In recent years, the huge advancements in virtual reality have made us rethink what possibilities still await us in this lifetime. VR already has many applications, but it will only take up more space as we go forward. Aside from its uses in fields including gaming, real estate, automotive, and engineering, one potentially game-changing application for VR is in diving.
The sport requires a lot of commitment because of the gear expenses, physical challenges, and traveling involved. Dedicated divers invest in high-quality equipment, from finding a durable HD underwater camera to a 39 mm diver’s watch for sale. And that’s just in addition to fins, a suit, and a compass.
VR training gives interested beginners a more accessible way to dip their toes into this activity. But how far have we gotten towards using VR to teach people how to dive? The simple answer is: not that far yet.
How Far Are We into VR Diving Today?
The major simulations available today are primarily visual and auditory experiences that replicate the wonders of the ocean. The likes of National Geographic, BBC, and even diving organization PADI now have 360 video series to virtually transport viewers to undersea destinations that they may not have visited yet.
The virtual underwater simulations we have today are great for tourism purposes. For eager tourists who want to know what to expect before visiting certain places, these 360 videos are a smart way to get to know the waters beforehand.
While these visual simulations help give people a feel of what it is like to be underwater, it is still limited. It is not as immersive in that only the eyes and ears are fully engaged during a VR experience. These are not enough to teach learners proper form and technique while diving.
The good news is that there has been progressing in this area. In 2016, students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a program called “Amphibian,” a VR scuba simulator that mimics the sensations of temperature, buoyancy, and drag using a platform, harnesses, sensors, an Oculus Rift headset, and headphones.
Still, VR technology has a long way to go before it can include serious dive training among its capabilities.
What VR Developments We Need for Dive Training
We need more than visual and aural simulations to effectively use VR in dive training. Just as the “Amphibian” project did, innovations must simulate diving conditions such as undersea temperatures and water drag. This helps beginners understand how their underwater actions affect their diving experience.
Helping simulate these experiences outside of the water can be a safer and more comfortable method for new learners to familiarize themselves with diving. This way, they do not face any real risk factors, unlike when they practice their skills in a pool or open water.
How Haptics Can Help
Achieving better simulation involves haptics, or technology that stimulates the senses through touch. We encounter this most often today through our smartphones, as they often vibrate or shake when we interact with their features.
Companies such as bHaptics are one of the leaders of this today. Some of their products are vests, sleeves, handguards, and haptic foot devices that simulate the physical feeling of whatever activity you are using the gear for. Today, though, the prices of these items range from $149 to $549.
The TESLASUIT is another example that uses haptics to simulate physical scenarios with its full-body suit. While it boasts of better haptic feedback, its advanced technology may mean it costs significantly more than other haptic products in the market. There are currently no public prices on their website.
With such steep price points for haptic suits and gear today, it is reasonable to believe it will take a while before the technology is widely used, including for dive training simulations.
The Possible BCI Approach
Brain-computer interface is another approach, although it is understandably controversial. When you use noninvasive BCI to simulate a VR scenario, a machine interacts with the neural system and measures brain activity, usually through EEG.
That is the “noninvasive” approach, but semi-invasive and invasive methods also exist. Semi-invasive BCI implants electrodes on the surface of the brain through surgery, while invasive BCI requires the insertion of a device directly on the brain. These are still held back due to issues about ethics, so semi-invasive and invasive BCI is not likely to take flight any time soon.
Virtual reality has a long way to go before we can realistically use it for dive lessons. Still, recent innovations offer a lot of promise for the future of diving.