Jacob Bauman, right, helps Libby Monette set up Play Station's new virtual reality rig to play a game at a workshop held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, at StagePost Media in Nashville. Monette said she could see many practical applications for her clients at Golden Spiral Marketing.(Photo: Michelle Willard/DNJ)
NASHVILLE — Sony recently launched its first mass market virtual reality device for video games just in time for Christmas.
The platform for the PS4 gaming console allows gamers to immerse themselves into another world. Whether it be a street luge or a deep sea dive, users are so surrounded by the virtual world that it can be disorienting.
While the uses for entertainment are obvious, virtual reality and its sister technology augmented reality have more practical applications than just video games, said Matt Voss, senior producer at StagePost, a multimedia marketing firm in Nashville.
“It can be used for training, marketing, helping our customers sell and to create buzz about a product,” Voss said at a workshop held Wednesday called VR 101.
Regardless of the use, for Voss the underlying principle is the same: Virtual reality is a new way to tell a story.
“I love finding new technology that can tell stories in innovative ways,” Voss said.
Voss and StagePost looked at new technology and the available apps on the market before deciding to develop its own, Voss said.
The media marketing company partnered with a developer and “made an app that is as simple to use as possible” and adaptable to different clients, Voss said.
The first client was Nashville’s largest tire manufacturer, who asked for a training simulation that it could give to its clients.
“If we can entertain, we can train people,” he said.
The manufacturer contracted with StagePost to create a VR training video that its clients could use to reduce cost by preserving tires.
Voss said the video was developed for a client that spends millions of dollars on tires. The training seeks to reduce that cost and strengthen the relationship between the manufacturer and client.
Before the VR training was developed, the client would transport trainees to the location and train on site. Now the VR simulation takes trainees down into a mine in Nevada to teach them best practices for preserving the tires on their trucks.
The immersive video demonstrates how to build a haul road, evenly distribute a payload and avoid road hazards, all from the relative safety of an office chair. The biggest risk is getting dizzy from spinning around in the chair too much to look at the 360-degree view of the mine.
After completing the video, which includes an audio track, trainees then take a test to see how much they learned.
Voss said the VR training has been in use for a couple months and the trainees are showing better retention of information.
“People love this. They remember what they watch,” he said.
In addition to virtual reality, augmented reality can also be used to train workers. Voss explained AR can allow trainees to interact with the physical world and learn new techniques and strategies.
Robert Saari, instructional technologist from Asurion, said he can see practical training applications for VR in its repair facilities, but it might not be realistic to use in all situations.
A 360-degree image can be created by using a special camera that takes two spherical photographs that are then stitched together. This photo shows the two orginal images on the left and the final stitched image on the right. (Photo: StagePost Media)
“We could train how to make connections or troubleshoot on hardware,” he said. Asurion is a Nashville-based provider of device protection and support services for smartphones, consumer electronics and home appliances. The company also has a repair facility in Smyrna.
Sarri said he could imagine trainees making virtual repairs on digital cell phones or connecting wires on virtual stereo components with the technology.
“It could be easily more efficient to use VR and AR than actual hands-on training,” Saari said after the workshop.
But it wouldn’t be as easy to teach the soft skills needed in the company’s tech support call centers. The novelty of the technology could be distracting too, he said.
“There is a tremendous amount of potential in other industries, I just don’t know about it for us,” Saari said.
In addition to the training opportunities, Voss said companies have also approached StagePost about developing interactive demonstrations and other marketing campaigns to create a connection with audiences.
Whether it be games or business, the potential of VR and AR are just being tapped into, he said.
Reach Michelle Willard at 615-278-5164 or on Twitter @MichWillard.
Taylor Matejovsky, left, with StagePost Media hands earphones to Collen Hoy from Nashville Technology Council as Hoy tries a virtual reality training simulation developed for a tire manufacturer at a workshop held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, at StagePost Media in Nashville. (Photo: Michelle Willard/DNJ)
How virtual reality works
Using a 360-degree camera, multiple spherical images are taken. Those images are then stitched together to create a seamless 360-degree panorama. The VR images can also be created through digital animation in the case of video games.
Users then view the panoramic images through a headset. Sony Play Station 4 users have to use a special rig, while cell phone headsets are available for viewing 360-videos.
Whatever the hardware used, the effect is a full immersion in a virtual world.
How augmented reality works
Augmented reality uses the real-world environment and supplements it with information or a game.
In the case of Pokemon Go, the game uses the cell phone’s camera to project a view of the user’s surroundings and overlays the game’s objectives on top of it.
Other uses include using certain designs in printed material that can trigger interactive 3D images or information when scanned with a device.
Applications have been found in fields from archaeology and architecture to marketing and video games.
Neither technologies have to be tied to a smart phone. The simulations can be stored on a website or loaded into standalone headsets.