Virtual Reality (VR) became mainstream a few years ago with the introduction of affordable, user-friendly headsets. Since then, businesses have been aggressively tapping into the opportunities created by VR technology. This is hardly surprising given the immense possibilities VR creates by freeing us from the physical limitations of our bodies, allowing us to enjoy experiences only available digitally, and even, “transport” us to exotic places, something that would have been a utopian idea only a decade ago.
In the digital VR world, there is no impossible. Describe an object and it can be conjured. Travel is in the twinkling of an eye. And, damage can be undone at the touch of a button. All these attributes of VR make it a powerful tool for business.
The following is an overview of how of VR is already being used for business success and a glimpse into the exciting future that awaits.
1. VR Can Be Used in Every Facet of Business
Most of the hype around VR headsets is focused on their use in entertainment. But, the real deal lies in the fact that VR can be used in every facet of a business. In fact, according to Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology, VR use in business is expected to soon overtake leisure use and reach £6.5 billion in spending by 2021. There are two main categories of tasks where VR has wide applicability in business, training and practical application.
VR allows users to immerse themselves in any situation that can be simulated digitally. For example, using solutions such as Oculus’s VirtualSpeech, one can train to become a public speaker and speak to a virtual audience that looks and feels real. VR is also being used for team building by making use of extremely engaging multiplayer VR. Teams are thrown into different worlds and situations to see how they plan, operate, collaborate, solve problems, lead and communicate.
As regards practical applications, the possibilities are limitless. The most immediate, though, is telepresence, the use of virtual reality technology, especially for remote control of machinery (think drones) or for apparent participation in distant events (video conferencing). There is also the possibility of creating models and simulation of real objects that wouldn’t be realistic without VR.
2. Use in Product Design and Prototypes
Companies are now using VR to simulate and test every part, process, and mechanism in a virtual reality environment. As a consequence, performance and reliability can now be tested in a more cost-effective, quick and safe manner. Boeing and Airbus are already using VR to design, test and simulate new features and aircraft models. Architectural firms are also using VR to show their clients complete models before a single brick has been laid.
One may be tempted to argue that any savings are negated by the upfront cost of building the VR environment. This has been true but that is now changing with the arrival of VR-as-a-Service solutions (more on this below).
3. Virtual Showrooms & Customer Interactions
As both a customer service and marketing tool, VR has opened up new ways for showcasing products and services. It is also becoming a useful repository of information on customer behaviour. When people engage in the virtual world a large amount of data is available regarding how they interact, act and react.
As opposed to visiting physical showrooms, customers are now simply picking up a headset and visiting a virtual showroom. Once in the showroom, they can interact with sales reps who could be real humans or virtual replicas created using artificial intelligence.
Furniture maker IKEA was the trailblazer of virtual showrooms a few years ago and many companies have since followed suit.
4. Technical Training
Before virtual reality, training in technical fields had to occur in real-life situations. For example, surgeons had to learn in the operating theatre by watching their seniors perform surgery. This wasn’t an ideal way to learn especially with regard to delicate surgeries. The only way to be sure that they were competent was to perform the surgery themselves on a real human being. With VR, surgeons can practice the most delicate procedures in a virtual environment. And, with this kind of technical training, if anything goes wrong the surgeon can simply hit the reset button, start all over again and practice until they get it 100% right. Tool and equipment manufacturers are also able to collect valuable feedback.
In the airline industry, pilots have traditionally relied on room-sized simulation suites that are extremely expensive to set-up and maintain. These are now being replaced by small VR gadgets at a fraction of the cost.
Around the world, law enforcement agencies are using VR to train for a variety of scenarios ranging from traffic stops and petty crime to terrorism and other high-risk situations.
5. VR-as-a-Service (VRaaS)
Current VR technology is cheap to use. However, there can be considerable up-front costs associated with setting up a simulation especially if a company requires a custom environment that needs to be coded and designed from scratch. This has led to the rise of software firms that are providing VR-as-a-Service. These services run the gamut from ready-made solutions, VR suites for hire and even tools to build environments quickly.
There are also agencies that have positioned themselves to create VR experiences for companies. These will play an important role in the future of VraaS.
VR technology will undoubtedly continue to advance and open up more opportunities for business success. Interesting developments include some research on how brainwaves can be interfaced with VR potentially making it possible to alter a virtual environment simply by thinking. There are is also the total cost of ownership which has been a dampening factor to the uptake of VR equipment. VR handsets are still retailing at a fairly high average price of £400 and you still need a powerful PC retailing at around £600. Cloud solutions are now being used to effectively bring down this cost, for example, HTC recently announced a partnership with Dalian Television and Beijing Cyber Cloud to launch a pioneering cloud VR service for a market trial in Dalian. Rather than tethering a Vive system to a PC, it will instead be connected to a digital set-top box that has full access to the carrier’s VR content store. Clearly, there are exciting times ahead in the VR space.