VR entered the mass market mostly as an entertainment product. It offers a very unique visual and spatial experience that none of the other entertainment media can offer. From a passive VR experience that you see on YouTube to engaging video games – VR is definitely a staple of home entertainment, especially given the growing number of companies and products that adopt it. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus three years ago for $2 billion seems like a small blip on the radar when we realize that the potential market for VR entertainment is absolutely enormous.
However, it’s obvious that VR has other applications. Virtual reality creates unparalleled options for visualization that can be used in a business environment. VR technologies are not just funny toys anymore, as even armies around the globe embrace the technology. And nothing speaks ‘utility’ more than a military application.
But how can various businesses start implementing VR today? And, most importantly, for what purposes? What are the real-life applications of VR for business? If you didn’t know that your business needs VR, this article will make you change your mind.
Products like Hyper Room create virtual workspaces that can be used in various collaborative projects. Anything from just sketching together, or building a design mockup in real-time, to going over an engineering project, the possibilities are endless. For example, SpaceX has been using VR in engineering for over 4 years. It brings a whole new layer to 3D visualizations, which are so important to them as they 3D-print their spaceship parts.
Imagine your usual meeting over the Internet, with people sitting around the table staring at the screen. Some of the people on your end are likely to be staring at their phone, not paying much attention. Now imagine a similar scenario but in a virtual setting. First of all, it adds a personal touch to the meeting. It creates a sense of presence. It makes people pay attention, and the recent research by Facebook proves this.
How VR affects human connection
Introverts responded positively to meeting in virtual reality and were able to establish authentic relationships
VR conversation participants exhibit the optimal range of cognitive effort
VR conversation participants are in the ideal zone for remembering and processing information
Interacting in virtual reality can reduce appearance-based judgments
VR conversation participants exhibit the optimal range of cognitive effort
Number 4 on the list above leads us to another application. Interview bias is a known issue that affects the hiring process for many companies. It can occur subconsciously, so even the best recruiters are not protected. A 100% unbiased interview improves the quality of hired individuals and at the same time helps companies comply with existing regulations and regulatory bodies, like EEOC. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved, which leads to productivity gains for employees and companies overall.
Imagine you have a multimillion dollar equipment that you really don’t want to be broken. You have 2 options: a) to give an inexperienced guy a go at it; b) to give an inexperienced guy a go at it but in a VR setting. Of course, any sane business owner or operational manager would go for the second option. Just like with the military use mentioned earlier.
For example, WorldViz is helping industrial juggernauts like Boeing and Lockheed Martin with their on-the-job training. It’s especially crucial when you have a product that’s shipped to a client on the other end of the world. Why bother getting technicians and equipment there, if you could just organize a training session in VR? Naturally, there are particular applications that are hard to copy in VR – certain manual work requires tactile input and muscle memory. But given that there are already VR shoes that let you feel the virtual surface that you’re walking on and haptic gloves that imitate touches, it’s very plausible that tactile experiences that you have to go through with your own hands will soon be augmented within VR.
VR could also be applied to emergency situations when employees get to experience a virtual malfunction instead of knowing just the theory. Emergency management skills are an important aspect of many occupations. For example, this is how Cleveland Clinic handles emergency training for surgical operations.
Chemical, biological and medical products
Visualization, as we mentioned before, is a key element of VR. Many R&D departments rely on visualization as a production tool. For example, visualizing molecules can help researchers understand the biological and chemical data that they’re working with. And although the current lineup of applications / VR products in this niche is scarce, it’s safe to say that with the growing availability of VR and the open-source nature of some of these products, the range of practical use cases will keep growing. The increase in R&D spending around the world rather makes it a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
Top it all off with the projected $4.6 billion corporate investment into VR specifically for R&D in 2018, and you can see that the outlook is even more positive. That’s a 35% growth over 3 years from 2016. And the projections for augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) R&D investments are even more positive, with a growth of roughly 500% over the same period:
Design of spaces
This is a very robust and promising niche for VR, from office renovations to planning new warehousing solutions and building an infrastructure at a factory. This is especially useful for retailers, who want to be able to create unique experiences for their visitors, no matter the location. Retail design companies already use VR in their workflow and the results are pretty amazing. The ability to show a complete design almost in real life is empowering.
Imagine how this could streamline the work for landscapers, interior designers and construction workers? Unfortunately, given the relatively small size of the companies that might use this kind of technology and their limited resources, these tools are not yet openly available to a lot of them.
