One Step Away from the Matrix: The New Normal of Virtual Reality

Post Authored by Natalie Elizaroff

Amidst a global pandemic and social distancing concerns due to Covid-19, more and more individuals are going online. Videoconferencing software such as Zoom and WebEx have become household names for businesses, educators, and even government officials. [1] As the demand for alternative software increases, Virtual Reality (VR) may emerge as a mainstream solution.

VR allows users to immerse themselves and interact with a 3D virtual environment by using a head-mounted display (HMD). [2] Although traditionally, VR headsets focus on delivering a visual experience, some companies have branched into full-body tracking which increases a sense of presence and experience. For example, the bHaptics Tactsuit and Teslasuit are options that provide fully wearable solutions that replicate real-life movements. [3]

Despite VR being commonly associated with video gaming, it has been used in medicine, aviation, and military as an alternative to live training in potentially dangerous circumstances. [4] Moreover, many companies are turning towards VR as a form of training to convey crucial skills and experiences to employees. [5] Corporations like Walmart, ExxonMobil, HP, and KFC have all utilized VR as an employee training supplement. [6] Joanna Popper, global head of VR entertainment for HP said, “[w]hen you are learning in VR, you actually have the experience of doing, opposed to just someone talking to you” which resulted in a 90% retention rate for an HP training program. [7] VR is appealing to businesses because it comes as a cost-effective solution that eliminates liability and accelerates training. Likewise, with Covid-19 as a continuing concern, educators can limit exposure while ensuring a holistic learning experience that features all the key components of in-person learning, but from the safety of one’s home.

VR has also been used for conducting presentations and hosting panelists. VRAR Chicago is an organization that brings people together using virtual and augmented reality technology. [8] Due to Chicago’s stay at home orders, the organization shifted to virtual meetings using VirBELA. They have covered VR/AR implementation for retail, manufacturing, hospitality, law, and other fields. [9] These virtual presentations have replaced the in-person component, but the virtual auditorium still draws a sizable crowd. The platform also allows for a more natural form of networking because participants can walk up to panelists or attendees and start up a conversation just as they would in person. Individuals without VR headsets do not have to be discouraged, because the software is standalone and works on Windows and Mac computers alike without the VR component.  

Similarly, VR could reasonably integrate into the courtroom. The first case to approve VR evidence was Stephenson v. Honda Motors. [11] Defense attorney, Dennis Seley, convinced the court that the visual component of virtual reality would help a jury understand the nature of the terrain over which the accident victim chose to drive her Honda motorcycle. [12] The court determined that the 3D VR experience was more informative, relevant, and probative than any other form of evidence. [13] Using the rider’s point of view, Honda recreated the scene of the accident, showing the rough terrain beneath the wheels and the speed at which she was traveling. [14] The jury sided with Honda, agreeing that the rider was going too fast for the conditions. [15] The potential is limitless, Marc Lamber and James Goodnow aptly state, “[v]irtual reality can do more than just transport jurors to the accident scene, it can put them in the car at ‘impact.’ The sense of ‘presence’ that VR provides has the potential to be a game changer in the practice of law.” [16] This has been particularly evident in the continued Nazi war criminal prosecutions. Bavarian State criminal office in Munich created a VR version of Auschwitz for viewers to examine the camp at practically any angle. [17] While emotionally taxing, the 3D model helps demonstrate the viewpoint of the person involved. [18] VR can make or break a case. As courts across the country pass orders allowing for remote hearings, VR could blossom to be the future of court proceedings.

VR has a lot of potential both inside and outside the courtroom. As people become more desperate to return to normalcy, VR may just be the new normal needed for people to reconnect and explore the possibilities of technology. 

[1] Carla Babb, US Military, Government Workers Still Use Zoom Despite FBI Warning, VOA (Apr. 10, 2020), https://www.voanews.com/silicon-valley-technology/us-military-government-workers-still-use-zoom-despite-fbi-warning

[2] Chris Woodford, Virtual Reality, ExplainThatStuff! (Jun. 5, 2020), https://www.explainthatstuff.com/virtualreality.html.

[3]Sam Ochanji, Top 5 Haptic VR Devices Set to Launch in 2020, VR Times (Feb. 23, 2020), https://virtualrealitytimes.com/2020/02/23/top-5-haptic-vr-devices-set-to-launch-in-2020/.

[4] Joe Bardi, What is Virtual Reality?, Marxent 3D Commerce (Jul. 03, 2019), https://www.marxentlabs.com/what-is-virtual-reality/.

[5] Id.

[6] Meira Gebel, Why Virtual Reality will be a Must-Have for our Socially Distanced Future, DigitalTrends (May 5, 2020), https://www.digitaltrends.com/news/virtual-reality-zoom-coronavirus/.

[7] Id.

[8] VRAR Chicago, www.vrarchicago.com/.

[9] Id.

[10] Jeffrey A. Dunn, Virtual Reality, Venable LLP (Jun. 1994), https://www.venable.com/insights/publications/1994/06/virtual-reality-full-article.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.  

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Bruce Kaufman, The Next Frontier for Virtual Reality: Courtrooms, Bloomberg Law (Nov. 18, 2017), https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/the-next-frontier-for-virtual-reality-courtrooms/.

[17] Marc Cieslak, Virtual Reality to Aid Auschwitz War Trials of Concentration Camp Guards, BBC News (Nov. 20, 2016), https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-38026007.

[18] Id.

About the Author:

NatalieElizaroff - Headshot

Natalie Elizaroff is a 2L at UIC John Marshall Law School. She is the President of the Video Game Law Society and Secretary of the Intellectual Property Law Society. Prior to law school, Natalie graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Biology from Loyola University Chicago. Natalie plans to take courses in U.S. Trademark Law and U.S. Patent Law and hopes to work in the Patent Clinic in the upcoming year.

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