “church of our imagination” by some and “virtual insanity” by others. Whether or not it becomes more than an addictive trap that insulates us from each other is within our control. And while I doubt I will ever dispel my grandma’s fear of tuning out the real world, it is my duty as a grandson, a father and a designer to try. To dive deeper into our process and the ideas we explored, or to find which headset is right for you, check out the VR Demystified project on 10,oooft.