As we mentioned in one of our previous articles, VR can be an immensely powerful tool for showcasing products and services when a real-life demo is not possible. In this regard, VR can alleviate a ton of business pressure that’s associated with the logistics and setup of product showcases.
Virtual showrooms are becoming a thing because businesses can save enormous amounts of money on actually shipping the product and setting up a showroom for it. For example, some car dealerships are seeing a 70% increase in sales with virtual showrooms. This proves that they can also lower the time to market for many products. You can start showing your products to potential clients as soon as the products leave the production line.
Another reasonable application for VR is real estate. As one commercial real estate developer puts it: “Allowing the tenant to step into that [through VR] is better than a brochure,” talking about a uniquely designed building that was hard to visualize through a brochure for potential clients.
There’s another surprisingly popular application of VR that is actually favored by all generations.
As you can see from these stats, traveling is a very promising niche for VR, where it can be applied from ‘traveling’ to a destination in VR to previewing a travel destination or a resort before actually going there. Again, this is better than any brochure or a booking.com photo – nothing comes close to actually checking out a place in VR.
But we can go even further. How about previewing your seat or lot at an event? Wouldn’t it be great if you could look around a specific seat in an arena before actually purchasing a ticket that may cost you well over $100? Companies like StubHub already offer this feature for some of the biggest sporting events and venues.
There are numerous other applications that businesses would want to exploit as a product showcase feature with VR. Any experience that requires visual feedback and at the same time implies uncertainty is perfect for VR. Rides in entertainment parks, shooting ranges, cart circuits, and so on – the list is endless. It’s up to business owners to make that decision and experiment with VR at their venue or establishment. Do you own a restaurant with an absolutely stunning view or a very cozy terrace? Go for it. Offering winter cabins for rent? Great. Show off the scenery for anyone wanting to visit.
Another area of interest that deals with showcasing a product in VR is prototyping. Instead of actually building a prototype, businesses can, at a fraction of the cost, build prototypes in virtual settings and let test groups check them out in VR. It’s also a lot easier to amend a design within a 3D model before it hits the production line. Global design leaders, like IDEO, already embrace this approach.
It’s called ‘big’ for a reason. There’s a lot of it. Of course, AI and machine learning are taking charge of taming big data and putting it to good use. But there’s always the human element. While we’re still running things, it’s people who make the decisions around data insights.
Visualizing data in VR can really help with decision-making, as it adds volume and depth to data and its qualities because it offers a 3D environment where we can process information. It literally engages more bandwidth that our senses can provide, which allows us to better process data. So if you feel overwhelmed with information, VR might be the remedy that you’re looking for.
This could be applicable to various business processes and can actually replace fancy analytical products. Visualizing data to identify patterns can be an intermediate alternative to data science and machine learning, or it can serve as an augmentation for these tools.
That’s why some go as far as to say that VR will disrupt data science, which is pretty fascinating, as data science is a disruptive niche in its own right.
All of these and many other data visualization challenges and developments give way to specific tools designed to make big data work a lot easier in VR. This is why companies like Improbable create operating systems designed specifically for virtual reality. And although right now there are not so many niches for such products, they’ve been relatively successful with complex data and visually rich environments, such as game development.
Summing it up
Virtual reality has a wide variety of business applications. The most important takeaway is the fact that VR is actually being applied to business problems not because it’s the latest hip tech but because it’s actually useful for business. It’s a cost-cutting tool that offers unparalleled simulation and visualization capabilities. It offers the space for experimentation and training, which otherwise would have required involvement of staff and actual physical resources.
It creates a potential communication and collaboration hub, which could be very useful in today’s economy, where a lot of companies go for contractors and freelancers to cut costs and optimize expenditures. With VR, it’s not just about talking over Hangouts about an ongoing project. It’s about actually interacting with it in an almost physical and highly visual manner.
VR provides a revolutionary step for customer acquisition by building experiences that can only be described as ‘try before you buy’ for products and services that didn’t have that capability before, such as travel and event industries.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing applications of VR in business is data visualization. It allows to present data in a way that’s easily digestible and thus uncover insights that aren’t even available through progressive data exploration and management products, which are based on data science and machine learning.
With the current pace of VR adoption beyond entertainment, it becomes obvious that its applications are going to become even more accessible to smaller companies. This, in turn, should usher in a new era of VR business applications, fueled by the ever-growing consumer base.
What do you think? What could be the next big breakthrough for VR and its business applications? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.