How close are we to full immersion virtual reality?

For many in the gaming sphere, the idea of using virtual reality (VR) can be quite exciting. However, for many, the large investment cost does not pair up with the admittedly limited capabilities of most VR gaming systems. Listen to those within the industry, though, and they will tell you that the next big innovation is only a few short steps away. Some even claim that ‘full immersion virtual reality’ is just around the corner. Is this true? How close are we to full immersion virtual reality?

For many, the idea of fully immersive – or ‘full-dive’ VR is something that feels straight out of fiction. For example, the likes of The Matrix and even the popular 2009 anime Sword Art Online helped to popularise the idea. Some see the idea of being able to immerse our brains in a world, with our brain signals operating every part of the game, as incredible. More skeptical minds, though, believe we are many years away from this being even slightly possible.

Indeed, some also worry about the potential for real-life consequences. For example, in Sword Art Online, when someone dies, the games designers could even kill off the host player in the real world. Dying in the game meant dying in real life. The Matrix had a similar idea – if someone died within the VR system, they would likely die in the real world.

Given many of us today enjoy a more isolated lifestyle, the idea of having something so immersive is appealing. It could help us to go and visit locations – albeit virtually – we could never afford to reach in person. It could help us take on tasks, enjoy gaming at a new level, and even educate ourselves. 

However, the technology simply is not here yet.

How close are we to full immersion virtual reality? Not very

Tools like full-body tracking and haptic feedback are being more common today – albeit at very minimal levels of performance. VR headsets today provide some form of full-body tracking, but they lack the sensory feedback that would be required for a true fully immersive experience. Haptic feedback is the same – you might be getting sensory feedback in modern games console control pads, but not actually in a suit. We are a long, long way away from that being possible.

The idea of a full-dive VR experience is many, many years away. Take something like Ready Player One, another popular movie built around the concept of VR usage. That was set in 2045. If we can reach where they are in that film within a 23-year span, that would be quite impressive.

The technology is improving and developing at a rapid pace, that much is certain. However, the level of improvement needed on what we have now versus truly fully immersive VR is quite a distance away. We do not expect that to be something that happens for a long, long time.

VR tech is still in its infancy for many uses. Sure, video games like Half Life: Alyx show a big improvement over VR games from even two, or three years ago. However, we are miles away from reaching the level of fully immersive VR seen in media.

Being able to properly feel, and interact with, a virtual world is something for the long-term future. These are ambitious, highly exciting aims. They are also simply beyond the limits of the hardware that we could produce today. Testing and development is ongoing, for sure, but we are highly unlikely to see anything like the VR systems seen in the media suggested above.

It will be many years until you can feel the sand between your toes or the sharp pain of a kick to the ribs in a VR setting. This is an experience that, whilst it sounds highly exciting, is not something people should be expecting to see developed and readied in the near future.

The future looks exciting – but the future is not here, not yet 

So, how close are we to full immersion virtual reality? Not very, to be honest. This is something that will develop over time. Eventually, the hope is that we can do everything from driving lessons to safety training through a fully immersive VR system. Whether we see that this side of the 2030s or not, though, remains to be seen.

Technology can make some pretty incredible jumps in a very short space of time. Fully immersive virtual reality, though, could be a step that is simply too far to leap towards. Given the potential benefits, it is easy to see why people want it now. With the associated potential risks, though, it is also easy to understand why are approaching such an idea with relative trepidation.