Virtual reality for gaming & beyond

The market for virtual reality technology is potentially vast, its applications are growing, and it's attracting money at a rapid clip.

Hardware and software in the space will rake in an estimated $2.3 billion in revenue for 2015 worldwide, vs. $90 million in 2014, according to research data from Statista. By 2018, the firm expects sales of virtual reality products to reach $5.2 billion.

No surprise, then, that companies like Facebook, Google and Intel are investing.

Facebook acquired VR headset developer Oculus in 2014. Its Oculus Rift headset is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2016.

Google is already selling its smartphone-compatible Cardboard VR viewer, and it's developed apps to go with it.

Intel has developed VR technology for Razer cameras that can be used as gaming controllers. Razer expects to launch them in early 2016.

Also early next year, Sony is expected to release its VR undersea gaming experience, "The Deep," alongside its Project Morpheus headset launch.

Tech companies aren't the only ones investing in VR. The New York Times, for example, launched a 3-D viewer in November.

And at least one smaller firm has seen early success in virtual reality gaming. Crowd-funded VR game Star Citizen, developed by Roberts Space Industries, has raised well over $100 million in funds.

A member of the media plays a video game using a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Project Morpheus virtual-reality headset during a demonstration
Noriyuki Aidam | Bloomberg | Getty
A member of the media plays a video game using a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Project Morpheus virtual-reality headset during a demonstration

"Virtual reality is a whole new medium," said Neville Spiteri, co-founder and CEO of Wevr, a company that helps people create content and share it with their audiences. "As a result, there's a whole new wave of creators, storytellers, writers, directors, game designers that are really intrigued by the new medium and are developing content for it."

Facebook's Oculus has already worked with a former Pixar employee on virtual reality entertainment, which will be available to Oculus Rift users when that headset goes on sale.

Of course there are more practical applications for virtual reality beyond entertainment.

Air Force pilots are being trained on Lockheed Martin aircraft using virtual reality, and at that aerospace and defense firm's Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory, VR tech is used simulate spacecraft operation and missile launches, according to the company.

And experts say virtual reality hardware and software could change the way that the health care industry operates as well.

Virtual reality is being used to teach students how to perform endoscopies and ultrasounds and how to place cardiac catheters in patients with heart problems, according to Dr. Aaron Bair, medical director at the Center for Health and Technology & Center for Virtual Care at the University of California, Davis.

"If there was even a small fraction of the investment in health care VR as there has been in gaming console content, it would potentially be revolutionary for teaching," Bair said in an email.