Remember when you thought wearable tech like fitness trackers and Google Glass were revolutionary? Now, simply wearing your tech isn’t enough—devices involved in virtual reality are the ones getting all of the attention.
The central concept may not be new (VR has technically been a work-in-progress since the 19th century), but tech startups, professional sports teams, universities, and social groups are bringing virtual reality to new levels here in Arizona.
The world’s first virtual city was built by Phoenix game development studio TimeFire VR, who combined realistic imagery (see IKEA in the background below) with dreamlike virtual characters (think dinosaurs and robots) to create the ultimate VR experience. The city, called Hypatia, allows users to socialize with one another via audio and text, attend virtual events, fulfill various career roles, and explore landscapes while “finding delight along the way.” Hypatia is also fully customizable, making it a center for endless creativity and discovery.
But virtual reality isn’t only capable of bringing one’s dreams to life. It’s also a valuable tool for professionals from various fields: in this case, the Arizona Cardinals, who have used VR for training since August of last year. The team—along with several other NFL, college, and even high school entities—uses STRIVR, a VR technology that allows players from all positions to “practice” football by simply standing in a room. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians says the technology is particularly helpful for players who are looking to up their game “without sweating.” Though quarterbacks benefit most from STRIVR, everyone on the team can improve just by thinking through their plays in a virtual, resettable environment.
Major Arizona universities are having their share of the fun, too. Don’t worry—VR lectures aren’t a thing yet—but they’re eliminating prospective students’ and online students’ need for travel when they want to become more involved in their respective campuses. The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University offer campus tours through YouVisit, a platform on which schools, businesses, and travelers can share experiences through virtual reality. Arizona State University provides virtual tours of select museum exhibits, like Basketry Treasured, and supports sixteen computing and engineering professors whose research surrounds VR technology.
The innovation doesn’t stop there. Local groups like AZVR meet up regularly to “change the way people look at the world” through workshops and hack sessions surrounding virtual reality tech. These Valley entrepreneurs, developers, engineers, and content creators get together on an irregular basis and host online discussions to help inspire creativity and generate new ideas. Locals can join via the link above; newer VR enthusiasts can simply view AZVR’s equipment recommendations via their newbie page.