Imagine a world where rather than reading or viewing the weekends sports news you can actually experience the event being reported? Imagine being able to rotate the athlete in mid-air in your living room – view a goal being scored from the point of view of the player, or the referee? Well we are virtually there – pardon the pun. Advances in compute power and mobile technologies means the tipping point has arrived for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). No longer is VR just a novel tech demo or a platform reserved for gamers. The New York Times is already offering AR news stories. Using the widely reported story of the Thai soccer team rescue as an example, the Times report actually allows you to experience the conditions the rescuers confronted inside the Thai caves via your smartphone.
Our interactions with technology have changed. I’m writing this blog from a holiday beach house in Central Queensland I booked using Airbnb, because it was a seamless, convenient user experience and cheaper than traditional methods. I’m also talking to people back home using Snapchat, because it offers a greater sense of presence in communication and allows me to share my holiday better than text messages or email would. Younger people want simpler, more meaningful experiences with technology, I know this first hand coming from the generation of digital natives. VR is one such technology born out of these changing consumer demographics and a larger trend for digital transformation.
Let’s lay out the basics – the difference between VR and AR. VR is complete immersion in a digitally created environment, shutting out the physical world, you can interact with the environment, people and objects in a virtual reality. Pair a smartphone with a basic headset and you can be swimming with sharks, exploring the solar system or barreling down a rollercoaster in minutes.
Whereas AR puts digital assets into your real world line of view via the camera on a smartphone, or in the future a wearable device such as Google Glass. Well-known examples of AR include Snapchat or Instagram lenses and the game Pokémon Go.
Over the last year, I’ve engaged with organisations from a range of industries who have heard the hype around VR and have started to investigate the use of these technologies to drive business outcomes.
Integrating VR into an enterprise setting is one that requires a holistic approach, focused not just on the technology enabling the experiences, but on the experiences themselves and how they can be tailored to an organisation’s needs. There are many ways which organisations can use VR, but we can generally segment the applications into three primary categories:
Viewing 3D content and videos in VR is the most basic type of interaction that VR can enable, it’s a powerful experience but also one that in my view is least likely to represent imminent disruption for the enterprise. It is highly accessible as there’s no requirement for motion controllers, powerful compute hardware or a dedicated VR space.
Early adopters in the education sector are benefitting enormously from embracing this category of VR. 85% of teachers agree that virtual reality would have a positive effect on their pupils1. Viewing in VR has enabled teachers to deliver lessons via visually immersive experiences, not only enhancing learning as students are focused and actively engaged, but also building social awareness and empathy. For example, 3D videos can show learners the devastation of deforestation in the Amazon or what it is like to be colour blind.
The educational capabilities of VR will continue to grow, already 10% of the experiences in the Oculus Store are education apps and Mark Zuckerburg has committed $10 million funding to developing VR applications for learning2.
Interacting in VR is a much richer experience and has a far greater scope in the enterprise space. In this instance, users often leverage controllers to interact with elements in the virtual scenario. VR experiences are already in market for:
Transporting workers to a virtual space where they can manipulate objects in 3D, offers an attractive alternative to training or process validation that uses expensive equipment or places people in potentially dangerous situations. Building a virtual training space is not only much cheaper and quicker than building a physical space, it provides a safe environment where there is space for failure and learning from mistakes. This is especially attractive for industries that deal with high risk activities such as emergency services, healthcare, utilities and mining. Surgeons can learn on virtual patients, police can practice responses to terrorist attacks and more.
Collaboration is one of the biggest application areas for AR and VR, uniting colleagues over distance in real-time with a sense of true presence. Forget collaborating via instant messenger or video conferencing while attendees multi-task in the background, instead stand face to face with your team mates in a virtual meeting room, designed for brainstorming and facilitating creativity and collaboration. Aside from meetings, workers can also collaborate on the job with the assistance of VR and AR. Field workers can draw on the expertise of their colleagues and vice versa – imagine being able look through the eyes of your team on the ground, view a piece of machinery in remote locations such as oil rigs to diagnose and remedy issues.
Healthcare is another early adopter of VR and AR technology, aside from training and collaboration the sector is also using interactive VR experiences to distract or treat patients. Patients can be transported to an environment where they interact with experiences controlled by doctors and using an armband doctors can monitor their condition and vital information. These simulations can be used to offer a calming or entertaining escape for bedridden patients or to actually facilitate treatment by placing patients into certain scenarios. This ‘exposure therapy’ is currently being trailed for people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
VR opens many avenues for design, not just for designing objects, but entire spaces. CAD or architectural assets can be imported and augmented in a VR space. VR provides scale to 3D assets and a tactile design experience, where every detail can be carefully examined and validated. Paired with a 3D printer, prototyping can be vastly accelerated. Collaboration has also enhanced teams working on a design or validation process – they can be remote from each other in the real world, but still work on a design together in a virtual world.
Both interactive and design experiences in VR require powerful hardware, and many organisations look to gaming grade hardware, but my preferred solution is the HP Z VR Backpack. The Z VR Backpack provides an untethered VR experience so multiple people can collaborate or train in the same space without the fear of being tangled up in wires. The hardware is powerful with an nVidia Quadro graphics card that offers professional grade performance for design applications, while also ensuring that frame rates are maintained at an optimal range, avoiding nausea side effects when people use VR.
The Z VR Backpack can also be taken off and docked into a desk station to be used as a traditional professional grade workstation. The HP Z VR Backpack is a versatile device that unlocks VR for enterprise organisations.
In 2019, more and more organisations will make virtual a reality. There are solid business cases for VR and AR applications in education, healthcare, emergency services and remote field worker. If you’re interested in a demonstration or just staying up-to-date with the exciting VR products hitting the market, follow me on LinkedIn or reach out to start a conversation below.
1. Grubb, J. (October 2016) Facebook and Oculus promise millions in funding for diverse apps, education and more for VR. [Online] Available at: https://venturebeat.com/2016/10/06/facebook-will-double-its-250-million-investment-in-vr-content/
2. Zaino, J. Samsung Insights (June 2016) Teacher Ready for Virtual Reality in Education. [Online] Available at: https://insights.samsung.com/2016/06/27/teachers-ready-for-virtual-reality-in-education/