Not a day goes by without someone stressing the virtues of virtual reality, conjuring up images of futuristic worlds and new gaming experiences. With PlayStation VR now hitting the market, this is only going to accelerate, as PlayStation has essentially made the technology much more affordable and accessible to the market. With the launch of HoloLens, Microsoft is bringing the concept of mixed reality to the market; the ability to blend holograms into your real world.
While people will naturally get excited about the consumer applications for these devices, it’s the commercial applications that have the potential to truly revolutionise the way we see and understand the world around us.
Here are just some of the industries that we’re most excited about:
Charities are using virtual reality in really interesting ways to help create emotional bonds with their audience and boost fundraising efforts. For example, fundraisers are using VR headsets to get passers-by to experience daily life with dementia or autism, hoping this interaction will have a much stronger impact than any words or photographs.
Research suggests that while 99% of people have heard of autism, only 16% truly understand what it is. The UK's National Autistic Society made a VR film to show people what it was like to live with the condition, which will tour UK shopping centres with Samsung Gear headsets in a bid to educate the general public about autism.
We’re also seeing start-ups like Ryot that specialise in capturing the 360-degree reality of the world’s most vulnerable people; sharing it with the wider world in an immersive way to help raise awareness.
There really are no limits to helping the public truly experience the fundamental purpose of any given charity in a powerful and affordable way.
How many of us have been put off a certain profession because of the arduous teaching process? I for one always harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, but couldn’t stomach the endless hours of studying boring textbooks. Think about how many people never realised their dreams or true potential simply because the training process wasn’t fit for purpose?
Imagine being able to remove textbooks completely, and recreate the learning experience in a collaborative world? For example, human anatomy (among other subjects) has been taught the same way for over one hundred years, but mixed reality is now transforming teaching and learning at Case Western University. HoloLens offers the possibility of learning together with three-dimensional images of organs, systems and even surgical patients, while students from different health disciplines can come together to work through hypothetical case studies or even study computerised mannequins.
Healthcare has also become one of the big adopters of VR – both as teaching aid and to treat phobias. Surgeon Dr Shafi Ahmed became one of the first to offer a live virtual surgery experience in April 2016 at the Royal London hospital. This is just one example, but think what impact could this have on reducing skills shortages across a range of different disciplines.
While it may seem frivolous to talk about sales in light of my previous two examples, the technology presents a major opportunity for retailers as they try to lure shoppers into their stores, particularly as consumers shift more of their buying habits online. We’re already seeing the likes of Ikea, Lowe's, Toms and North Face turn to VR to sell products, boost their brands and make shopping a more enjoyable experience.
For example, imagine being able to get a visual representation of what your new kitchen will actually look like in your home, rather than from a showroom. This is exactly what US home improvement chain Lowe’s is doing with its customers today, even using their Pinterest accounts for the ideas formulation stage. Ikea launched an app so people who own a HTC Vive headset can even look inside a virtual kitchen as part of the buying process.
Outdoor recreation brand North Face also introduced two virtual reality videos as a way to bring the wilderness inside and encourage people to get outside. One features rock climbing in Yosemite while with the second the company partnered with Outside magazine using Google
Cardboard to enable subscribers to view shots of Nepal on their smartphones.
These are just three examples, but we’re seeing the value that virtual and mixed reality is already bringing to a range of different industries. While most brands will seize on the technology for the ‘wow factor’, those that focus on the practical applications will really drive the most innovation.
So when you’re enjoying your next game of Driveclub VR with friends, think about how that experience could be used as a way to help overcome the many barriers we as a society face on a daily basis. With the technology now here, the only thing holding us back is the limit to our imagination.