Virtual reality is a hot topic right now, and it seems like everyone's making a headset of some sort. While Oculus Rift is the most familiar name in the market, competitors like Samsung's Gear VR and even Google Cardboard are also available.
Up until now, most of the uses for the technology have focused on short games and demonstrations of things that can be done, with no actual real-world application. That's now beginning to change. Beyond Sports has come up with a way to take data from actual football (soccer, for the Americans) matches, and turn them into a virtual recreation of the actual match. Now, instead of watching static 2D videos, coaches can insert players into the match and let them see things as they appeared on the field.
Beyond Sports demonstrated the technology at SXSW with their own version of Google Cardboard. In it, they let conference goers become a forward, pausing the action to see who the optimal person to pass the ball to is. In addition, they showed examples of watching penalty kicks as both the shooter and the goalie, aerial views, and while they didn't demonstrate it, they said it would be trivial to actually become the ball itself.
Every NBA arena, as well as many of the top football/soccer teams, already have the infrastructure in place to gather the data required for these virtual simulations. Although capturing the data and converting it into a usable format currently takes over an hour, and is only roughly 95% accurate, it's expected that the process can be automated and sped up and Beyond Sports is also working on improving the accuracy.
There's also quite a bit of research going on in this space to determine how virtual reality impacts the brain. One study showed that it's possible to adjust existing memories for events in the physical world by interacting in the virtual world. While this could be helpful in many cases, with the data only at 95% accuracy, the concern is that it could negatively impact players if they spend too much time in the simulation. That said, according to a study by Savelsbergh in 2005, goaltenders increased their penalty shot success by 29% through VR and eye tracking.
While the company is focusing on improving player performance, another future use of the technology will allow fans watching a game to actually experience the action of a game from the comfort of their own home. If bandwidth speeds to the home can improve, this could potentially happen in real-time with the actual match, but that's quite a few years away from now.
Beyond Sports has a demo that you can download and try out yourself with the equivalent of Google Cardboard. Keep in mind that the demo doesn't work with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 unless you have the Gear VR.