What is Virtual Reality (VR)?
It seems everyone is getting into the game of VR these days, Samsung, Sony, Steam, and even Facebook. With the industry seemingly growing more and more it’s important to understand what it is and how it can be used. I’m sure we have all seen the clips and pictures of people wearing the headsets. VR in a nutshell works by having the screens so close to the eyes it can ‘trick’ your brain into thinking it is what you are actually seeing. Currently this technology has some small issues for those who suffer with motion sickness but hopefully these issues will be ironed out as the technology progresses.
Virtual Reality Industries, How and Where VR can help your Business Succeed
With Virtual Reality, companies can offer a new and immersive experience to their consumers and clients. Furthermore, VR has never been more accessible to the public as there are plenty of different devices on the market that allow you to experience VR.
Most of the higher end brands of VR can be used with a semi-standardised software so the specific brand isn’t the most important decision when deciding for your business, however research is always advised.
The wide range of VR headsets available today provides a sense of freedom for businesses. For example, when designing staff training for a manufacturing company, they could put the recruit or trainee in the situation that their role will need them to do to either train or test them on the task.
The use of virtual reality is becoming more prevalent in various industries because it creates an interactive environment that is more captivating than traditional media.
Examples of these industries are:
The world of marketing is one of the most rapidly evolving industries, with all the cutting-edge technologies. At first glance it might not seem as the most obvious area which would best suit the adoption of Virtual Reality technology in their industry. However, by taking a closer look at some of the methods others have used to make a profitable slice of the market for themselves, you can hopefully get inspired in how to adapt it for yourselves.
One of the ways in which Virtual Reality can help the marketing industry is advertising. It’s becoming more and more common these days that the goal of advertisements has become less about showing off the specific product and instead it’s about selling the whole brand and experience as a package. This has led to some interesting advertising campaigns taking outside the box ideas to gain awareness of their product and service. At a tradeshow the insurance provider Progressive developed a VR boat racing game. Whilst you might think it’s quite a detachment from their product, the interactive and hands on experience gave them an opportunity to pitch their brand in a new and unique way which received a good amount of media attention for this.
Another way in which VR can be used in the industry of marketing is through developing empathy and understanding towards a social cause. The visual medium has always succeeded in telling stories in a way which allows the audience to feel like they are experiencing what they are being shown. Going further looking at VR now, the ability for audience empathy when they are virtually walking in someone else’s shoes has the power to convey a very powerful message. An example of this is the project Displaced produced by the New York Times. In this VR experience you get to explore and witness the real-world consequences of the global refugee crisis through the eyes of three children. This has the benefit of allowing the users to be able to experience these stories through being able to see the devastation all around you through the use of VR. This type of experience could be beneficial in schools as a way of helping the older kids understand such a difficult topic.
One of the other main areas in which VR is helping the marketing industry thrive is through the combining of VR tech and conventional experiences to create something unique and interesting. As the growth of VR continues, we are sure to see the technology being intermingled with all other aspects of our lives and this can lead to some interesting developments. One of my personal favourite avenues in which this technology could go down is to allow difficult to achieve activities to be done in an easier and safer environment.
An example of this being used as a marketing tool is the Trailscape VR experience which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. To help advertise their newest pair of hiking shoes they teamed up with a VR development company to make an interactive hiking experience through a premade track. This allows the experience to be developed and planned out as the user will be navigating through the premade course, however, due to the use of VR in this instance, it allows for a much greater amount of interaction and adds to the spectacle of the entire experience which in turn will aid in the marketing of the business.
Healthcare is a more common industry which has had more mainstream coverage about the future adoption of Virtual Reality in their industry. The effects of this technology in this area is large with the potential applications in all areas from training to rehabilitation to help people.
Looking firstly on the training side, the world of medicine is always pushing the boundary of knowledge further and further, with new methods and treatments being devised all the time. However, for patients who might need treatment for something that is quite rare, you may find it hard to get a specialist who is confident in this new or rare procedure. In times like this the information from the medical journals and textbooks can only take you so far. Sometimes what you need in these situations is hands-on experience, but with the availability to test these procedures on humans, and the ethical issues of experimenting on animals has led to a search to better accomplish these goals in a safer way.
The most obvious use of this technology in a medical setting is training surgeons on how to complete difficult operations. Since the growth of this technology many companies have developed VR programs to simulate the different procedures a surgeon might need to know. From the more gamified ones like Surgeon Simulator all the way to the VR program which has received official CPD (Continued Personal Development) accreditation from the Royal College of Surgeons England called HapticVR. This accreditation is for the full hip replacement simulation and is the first of its kind to receive this in the UK.
An area which is thankfully getting more and more attention in the medical sector is mental health. With the treatments of mental health, many different approaches will work better depending on the individual so any advances in new ways of helping treat mental health issues is widely welcomed. In 2019 a research paper was published to the research journal Frontiers in Psychiatry which put forward the idea of using VR for exposure therapy for those suffering with anxiety. The paper was called “Using Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to Enhance Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Identifying Areas of Clinical Adoption and Potential Obstacles”. In short, this paper aims to build on the previous use of VR in the treatment of PTSD or social anxiety and proposes its use in anxiety more generally. The paper is published under open access, so I recommend you give it a proper read.
The entertainment industry was one of the first areas to adopt Virtual Reality technology in the sense of coverage and mainstreaming the technology. The expansion in this industry didn’t just end there, however. We are just starting to see the cutting edge of experiments in storytelling and media delivery through the use of VR and I personally believe that this will be one of the biggest areas of growth within the adoption of Virtual Reality technology over the next 5-7 years.
