What VR Proponents Think Congress Needs To Know

People react as they wear Samsung Gear VR goggles at CES International in Las Vegas.

People react as they wear Samsung Gear VR goggles at CES International in Las Vegas. John Locher/AP File Photo

A group of virtual reality companies convened at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday to demo their technology.

Virtual reality certainly isn't commonplace in the federal government, and proponents of the technology came to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to change that.

Yes, the Defense Department already uses the immersive technology for flight simulations. But other civilian departments could use it internally, including for employee training or virtually designing prototypes, panelists said at the "Virtual Reality Meets Capitol Hill" event, hosted by the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. They urged Congress to try out virtual reality technology to better understand its vast potential and also to devote funding and attention to the technology.

For now, federal agencies might be more focused on regulating the technology for consumers than on actually using it, Monifa Vaughn-Cooke, director of University of Maryland's virtual reality lab, said during a panel.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could use the technology to explore power plants, for instance.

"You can have simulations go into how to design the best control rooms, how to then train individuals to operate the best control rooms," she said. To accelerate adoption, federal agencies should share ideas about virtual reality applications and then communicate what works and what doesn't to ensure it's implemented in a standard way, she said.

Asked what he thought Congress needed to know about virtual reality, Dean Johnson, head of innovation at digital marketing firm Brandwidth, said lawmakers should first test-drive the technology.

"Everyone that tries it, gets it. It doesn't mean they like it ... they just understand" how other groups might use it, he explained.

Virtual reality could help students learn outside the classroom, Education Department Acting Assistant Secretary of Career, Technical and Adult Education Johan Urvin said. He asked members of Congress for an "acknowledgment" that the technology might be used in education, that they set aside resources for its development, and help in assuring the quality of virtual reality products.

Despite potential benefits to the government, widespread use of virtual reality and augmented reality, a related group of technology that overlays new features over the real world instead of convincing users they're somewhere else, could put unprecedented pressures on domestic broadband, explained Doug Brake, a technology policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. This article has been updated.

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