Asia Spearheading Investment in Virtual Reality Technology
Snapchat Lens. Ikea Place. Pokémon Go. These augmented and virtual realities (VR) have become some of the most popular tools in today’s technology-driven world. Over the last decade, their quality has drastically improved; and today, they immerse a spectrum of users, from consumers entertaining themselves to scientists conducting research. China and South Korea have invested heavily in VR, and it is evolving their economy and their workforce.
South Korea’s investment in virtual reality opens a range of possible advancements in other sectors. In February 2017, the government opened the Korea Virtual Reality-Augmented Reality Complex (KoVAC) in Seoul. Divided into two sections, the Digital Pavilion offers VR experiences and displays virtual reality shows. South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning aims to establish an education center in the Pavilion to train over 2,200 VR users. The second section, the VR support center, will be used for research and development and assist start-up companies to “develop content that can be used on the latest VR devices and applications.” The overall goal of the KoVAC is to promote the development of virtual reality so it can be applied to other sectors of the government.
The potentialities for VR in those sectors are already being tested. For example, virtual reality has been used in education to enhance the material taught in marine biology. An app immerses learners into 360° scenes, adds layers of audio and visuals, and provides interactive scenarios. In a case study, researchers found that learners enjoyed their experience more when they were interacting within virtual activities. By engaging students in the material, the VR app engages students better than traditional teaching methods.
Virtual reality could also be applied to other educational experiences. For instance, a medical student might use VR to simulate performing a surgery. VR would allow the student not only to see the muscle they needed to cut, but also to experience the amount of pressure needed to make an incision. This type of hands-on training would provide students surgical experience without the need for physical resources or risks.
Similar to KoVAC, VR arcades have been popping up in China. Over 3,000 VR arcades operate throughout the country, and more than one hundred exist in Shanghai alone. Some of these arcades are in downtown apartments or malls and allow the general public to visit. The arcades allow users to test equipment and content before committing to a purchase. According to Eva Yoo, the Wow VR arcade in front of the Changshou Road metro station charges 35 yuan ($5.21) for a thirty-minute weekday VR session. In comparison, The Edge VR Arcade in Wisconsin costs about $20 for thirty minutes of VR, and The Rabbit Hole VR in Tennessee charges $25 per player for thirty minutes. Despite the fact that the average income near the capitol in the US is significantly greater than that in China, the percentage difference between VR arcade prices (332% increase) is higher than the percentage difference between salaries (293%)—thirty minutes at a VR arcade costs less in China than it does in the US, even after the cost of living is taken into account.
China’s lower VR prices may be due to the government’s investment in it. In 2016, the Chinese government planned to invest approximately $593 million in virtual reality, whereas the US government has largely ignored the technology. As more investments are put into VR and the entertainment industry, it can be made more affordable for the public. Similar to the complex in South Korea, investing in VR would also encourage developers to expand virtual reality and its applications in the entertainment industry.
The virtual reality and augmented reality market is expected to surge within the next several years and eclipse $109 billion around 2021. Countries in Asia, specifically China and South Korea, are expected to become global leaders in virtual reality within this time span. As they continue to invest in VR, they will develop more complex content as well; and, as these advancements make virtual reality more dynamic, VR will permeate their societies. It soon might be hard to differentiate seeing from believing.