Although Virtual Reality (VR) has been embraced by a few industries, the technology has yet to reach the universal adoption threshold. VR has a glamorous reputation and has moved gaming into a whole new realm, but neither businesses nor consumers view it as a mainstay.
VR’s novelty factor is so great that it elicits hesitation among serious business and industry sectors. The challenge for VR companies is finding a way to turn hesitation into participation. There are enough significant VR deployments to use as a starting point. But effectively communicating its ability to deliver on the hype, while significant hardware breakthroughs are in the works–that is the challenge.
Tether-free: The Future of VR
Until recently, VR headsets had to be connected by a physical cable to a computer, while users hold controllers in one or both hands. This connection requirement limited actual mobility, and it also required users to have a high-power computer to generate the experience. People are tactile. Being tethered doesn’t fully satisfy a visceral sense of immersion.
Stand-alone VR headsets eliminate cables, releasing the VR experience into a larger physical environment. Hand-held controllers are already being phased out, in favor of haptic gloves and helmet-based optical tracking. These developments are important — revolutionary, even — because they transform our physical relationship with the digital world.
Suddenly the experience can be marketed as direct and personal, not simply another media presentation behind screens. The ability to be untethered and physically limitless with VR is the story developers want to tell, and it will be major factor in triggering a more universal adoption.
Wooing Experts Out of the World of Gaming
It’s easy to perceive VR strategy and development as a unique, elusive skill-set. While it certainly takes specific tools, vision, and training, VR companies can access a rich pool of designers and developers within the very industry VR took root: Gaming.
Most VR experiences, to date, are developed by people with a gaming background. As a training ground for experiential creative expertise, gaming is about as good as it gets. The 3D capabilities in gaming have had to be broad and innovative to keep players satisfied, and most of these VR capabilities can translate into industry applications.
Once VR becomes a more regular part of brand activation and business strategy, more creative opportunities will emerge–and more VR positions will need filled. Persuading gaming experts to direct their talents into creating VR for business purposes may currently present some challenges. Fortunately, these experts’ gamification skills will not be diminished within a business context. It’s important to identify these positions as opportunities to introduce gaming into new arenas.
Scratching the Surface: Current Use Cases
At first VR seemed an obvious fit for certain industries like entertainment. It still is. But, it is worth taking the time to explore other transformative ways VR changes how people perceive and interact with the world. The ramp up is becoming more widespread.
Education and Training
Training is an intuitive application for VR. It offers maximum value when preparing professionals to deal with extreme or dangerous equipment, procedures, and situations. Many training environments can’t be reproduced in the real world because of cost, liability, and resources.
Firefighters can’t always practice their skills ahead of time, because “training fires” are expensive to stage. Doctors can’t simulate open-heart surgery on real patients. The military uses VR extensively, teaching its members to handle everything from chaotic battlefield conditions to chemical and biological attacks to sophisticated vehicle operations and parachute jumps. Sessions in a synthetic VR environment better prepare professionals in a more efficient way.
Extreme simulation situations aren’t the only training applications for VR.
- Walmart employees at 187 training centers learn what it’s like to be in the midst of a Black Friday mob scene.
- Football players develop their ability to spot crucial moves when they’re in the midst of a complex play.
- Mechanical and electrical engineering students are able to manipulate 3D virtual equipment.
An Open Physics study states that virtual reality technologies “could reshape students’ experience, improve outcomes, deliver innovative new learning methods, and even train professionals.” Corporations are also experimenting with VR for leadership training, public speaking skills enhancement, and improved collaboration with remote employees.
Physical and Mental Health
Virtual reality is moving fast in the healthcare industry, offering a wide range of creative solutions for students, practitioners and patients. The market for virtual and augmented reality in healthcare is expected to exceed $5 billion by 2025. Along with the surgical simulation application, diagnostic imaging VR options will allow specialists to more easily view three-dimensional CT scan images.
A less obvious, but growing, use case for VR resides in mental health. VR’s synthetic environments offer fascinating therapeutic tools for mental illness, pain management, and more. LA’s Cedar Sinai hospital, for example, virtually transports patients to Iceland’s lava fields, or into the deep ocean to swim beside whales to help them manage their pain.
Suspension of disbelief is a powerful tactic VR delivers on to help patients shift focus. Resulting data continues to support VR’s therapeutic effectiveness for a variety of mental disorders and symptoms:
- VR exposure therapy has been highly beneficial to those who suffer from PTSD symptoms.
- Guided meditation (Meditative VR) allows the patient to bring visualization to the next level.
- Phobia patients can begin to confront their fears with gradual, controlled virtual exposure to the subject of their anxiety.
Design and Presentation
Whether it’s an electric vehicle, office building, or a model airplane, virtual reality lets designers visualize concepts in 3D. Modifications and fine-tuning can all be virtual, and designers are free to experiment without having to worry about physical materials or additional tools. Additionally, it is possible to invite others into a simulation to give real-time feedback before any physical construction begins.
Presentations are similarly transformed: A real estate buyer across the world can walk through a building in virtual space, and make a confident purchase decision with no need to actually visit the site. Automakers scramble to outdo each other’s VR presentations at auto shows, regardless of the fact that the technology for such experiences is still immature.
Communication + Socialization
Despite hesitation, innovation, brand, marketing, and technology decision makers across all industries are paying attention. No one wants (and many can’t afford) to miss out on VR’s unprecedented capabilities. There is a tremendous window of opportunity for VR companies to communicate these capabilities right now–before XR becomes evergreen.
Experiencing an immersive virtual environment on a personal level is impactful, but VR also stands to transform the social landscape. VR opens the social sphere up to unlimited possibilities–social media applications, telepresence, and more.
Industry-defining VR success stories have yet to be written. It’s up to VR companies and experts to draft a prefix that clearly communicates the benefits and promise of this truly emerging, awakening technology.