VR Will Totally Change Data Visualization

The technology is going to revolutionize more than just gaming


The march of virtual reality (VR) goes on, with companies bringing out new headsets, applications being created for them every day, and an increasingly favorable public perception of the technology. However, many still believe thats its applications are limited to film and video game, with little by way of wider ranging use.

This is changing and companies are beginning to see the potential for it in some very different areas, most notably in data visualization, something well documented in Ciro Donalek and S.G Djorgovski's paper 'Immersive and Collaborative Data Visualization Using Virtual Reality Platforms' in 2014, which documented the potential impacts that VR may have in the field.

Humans are naturally programmed to find patterns and make connections, but work best within three dimensions or more, rather than the two that you get from a computer screen. In fact, we can gain less than 1 kilobit of information per second in this format. This causes an issue in finding patterns within huge data sets because, in addition to datasets becoming bigger, we are also seeing data becoming more complicated and coming from a wider variety of sources. These two elements of modern data sets combined create a dichotomy, given that more links need to be found but 2D visualizations are one of the least effective ways for the human eye to find them. Donalek and Djorgovski describe the issue as 'A high complexity or a high dimensionality of modern data sets thus represents a critical obstacle: we are biologically optimized to see the world and the patterns in it in 3 dimensions.'

With developments in the virtual reality world this may change, and it is likely that we are going to see the technology that has traditionally been seen as exclusively for entertainment, turned to a far more business-centric use. With Unity studios one of the leaders in this area having installed 3D data visualizations at the VW experience center Autostadt, in Wolfsburg and helping to develop some of the work being done by Donalek and Djorgovski.

The concept isn't a new one and in 1998, Goodyear used a very primitive version to improve the performance of their racing tyres, especially where they made contact with the road. The reason it didn't catch on is purely down to the cost at the time, something that is not a consideration today given that VR headsets have become far more commercially viable and it is now possible to programme on existing platforms rather than needing to create your own.

We are currently in the very early stages of data visualization using VR, but with the developments in other areas acting as a catalyst for this, it is only a matter of time until we see VR becoming a staple of future data visualization. 

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