VR (Finally) Means Business
VR debuted 30 years back – and then seemed to disappear for a good while before making a resounding return a few years ago. Where’d it go? It hadn’t been resting on its laurels – it’d been in stealth mode. And now businesses across all sectors are reaping the benefits.
Remember when Virtual Reality was gonna save the World? Those old enough to recall the early 90s will remember news reports (very much like this one) heralding Virtual Reality as a game changer way back then. Movies like 1992’s ‘The Lawnmower Man’ used ‘state-of-the-art’ visuals rendered in VR, while gaming giants Nintendo and Sega tried to respectively bring innovations like the Virtual Boy and the VR headset to the mass market.
It was all go. And then… nothing seemed to happen. Fast forward to the mid-2010s and suddenly VR was back with a vengeance. What happened? Well, lots, as it transpired. But the main catalyst seemed to be the fact that VR viewing devices suddenly became affordable enough for your average Joe.
Most recently, Nintendo Labo’s (Google Cardboard-like) VR kit has piqued the interest of home gamers. But… is that it? Is gaming as good as VR gets? Not by a long shot. A whole range of industries are being disrupted by VR – and they’re not all as obvious as you might think.
The launch of Google Cardboard in 2014 meant that for just a few dollars (and a smartphone), pretty much anyone could experience the wonders of VR for themselves. Soon after, names like Magic Leap, Oculus Rift, and Vive appeared – while other tech giants like Samsung, HTC, and Sony quickly got on board. Cue a software and hardware boom focused on figuring out how this seemingly niche technology could provide real value. And boy, did they deliver.
If VR is the creation of (and subsequent immersion in) a simulated environment, it essentially offers every industry that relies on some form of prototyping or spatial ideation, the ability to render ideas in a way that looks and feels authentic. For example, Microsoft’s Maquette tool, which appeared late last year, and other software like Google Blocks allow designers to create 3D objects using VR headsets throughout the creation process.
In a similar way, engineering firms are using VR to streamline their manufacturing processes – everywhere from the assembly line to automotive field; as well as architecture and construction firms which have long relied on 3D modelling and Computer Aided Design (CAD) to produce realistic prototypes.
Experimenting With Education
Somewhere you wouldn’t expect to see VR thriving is HR. But change is afoot in the way that soft skills can be taught – using virtual tutors that are powered by speech recognition, AI, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and narrative branching; allowing them to simulate realistic speech patterns, body-language, and mannerisms to simulate lifelike conversations.
Another key area where VR’s coming on leaps and bounds is workplace training; particularly in industries like nuclear power where employees work with hazardous substances. Instead of learning safety protocols by rote, employees can immerse themselves into a simulated environment which can be customized to replicate real scenarios.
In medicine, Virtual Reality, combined with haptic technology, is already being used to train surgeons in conducting medical procedures. Elsewhere VR’s being used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and – with a little help from the growing popularity of eSports – it can help make tedious gym sessions a darn sight more interesting.
Of course, the entertainment value of VR will continue to be a key driver for the technology’s broader adoption. Along with gaming, you’ll find industries like movies, sports, and even adult entertainment experimenting with the possibilities. And of course, marketing is another key area for which VR continues to be a source of inspiration and innovation.
There are still lots of misconceptions and a long way to go; but as voice controls, hand gestures, and eye controlled interaction enhance the VR user experience, there can be no doubt whatsoever that human experience and technological advancement are in for an exciting ride.
It may have taken a quarter of a century to get this far, but just imagine where VR could be in another 25 years.
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