Unless you’ve been living on the moon, chances are you have heard about Virtual Reality (VR) and its offshoot, Augmented Reality (AR), and how they are becoming the next big thing for games. But what you may not have heard is that these technologies are already revolutionizing the way we do business.
Virtual Reality is a computer-simulated environment created with software that can re-create sensory experiences. Users suspend belief and accept it as a real environment. Augmented Reality, on the other hand, is the integration of digital information with the user's environment in real time. Unlike Virtual Reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, Augmented Reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.
Consider these stats. According to research done by Goldman Sachs, by 2025 the VR and AR market is expected to be valued at $80 billion, made up of $35 billion in software sales and $45 billion in hardware. Of the $35 billion in software sales, 54 percent will be in the consumer space through uses such as video games, live events and video entertainment. Enterprise will see much more diversity in its 46 percent of the pie, with health care and engineering dominating followed by real estate, retail and military.
So, is Virtual Reality set to become the next PC and smartphone for the enterprise?
Meetings, briefings and more
AltspaceVR recently launched a Slack integration that makes it easy for team members to attend a real-time Virtual Reality business meeting. The integration installs a little bot within your Slack organization, which gives you access to the /vrcall command. Type the command into any Slack channel, follow it with the name of the room you’d like to create, and the bot will automatically generate the specified room and post the link into the chat instantly. Anyone with AltspaceVR installed can click on the link and they will be sucked into the space. Thanks to the company’s multiplatform approach, you could have a team member joining the room from Gear VR, another on the Oculus Rift, and even someone without a VR headset joining through their PC with desktop mode.
Using VR to sell luxury homes
Luxury real estate company Sotheby’s is using VR headsets, including the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, to showcase high-end homes around the United States. It’s an initiative at the level of the independently operated real estate offices rather than coming from the corporate level. Due to the cost of a 3D 360-degree scan, this technology is currently being used exclusively in the luxury home market, but it is likely to expand within the entire residential real estate market as costs go down.
Designing cars with VR
Ford Motor Co. has been using Virtual Reality technology in various degrees to develop its designs since 2000. But in the last seven years, the 111-year old automaker has made Virtual Reality central to its automotive development, using the Oculus Rift headset technology. Ford uses the technology to examine the entire exterior and interior of a car design, even drilling down to how a particular element looks, such as a dashboard or upholstery. The VR technology links directly into its computer-aided design (CAD) system. Much of the observation involves specific details, including light positioning, size and brightness, and the positioning or shape of individual design elements.
And it’s not only the manufacturers employing the technology. Customers are using VR to customize their cars. Audi’s prospective customers don a VR headset and sit inside their virtual car-to-be as they configure it. Numerous vehicle customization options are viewable using the headset, including colors, leathers, inlays and infotainment systems. Users simply need to move their head as if they are looking around, and the display in the headset will show the part of the car at which they would be looking.
Participants at fashion retailer Topshop’s landmark store in Central London wore specially commissioned headsets to enter the 360-degree virtual world that was a hybrid live feed of the runway, the backstage action, the VIP arrivals, the set design, and animated features.
Other companies such as IKEA are enabling an Augmented Reality experience for the customer. Using an IKEA catalog and catalog app, customers can add virtual furnishings to their bedrooms or kitchens, snap a photo, and get a sense of what the items will look like in their homes.
Combat, flight sims, and other military uses
There are a number of ways in which VR is being used by the military for training new recruits in the art of warfare. Virtual Reality games have become increasingly popular over the years, and recruits are given these games as part of their induction to familiarize them with military life and to help them learn the skills and techniques needed in combat.
Another application of VR is through creating fully immersive experiences. The users wear head-mounted displays (HMD), data glove/suits, and carry VR weapons to become part of a virtual environment. They are able to move and interact with what is going on and make decisions safe in the knowledge that they are in a controlled setting.
A similar immersive flight simulation experience is used to train pilots.
This type of setup is also used to train medics in battlefield scenarios. Medical personnel have to be able to deal with a wide range of injuries caused by exposure to gunfire, unexploded devices, mines, and other combat situations. One way of training them is to use a multiplatform system – which is also immersive – that enables trainee medics to engage in complex medical situations.
Saving lives in the hospital
VR’s life-saving potential is not confined to the battlefield. Surgeons in hospitals are using the technology to diagnose and treat their patients.
One example of how it’s being used is the case of a 4-month-old named Teegan Lexcen, who was born with one lung, a defective heart, and a slim chance of surviving. Pediatric surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami took computer scans of Teegan’s heart and lung and uploaded the images onto an iPhone. They then used a $20 Google Cardboard device to view the MRI scans—which they had converted into 3D images — to visualize the procedure they were about to do.
The doctors were able to successfully decide where to make their first incision because of Virtual Reality imaging. Ultimately, the seven-hour open-heart procedure to rebuild Teegan’s aorta was a success.
Challenges and the way forward
Virtual Reality has been around for decades as a gaming technology. As the technology advances and businesses seek new opportunities, there is plenty of potential for it to benefit other areas.
But there are some key challenges that enterprises will face while adopting VR technologies. They include:
Content creation, maintenance and storage: The shift from static imagery and content to an immersive, in-motion experience requires a lot of groundwork.
Bandwidth: A more immersive experience means an uptick in bandwidth demand, especially when deploying the technology to remote locations.
Integration with existing systems: VR creates the expectation of a true, real-time response. Imagine a scenario where systems cannot keep up with hand movements and gestures?
Discomfort to the user: Virtual Reality sickness (also known as cybersickness) occurs when exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to motion sickness, including headache, nausea, disorientation, and general discomfort.
The potential of VR technology is massive but its success in the enterprise depends to a large extent on overcoming several hurdles. Are enterprises geared up for these challenges?