One of the lesser discussed areas of the entertainment industry where VR is starting to be adopted is in the theme park industry. When some of the first demos of VR applications at trade shows were basic roller coaster simulators which caught a lot of public attention. Whilst the other areas of VR have seen more of a focus in recent years, the potential of building up a brand around supplying not only attractions on site which use VR but also offer these experiences to people at home using their own VR Headsets would be greatly beneficial. This would allow the expansion of the possible audience to be world wide of the attractions you design, and also allow for much more creativity in ride design due to the virtual aspect with a lot more attention being spent on the design and detail. There is also the option for smaller amusement startups to build their brand online through the use of custom amusement parks to start building your business to a global audience.
Another area of the entertainment industry in which VR could be adapted is within the live music sector. The pandemic has shown a rise in many artists doing live streams of them performing to be able to deliver gigs and festivals despite this lockdown. Whilst some of these streams have been offered for free, other gigs and festivals have had a ticketed entry. This allows for a huge growth in the industry as VR gets more widely adapted as local music scenes can put on festivals to a global audience online with the added immersive experience which using VR can give you. Due to the live music events being virtual the usual capacity restrictions are alleviated meaning the potential profitability will be quite high.
The starting of the adoption of Virtual Reality in the tourism industry is an area of strong fascination on my part and seeing some of the prototypes and ideas individuals are having for how to deliver not only purely virtual getaways, but also have the technology can be utilised in the sales aspect of advertising holiday experiences in a vivid way to really sell the customer on the holiday destination.
Firstly, looking at travel agents, VR could be used to help advertise their package holidays by having them be able to walk around their room or to see some of the sights and views from the interaction experience which VR can provide. Whilst the upfront cost of development right now might put some travel agents off, as the technology becomes more widely adopted the adoption cost will reduce with a lot of resorts or destinations having the experiences made on their end so it would work in collaboration like material is shared today.
Similarly to the example mentioned for festivals above, VR experiences could be made by tourism boards of different cities and towns to be able to sell a taster of what it’s like to visit them to advertise it to a variety of demographics. This has the benefit of not only opening up a secondary revenue stream but also working as an advertisement for people to come and travel to experience the real thing. An added benefit of this is the curation and creation of this can be a good way of getting the community involved in creating this and also help create some local jobs which can highlight local talent.
One of the future avenues of the tourism industry which I feel will grow is the creation of full VR holiday experiences. Not only to mimic real life counterparts, but for fully bespoke creative experiences. This would allow the creativity from the literary, film and gaming industry to collaborate on holiday experiences which can be marketed to people from their own home. This type of technology would require a lot more industry investment to reach this point with future technologies in the sector which could increase immersion and vastly increase the demand for these types of experiences.
Probably the biggest long-term growth of virtual reality will come through its adoption in an educational setting. Whether this be in the education of children through their educational life, or in the workplace for specific industry-based training. This expansion in utilising this technology to be able to simulate dangerous or difficult situations safely and virtually will vastly improve the standard of teaching across the board.
Looking firstly at VR’s application in traditional school-based education, the benefits of this audio-visual experience on children’s learning are limitless. From experiencing historical events recreated for VR or discovering new ways of explaining the complicated concepts within maths and science could greatly improve the quality of education which the child could receive. As the cost of VR decreases in the future it could even be deployed within physical education lessons to give a more engaging experience.
In a broader sense of education, VR has already been adopted by many museums and art galleries around the world to be able to deliver the experience from the comfort of your own home. This could be expanded to a lot more museums to be able to give kids in a school an experience of going to museums which logistically aren’t feasible to visit as a fun educational treat for the children in education. Furthermore, the idea of virtual art galleries could be expanded to be able to showcase lesser known talent and be able to incorporate the medium into their art. An example to this is the Google Tilt Brush, this software by Google is standardised for all mainstream VR devices and allows the user to create art within a 3D space. This will allow for new avenue of expression for the creatively inclined to express themselves in a new way
Another big part of the education sector is the workplace training that goes on around the world. As mentioned in the introduction, VR could be implemented within a manufacturing industry to offer training and testing on certain specialist tasks where the use of the safe, repeatable, and virtual environment allows for simulated training. This could also be used within the recruitment process to test applicants on a series of tasks within the virtual environment to be able to gain a greater understanding of their skills and how they would best fit for the job.
Moreover, the ability for home-based education through the use of VR could be coupled with the current boom in the online education market which we have been seeing throughout the pandemic. This could allow for a more visual based approach to education which could work really well with some people, and could be implemented as simply as adding striking visual layers to a presentation which would be delivered through the VR device, however on a more detailed implementation VR could be implemented when teaching any skills related to engineering. The virtual environment can allow for a detailed deconstruction of components with the user being able to view and interact with each part to fully understand the component. This would be very beneficial within the mechanical engineering sector and having the intuitive 3D VR environment to understand how the components for an engine for example are connected together, which for some learners, would be a much more intuitive way of learning this. This would also have the added benefit of allowing the user to be able to interact with these components without needing to have them to hand at home.
The Potential of VR is Limitless
Virtual Reality has the potential to change not only the way we interact with each other, but also how we interact with ourselves. It creates a new sensory experience that makes us feel more connected and, in my personal opinion, more human.
These commercial applications we have discussed are an example of the wide array of ways in which VR could be used to expand a business. Whilst some of these technologies are in the early stages, these are the times to experiment and try to be one of the founding businesses within your sector adopting this growing technology into your operations. The continued development and community collaboration in the technology has shown its wide applications to most industries, some of which are yet to be explored. The future is bright when it comes to VR and it’s exciting to see what else will come from it.
Nathaniel is a Web Design Executive who also writes content on technology and loves spending his days researching and building new projects, and generally complaining about new trends.