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Virtual Technology: Changing a Business Near You

16 Oct 2014
Virtual Technology

BY IAN PAUL

You’ve probably heard of Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset by now. Maybe you found out about the two- year-old company when, earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be acquiring it for $2 billion. Or, maybe you remember it from its days as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, from which it was able to initiate the development of its expected first product, the Oculus Rift—a virtual reality (VR) head-mounted gaming display.

Oculus VR’s success story is indicative of the shift from VR as a mainstay of blockbuster sci-fi movies and capital intensive industries like space exploration to a feasible reality for even small and mid-size enterprises. Outside of gaming and pop culture, an increasing number of companies are employing VR technologies to minimize cost, maximize efficiency and to enhance and disrupt long standing approaches to enterprise endeavors.

In Car Design & Manufacturing

The Ford Motor Company is now using VR technology behind the Oculus Rift to design future cars. A partnership with Oculus VR is helping engineers at the automobile giant experience a 3-D world of cars still at the design stage. Ford engineers are able to wear the Oculus Rift VR goggles and get a real-world sense of how an automobile design would appear in minute detail before going into production. For the relatively affordable cost of about $30,000, engineers and designers are getting a precise picture of, and feel for, a car’s interior and exterior. Everything from steering function to color and material texture can be sensed even before the car is made, helping them identify any potential problems or oddities that could cost them millions to correct after production.

In Aircraft Simulation and Prototyping

Lockheed Martin is also using VR to shorten project life cycles in product design and manufacture. Employing a combination of virtual simulations and 3-D printing, Lockheed Martin expects to cut the amount of time it takes to make some of its aerospace hardware by up to three years. This is a significant number, given that the industry average is eight years from start of design to completion.

VR Clinical Feedback

While many experts tout VR as the next big thing, Elizabeth Baron, an advanced visualization technical specialist at Ford, believes that “the virtual reality  community in business is still pretty small.” However, early adopters are already reaping the reward in different industry verticals. Researchers at the University of Washington are using VR simulators to help patients concentrate on visual and auditory feedback like penguins and Paul Simon songs, rather than on painful treatment procedures. According to researchers, this process has helped lower dependence on narcotics and other painkillers, thereby making the treatment process safer.

Experience is King

In light of such insights, some might be tempted to envision their next trip to the dentist involving putting on an Oculus Rift and kicking back to a movie on Netflix, but Benjamin T. Durham, Chief Strategy Officer at Thrillbox, a virtual-reality video content distribution platform provider, would stop you right there. “First off, someone that is getting dental work done is not going to be able to move their head around,” says Durham. “To do so, could result in an even more unpleasant experience. I suppose if one was watching a traditional movie on the HMD’s that would make sense, but definitely would not be a fun use case for vr video. The value of immersive technology goes beyond entertainment. I think we will discover that with the emergence of immersive technologies, people will veer towards an economy that values experiences more, an experiential economy, if you will.”

Like Durham, some see how a virtual “presence” is already a driving force behind the economies that have resulted from the creation and mass adoption of social media. With the convergence of small form factor camera technology, head mounted display models, and advancements in the cloud, they believe the future will have a unique value that is assigned to immersive experiences, and the ability to choose how you analyze or interact with those environments. “Value will be found in not only being able to immerse yourself in a different space – be it for relaxation, entertainment, therapy or work,” adds Durham, “but also in being able to easily navigate your way through the different immersive experiences you can choose from.”

It’s About the Power of Choosing

Companies like Thrillbox are betting that Virtual Reality Video will become a complementary medium to current video, with only the power of choosing the user’s field of vision as the distinguishing element between the two. With traditional video, that choice is made for you by a “director”. With virtual reality video, users are empowered with a sense of volition in that they have the choice of what to look at. The end user’s point of view might not change,  but their field of vision can.

VR video can also have a positive psychological effect on its users. VR video can capture real events that can be shared with someone to positively affect their morale. “Imagine getting to relive the experiences of a marriage, a birth, or even a baseball game, that you were not able to attend due to work, travel, or financial constraints,” says Durham. “There are also applications in forensics for analyzing crime scenes, applications in oil and gas, virtual tourism, as well as outer space.

The Power of Visualization

On the academic front, the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab is leading studies on the use of VR in unprecedented ways. One of its endeavors is in the financial industry, with a virtual experience that engages people with future versions of themselves in different financial situations. Studies from the lab show that individuals are more likely to save money following the experiences of possible future versions of themselves as older citizens living in poverty. Inspired by this data, Merrill Lynch’s online app called, Face Retirement engages clients in interactions with their future selves.

A Safer, More Cost Effective Workplace

Flight simulators are now standard for pilot training because airlines cannot have risk human lives while pilots learn to operate new aircraft models. Similarly, as VR technology’s cost comes down, the technology is being used more and more for “pre-training” in skilled-yet-labor-intensive industries like oil/gas and agriculture, where worker safety training plays a major role in minimizing hazards, accidents and related costs with personnel. New hires who have a better sense of their work environment and an enhanced  “situational awareness” prior to actually entering a “live” environment will have a much lower chance needed to remain safe- prior to entering the field.

Worker efficiency after makes a major impact on the bottom line. As such, the research firm, AppliedVR is developing a commercial VR platform that allows people to experience working in a 3-D warehouse in a game-like environment in which they have to save coworkers from common hazards such as falling from a ledge without a safety railing. Workers who engage with the platform gain sensitivity toward safety measures and procedures before they start a job. “More and more companies are coming to us about implementing various VR elements into their manufacturing and training procedures and software infrastructures” says Marc Boudria, Senior Solutions Engineer at Chaotic Moon Studios. “And while VR isn’t new, Facebook’s recent investment in Oculus and it’s affordable price point (a developer kit is around $300) bodes well for its future. This accessibility opens the doors for the ubiquitous use of VR in virtually every industry sector and category imaginable.”

Chaos Theory is a Chaotic Moon Studios publication. We are a creative technology studio in Austin, TX obsessed with creating innovative user-centered design and developing intelligent custom software for the world’s biggest and best brands. To engage us about a potential project, send an email to hello@chaoticmoon.com