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20 Jul 2017VR THE CHAMPIONS


Many of the big tech companies are hoping that virtual reality becomes big business in the near future. But while the technical impressiveness of what can be achieved using VR these days is impressive, the practical aspect of having what essentially amounts to a sight-blocking helmet on your head to use the technology is slowing things down a bit. Interestingly, one of the areas that is seeing some success with VR tech is the travel industry.

Booking a holiday at a high street travel agency used to be an exercise in flipping through brochures, staring at pictures of almost identical hotel pools surrounded by artificially blue seas and skies. In some cases the reality doesn't reflect the brochure. For example, if the cameraman taking the photo of that villa in Majorca had turned just fractionally to his left, you might have seen the construction site for the hotel complex being built next door. Or that the artfully taken shot of the distant beach next to the hotel is in actual fact hiding a swamp between the two. But VR gives you the opportunity to simply strap on a headset and show you the whole picture. That's what Thomas Cook have begun to offer in their stores, and it's making a real difference. Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships are doing something similar, making sure their guests have a proper look at the ship they're going to be cruising on.

It's not just hotels and cruise ships that are getting the VR treatment, but tourist attractions too. At numerous attractions around the UK, people are finding that VR is incredibly useful, not just as a hook to draw curious tourists in, but also as an educational tool. For example, you can download an app that takes modern Edinburgh 500 years back into the past, so that you can see what the area you're currently standing in looked like at that time. Of course, with the ‘reality' being 'virtual', there's no need for you to be anywhere near the place in question – as is the case at Dublin Airport's The Loop shopping area. Here, you can take a 3 minute tour of the Walsh Whiskey Distillery, seeing where and how they distill their whiskey.  Or at the Tate Modern gallery in London, you can take a VR tour of early 20th Century Paris and see how the world at that time influenced painters such as Modigliani.

Of course, some people do take things a bit too far. In the early days of VR, one of the most effective environments that really gave you the feeling of 'being there' was experiencing a rollercoaster ride. But Seaworld in Orlando is probably the only place where you can wear a VR headset while ON a rollercoaster. 'Kraken Unleashed' blends both real and virtual to create a unique underwater adventure where you're pursued by dinosaurs and giant squid while being subjected to g-forces on the rollercoaster.  If that all seems like a bit much, is too far away or expensive, then there are low-fi alternatives available – such as this adorable video of a father's workaround alternative to a trip to Disneyland.