File this under “Topics Most Likely to Have Been a 1980s Sci-Fi Movie Plotline”: A 26-square mile real-life Sim City is currently under construction deep in the New Mexico desert, designed to test new technologies on a grand scale. Before you pack your bags to become a sim character yourself, you should know that the city will be unpopulated and heavily wired for data collection, creating what will be the world’s biggest technology testing facility.

What this project really highlights, however, is the comeback story of 2015: The Resurgence of Virtual Reality. Enjoying its moment in the sun at the turn of the century, virtual reality has dipped out of popularity. Applying virtual reality to something other than video games and chat rooms has brought the technology to the forefront of innovation once again, and as eLearning professionals, we’re all for it.

Virtual Heyday

It was the year 2003 and Second Life was the game du jour. Online, you could create an avatar, interact with other plays, and create an entire fantasy persona using simulations. Still, one can imagine why Second Life went the way of Myspace and Friendster: It lacked a secure aspect. Anyone could walk right up to your avatar and initiate contact, which limited the personal control aspect of the game. Perhaps players weren’t ready for the ramifications of virtual reality as a daily occurrence, and today Second Life, while still functional, is more geared toward business applications; think virtual trade shows and private worlds for corporate social networks.

There are a bevy of theories behind why Second Life and virtual reality fell off the tech radar; some simply believe it was the result of overexposure for technology that wasn’t ready. Still, the recent resurgence into new applications for virtual reality is shining the spotlight on simulations once again.

Simulate This!

Virtual reality isn’t just for games anymore. New applications for simulated scenarios highlight just how virtual reality can be used for testing tech, teaching employees, and yes, even having a little fun.

Consider this: A medical student, learning about a new procedure, has the chance to practice his or her stills using a simulated cadaver before trying the real thing. Another student can access a hologram of the human body to better understand the cardiovascular system. It sounds new-age, but virtual reality tech is making better care possible today.

Another heavy hitter in the virtual reality arena is BMW. By outfitting mechanics with VR eyewear, the technician can superimpose an engine block over the one he or she is repairing. The simulated image helps the technician better pinpoint what is wrong and regulates the level of repair quality.

New technology means virtual reality can be better controlled and adapted for professional use. From med school to military bases, the applications for utilizing simulations for practice made for safer, more exhaustive training. Today’s virtual reality may not be as entertaining as Second Life, but VR’s second chance is a definitely a life-changer for L&D pros.