When Facebook announced in 2014 that it was buying Oculus VR for $2 billion, the long-heralded potential of virtual reality (VR) suddenly got very real indeed. And not just for those developing it. Now, with the release of groundbreaking models like the HTC Vive this year, VR is finally banishing the familiar criticisms among users that it’s too expensive, too unrealistic or plain nausea-inducing. Hence it’s become part of many businesses plans too. It’s still early days, but here are five applications where virtual reality is becoming a virtual no-brainer…
A key area for VR at the moment, especially in fields where actual reality is costly or just plain dangerous. Take healthcare: VR removes the need for real bodies for newbies to practice on, whether that’s student doctors or seasoned pros trying something new and high-risk. In April, VR app Medical Realities broadcast real-life cancer surgery for the first time: VR users could watch from anywhere in the world, and from any angle. The British Army uses a similar approach to prepare soldiers for unforgiving combat zones, while NASA uses its Virtual Reality Laboratory to train its astronauts in satellite repair. It’s all virtually the same as the real thing, only it’s a lot cheaper, and no one’s going to find themselves being locked out in space by the ship’s suddenly sentient computer.
Showing the future
Conference provider Etc Venues is using VR to show clients around its new event space in London’s County Hall – before it’s built. Rather than visitors walking around a construction site and occasionally glancing at an iPad showing them what the place will look like, they get a clearer interpretation by ‘standing on’ the restored parquet flooring, and ‘touching’ the brick work. VR also has obvious implications for how many people can experience it – anyone visiting the site in person gets an augmented tour via the headset; everyone else can still download the experience on their smartphone and, with a headset, get the view of Big Ben from anywhere.
VR is a shiny new medium, one that totally transforms your reality and, beyond the flashy graphics, is only enhanced by decent storytelling. As such, it’s the perfect platform for marketing. Coca-Cola has created a VR sleigh ride on Oculus Rift, giving users in Poland the chance to ‘be’ Santa Claus; Boursin used VR to send people on a Honey I Shrunk the Kids-style tour of the inside of a fridge; while Merrill advertised the launch of a new hiking boot with virtual mountain hikes: punters donned the headset and traversed a specially-built platform, thus ‘experiencing’ a vertiginous rope bridge crossing high in the mountains, complete with potentially lethal rockfalls. That’s something they’d definitely talk about, even if they never set foot in a boot.
Try before you buy
Shops can use VR as a virtual changing room to customers buying shirts and blouses, or as a virtual test drive when buying a new car. Volvo made an app to support the launch of its XC90 seven-seater, allowing punters to take it on a spin through the countryside. Similar things can be done with tourism, where companies advertising resorts and hotels can show off their wares to help persuade people to visit. Note how it’s surely only a matter of time before we’re at home ‘trying on’ the clothes we buy online.
Along with other emergent tech like 3D printing, VR is helping to revolutionise design and safety processes - in its case by enabling designers and engineers to check how new products would look and function without having to build loads of expensive models. Here Volvo is joined by the likes of Ford and Hyundai and, elsewhere, by architects designing buildings, and companies like Lockheed Martin, whose Collaborative Human Immersive Lab (CHIL) uses VR to design everything from human spaceflight to imaging satellites. VR also boosts collaboration, both internally between departments and between companies across the supply chain, meaning products come out better, faster.
To find out more about Etc Venues new event space visit London’s County Hall