From virtual doctors’ visits to planning a holiday: 4 ways virtual reality can improve your life

Virtual reality isn't just for games. Your VR headset can take you to far-flung places, show you round your next home or ease the stress and pain of medical treatment.

Thanks to its virtual worlds and completely immersive feel, virtual reality is usually associated with gaming, but it has many uses outside of the world of games.

From helping with your doctor’s appointment to helping you move house, here are four ways that VR can improve your life.

[Read more: A parent's guide to virtual reality gaming]

Get healthcare in the comfort of your own home

VR doctor

While virtual reality can't replace the doctor just yet, it can work alongside traditional healthcare on a range of conditions.

VR apps like OnComfort can offer clinical care to help reduce stress, anxiety and pain using virtual reality experiences. It can be used during, before and after treatment to manage anxiety and pain symptoms using hypnosis-based techniques.

VR is helping to shed light on all kinds of conditions too. A Walk Through Dementia puts you in the shoes of someone with dementia, so you can see how it complicates seemingly simple tasks like nipping to the supermarket. If you’re worried someone close to you could be developing dementia, it will help you understand what they’re going through and plan the treatment accordingly.

It's early days for VR health apps, and you shouldn't put off a visit to your doctor. But it's an exciting start for what could be the future of healthcare.

Tour a new home in a virtual showroom

VR house plan

They say that getting married and moving house are two of the most stressful events in any adult’s life. While VR can’t help with the former yet, it can with the latter. Sadly not by helping you pack and move all your possessions, but by helping you find a house in the first place.

Instead of traipsing round rainy streets or being driven around by an estate agent, you could take a virtual tour of the house from the comfort of your own home. Imagine, no hanging around waiting for estate agents, no finding out they have the wrong set of keys… in fact, maybe no estate agents altogether.

While at first these tours will likely take place in an estate agent’s showroom, there’s no reason why, before long, you couldn’t be taking one from the privacy of your own lounge.

Some companies are already doing it, though it’s limited to high-end homes vendors like Deltec Homes and Sotheby’s International Realty at the moment. But like all these kinds of innovations, expect it to filter down to the rest of us soon.

[Read more: What is virtual reality?]

Travel the world without stepping out of the front door

VR tourist

Planning a holiday? Your research doesn’t have to be limited to grainy tourist photos and reviews on TripAdvisor. Virtual reality can take you all over the world, dropping you right in a completely immersive version of the place you want to visit. This isn’t science fiction – it’s happening right now.

Apps like Boulevard drop you into museums and cultural sights in England and San Francisco – it even hands you a virtual tablet on which you can read about the place and listen to an audio guide. Gala360 lets you explore shots from professional photographers in VR in locations as varied as Hawaii and Yosemite National Park.

Ascape, meanwhile, focuses on experiences, be it the Star Wars parade at Disneyland Hong Kong or reindeer racing in Norway.

Don’t have a VR headset? You can get the next best thing by watching location videos in 360 degrees on YouTube (you’ll need a compatible web browser) or exploring in Google Maps in 360 degrees. Just don’t forget to book your holiday so you can experience it for yourself in the flesh…

[Read more: What are Google Cardboard virtual reality glasses?]

Help you fix your broken appliances

VR repairs

Repair cafes are growing in popularity at the moment. These are drop-in sessions (often in a church hall or car park) where experts teach you how to fix broken items like bicycles, radios, torches and so on. But VR could bring the repair cafe right into your home.

Imagine: you strap on your VR headset and see a set of instructions appear over your real-world view of the item in question. This uses augmented reality (AR), which is like virtual reality but doesn’t block off your view of the world around you. Instead it superimposes virtual elements – like graphics and text – onto that view. Think the mobile game Pokemon Go.

This isn’t pie in the sky, either. Logistics workers already use AR headsets to help navigate warehouses and find items.

It’s coming for the rest of us too. In a recent demo for its new HoloLens 2 headset, Microsoft had testers fix an all-terrain vehicle using only the instructions given through the headset. You’ll be a dab hand at repairs in no time.

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