InTrans / Mar 31, 2017

Driving the future: The cons of virtual reality

Go! Magazine

Crowd with VR gogglesposted on March 31, 2017

We are in the Information Age, also known as the Computer or Digital Age, defined as a period of our history characterized by the shift from industrialization to computerization in our economy and culture.

In this new age, with each passing day, technology advances around us. Virtual reality (VR) simulations get more realistic, artificial intelligence gets smarter, and machines can perform more tasks than ever before.

In a world that so readily revolves around technology, we must stop to ask ourselves: What are the drawbacks?

Virtual reality, a growing commodity of the digital realm, is helping to solve problems within the world of transportation and elsewhere. That said, there are some serious concerns when it comes to virtual reality, including health and safety concerns, privacy concerns, and general technical issues.

Health and safety concerns

Many VR systems come with a list of health-related consumer warnings that include things like seizures, developmental issues in children, trip-and-fall and collision warnings, discomfort, repetitive stress injury, interference with various medical devices, and general symptoms similar to motion sickness.

Virtual reality sickness or “cybersickness” is when a users’ exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms similar to motion sickness—like headaches, nausea, vomiting, sweating, fatigue, and general disorientation. A number of undesirable side effects can be symptoms of prolonged virtual reality use, depending on the person.

Security and privacy concerns

The physical symptoms of virtual reality are just skimming the surface when it comes to the drawbacks of virtual reality. Consumer use of VR systems can be rife with security and privacy concerns, due to tracking requirements.

Spending time in a virtual world
Spending time in a virtual world. Photo from Flickr user Sergey Galyonkin.

VR systems are particularly useful for and vulnerable to mass surveillance. Some say that the expansion of VR use could increase the potential for and reduce the cost of gathering information of personal actions, movements, and responses when using these systems.

Technical issues

As with any new technology, virtual reality systems also experience a number of technical issues, and designers and engineers are still working to smooth out kinks in the technology. There are a few key challenges that virtual reality developers have yet to overcome.

Then, the technology itself is a problem. Only one percent of computers in the world have the graphical capabilities for virtual reality, making the technology “out of reach” for most consumers.

Price also remains a problem. The high-end computers capable of VR technology are costly, not to mention the price for the technology itself. A majority of consumers are “priced out” of the VR market, which can change overtime as newer models become more powerful and cost efficient.

Knowing the facts

Many believe that virtual reality, in one form or another, is here to stay. That said, we should be curious and aware of the risks when virtual reality systems become an integral part of human life.

As the technology stands today, is VR and transportation a good mix? Are the benefits—improvements to manufacturing, overall efficiency, and safety—worth the possible health, safety, privacy, and security risks?

VR system to engage next generation of rail industry engineers
VR system to engage next generation of rail industry engineers. Photo from Flickr user Department for Transport.

As with many visions of the future, only time will tell. In the meantime, you have the facts—both the good and the bad—but you might consider “driving” your own research. We’ve only skimmed the surface of what virtual reality is, what it’s used to accomplish, and how it could affect transportation—and the world—down the road.


By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer

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