Skip to main content
Move the World.

Virtual reality headsets became a thing in 2016, with every big tech company — from Facebook to Google to HTC — committing big bucks to headsets like the Occulus Rift, Daydream, and Vive. But even with all that investment, the VR market is still essentially an extension of the PC video game market. For VR to make the leap from recreational gadget to transformational technology, we’ll need to, well, need it.

Here are four market segments where VR could gain a momentous foothold.

Helping busy people stay healthy

Between family and work obligations, many Americans can’t spare several hours a week to spend at the gym. Cyclists and other outdoor exercise enthusiasts face similar constraints, not to mention inclement weather and long travel times to good riding and rowing spots.

But what if we could get a workout that was both physically taxing and psychologically satisfying without ever leaving home? A workout that brought the best of the outdoors into our living rooms, while giving us the impression that we were some place thrilling? Indoor cycling company Zwift has demonstrated that people will do more indoors if you give them something to look at and a sense that they’re not just spinning their wheels, while Coreyak, a VR kayaking program that runs on multiple VR headsets, has raised thousands on Indiegogo since launching earlier this month.

**Training better doctors**

Medical students in the United States get their first hands-on experience not with living patients, but dead ones. Yet even though the cadaver lab is considered an essential training technique, the global expansion of the healthcare field has created scarcity in the cadaver market — which isn’t really a market at all, because schools can’t pay for the bodies. In response, some schools have introduced the use of virtual reality to familiarize students with human anatomy.

Medical experts aren’t convinced that VR will (or even should) fully replace cadaver labs, but that hasn’t stopped software developers from trying to match the cadaver experience with headset-ready anatomy programs. And proponents of VR medical training point out that the software allows for far more repetition and individual exploration than one-time use bodies that are often worked on by groups of five or more students.

**Communing with nature**

It might sound counterintuitive to suggest that plugging into a computer is the best way to experience natural beauty, but it can certainly make for an excellent supplement, as a group of London artists demonstrated this year. The Treehugger: Wawona exhibit allows visitors to go inside a sequoia tree, getting an intrinsically rare glimpse into how these ancient giants absorb and circulate nutrients. “By making the invisible visible” the exhibit’s creators hope to instill a sense of stewardship for rare and endangered forests.

**Experiencing a world that would otherwise be out of reach**

I might go to Mt. Everest in my lifetime. I might go to Antarctica. But unless I win the lottery, I doubt I’ll be able to afford both. Most people can think of dozens of things they’d like to do but can’t afford to. By importing far-away, high-dollar experiences to where we are, at a price we can afford, volumetric virtual reality — like the kind being developed by 8i — could offer a cure for the FOMO imposed by economic reality.

Up Next

Future of Cities
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
Future of Cities
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
The world is facing a massive build up of waste. But this solution of recycled roads may pave the way for a cleaner future.

A recycled road has been paved with asphalt that contains the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of plastic bags, along with thousands of glass bottles and printer cartridges’ worth of waste toner. In addition to the sheer amount of recycled materials the process will divert away from landfills, these longer-lasting roads also help to reduce the carbon footprint of construction.

How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
Watch Now
How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
An indie book store went from struggling to thriving with a new business model. Is it the future of retail?
Watch Now

Borderlands Books is the largest English-language sci-fi, mystery, and horror book store in the world. Mission: Comics and Art is a combination comic book shop and art gallery. Both were preparing to close up shop in a tough retail environment as costs rose. Alan Beatts called a community meeting of his customers. A new idea came out of it - selling store memberships. After an outpouring of support, he sold hundreds of...

Funding Health Care with Coffee
Funding Health Care with Coffee
Watch Now
Funding Health Care with Coffee
What if your daily coffee helped save a life?
Watch Now

Pheo Coffee isn’t your everyday coffee company — it’s paying for critical medical treatments in developing countries. Founder and physician Larry Istrail saw that millions of people worldwide were suffering because they couldn’t pay for basic medical care — while in America we're drinking millions of cups of coffee a day. He decided to make a difference by starting a coffee company whose proceeds would go toward creating a...

Teaching Engineering with Dirt Bikes
Teaching Engineering with Dirt Bikes
Watch Now
Teaching Engineering with Dirt Bikes
This teacher is using dirt bikes to help Baltimore's kids learn STEM.
Watch Now

Baltimore’s kids are obsessed with dirt bikes. Some people think that's a problem, but teacher Brittany Young is using dirt bikes to get kids into engineering and STEM education. Her organization, B-360 Baltimore, aims to use dirt bike culture to help end the cycle of poverty, disrupt the prison pipeline, and bring together communities — while giving dirt bikes a better reputation. Dirt bikes are a controversial issue in...

Challengers
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
Challengers
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
8i takes video and converts it into virtual realities that are nearly indistinguishable from real life.
By Mike Riggs

8i takes video and converts it into virtual realities that are nearly indistinguishable from real life.

Challengers
Five Insights: Ryan Petersen on Tackling Problems That Feel Too Big to Fix
Five Insights: Ryan Petersen on Tackling Problems That Feel Too Big to Fix
Challengers
Five Insights: Ryan Petersen on Tackling Problems That Feel Too Big to Fix
Flexport's founder discusses the personal and business side of building an ambitious startup.
By Mike Riggs

Flexport's founder discusses the personal and business side of building an ambitious startup.

Challengers
Building a Better School System
Building a Better School System
Watch Now
Challengers
Building a Better School System
A highly-personalized experience could be the foundation for the future of education.
Watch Now

Everyone wants America’s education system to do better. Ex-Googler Max Ventilla has a radical idea for how to make it happen. Ventilla’s AltSchool is building a highly-personalized education experience that gets better and cheaper as more students use it.

Challengers
Dr. Leslie Dewan on the Future of Nuclear Energy
Dr. Leslie Dewan
Challengers
Dr. Leslie Dewan on the Future of Nuclear Energy
We dive into the viability and future of nuclear energy in the U.S. and around the world with Leslie Dewan, CEO of...
By Mike Riggs

We dive into the viability and future of nuclear energy in the U.S. and around the world with Leslie Dewan, CEO of nuclear power startup Transatomic.

Challengers
Four Crazy Ideas From the Golden Age of Nuclear
Four Crazy Ideas From the Golden Age of Nuclear
Challengers
Four Crazy Ideas From the Golden Age of Nuclear
For a couple decades people thought nuclear power was the answer to pretty much everything. And they came up with...
By Mike Riggs

For a couple decades people thought nuclear power was the answer to pretty much everything. And they came up with some ideas we’ll generously call visionary.