It’s not often that a driver would volunteer to be strapped into the front seat of a Holden Commodore and used as a living, breathing crash-test dummy.

However, Sydneysiders are currently lining up to take part in just such an activity, as part of NRMA Insurance’s special Crashed Car Showroom, which is currently located in the CBD of the NSW capital.

Thanks to the Oculus Rift virtual reality head-mounted display, willing volunteers are getting the chance to see for themselves what happens during a full-speed, head-on collision.

In an interview with Techworld Australia, NRMA head of research Robert McDonald explained that while people are often warned about the danger of car crashes, “if they don’t experience it, they don’t know”.

“Getting people to understand what happens in a crash, obviously 3D technology was the one that was going to work best,” said Mr McDonald.

In order to create a fully immersive simulation, NRMA has also installed a real car that is capable of moving in synchronisation with the virtual car. A high-tech hydraulic system ensures that the driver feels the full impact of the crash, all in a safe and controlled environment.

The limitless potential of the Oculus Rift

Much of the early discussion regarding the Oculus Rift has revolved around how the device will be used for recreation, through video games and other entertainment platforms.

However, initiatives such as this highlight the fact that virtual reality technology also has numerous educational and scientific applications. Virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift are even being trialled as a tool for helping people overcome serious phobias or psychological disorders.

An exposure therapy initiative designed by The University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Technologies has already seen significant success in helping US soldiers overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has been deployed at over 60 sites, including VA hospitals and military bases.

As you can see, the applications for simulation technology don’t end at recreation and entertainment. In fact, one could argue that this technology is changing the world as we know it.

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