Many industries are now reaping the benefits of integrating virtual reality devices into their day-to-day work.
Most reports on virtual reality tend to focus on gamers battling invisible enemies while wearing VR headsets – or hi-tech cinema experiences such as the VR pods coming to iMax cinemas. But the impact of this technology on business could be even more powerful – affecting everything from training to sales or even recruitment.
Simon Willies, head of commercial, Currys PC World Business, says: “Although frequently touted as the future of entertainment, there is an increasing groundswell of support in the idea of applying VR technology to a wider range of industries. Educational institutions, for example, can use VR to provide students with immersive classroom experiences.
“For retailers, VR could revolutionise the in-store experience – and from an e-commerce perspective the potential impact is even bigger, allowing sellers to deliver catalogues and products straight into customers’ living rooms.”
The ability to catapult someone directly “into” a job means VR is also an extremely effective training tool – as well as highly useful for manufacturers, which can use VR headsets to design and show off products in 3D before they need to start making a prototype. It is clear that VR holds a lot of potential for many industries, including these five.
“Thomas Cook has been investing in virtual reality in the travel industry, using it to enhance the sales experience,” says Jo Allison, behavioural analyst at Canvas8. “One in 10 users of the technology at its Bluewater [Kent] store is booking a holiday there and then. A VR helicopter tour of Manhattan boosted revenues for the real thing by 190pc.”
For engineers and designers, the technology offers a way to show off goods and services to potential clients – something that would have been impossible before.
Mark Miles, managing director of VR agency RenderMedia, has already partnered with a number of engineering businesses, including aerospace company Airbus.
He says: “VR makes it possible for engineers and manufacturers to experience their creations before they’re built. We have developed applications that allow people in different countries to appear next to one another on an oil rig and interact. It creates that heightened sense of reality.”
Estate agents are already using virtual reality to show people round properties, with Rightmove trialling VR tours last year. The technology is also having a huge impact on architecture and even home improvements, with Ikea now trialling VR in stores.
Adam Blaxter, co-founder of the lettings app Rentr, says: “In architecture and construction, the ability to turn designs into virtual models is already becoming part of a normal workflow. In residential property we have already seen Ikea coming forwards with virtual makeovers for your home.”
VR’s most powerful impact may well be on training – with the technology already used across a huge range of industries.
Alex Guillen, go-to-market manager at Insight UK, says: “Imagine a situation in healthcare where any number of trainee surgeons could be ‘in the room’ with the consultant performing a procedure. To get multiple people that close to the experience is extremely powerful.”
The potential uses of virtual reality may soon transcend all industries and become ubiquitous in all workplaces
And it does not stop there. The Holovet company is already creating 3D guides to animal organs using Microsoft Hololens headsets; Samsung employs virtual reality to train its sales teams in how to deal with customers; firefighters in Britain are already training with Oculus Rift headsets, allowing them to gain experience of hostile and possibly deadly environments; and footballers at Arsenal use Oculus Rift headsets to review their moves on the pitch.
The ability to expose people directly to what it is like to do a job means that VR is also a highly powerful recruiting tool, which is already being used by the British Army.
Nick Terry, of Capita Army Recruitment, says: “Virtual reality helps us bring the British Army experience to life for young people. Potential recruits can experience the type of training they might receive, such as the exhilaration of parachute jumping or the skills needed for urban combat training.”
The future office
The potential uses of virtual reality may soon transcend all industries and become ubiquitous in all workplaces. Ms Allison says that VR headsets can turn the computer desktop into a space that workers can enter.
She says: “The app Breakroom lets officers turn their VR headsets into multimonitor systems. The idea is that you can be ‘working’ anywhere; a beach, a mountain, even space.
“This seems great for workers who are sick of being chained to a desk, transporting them to tranquil places free from distraction.”
This means that employees could one day hold meetings in virtual environments, allowing them to be anywhere they want, with anyone, regardless of geographical boundaries. It seems the opportunities are indeed endless.