Experts say soon VR could be coming to the workplace. Virtual business meetings will replace conference calls, as the technology has started to be tested in offices worldwide - and this could happen in the next couple of years.
Andrew Glennerster, professor of visual neuroscience at Reading University told MailOnline he is certain VR will replace conference calls in offices across the world.
'With Facebook investing $2 billion (£1.53 billion) in VR and several new headsets coming out this year, it could be very soon, for example in the next two years,' he said. Although it might seem like certain aspects of meetings involving human contact will be lacking from virtual meetings, like handshakes and eye contact, Professor Glennerster says technology will advance enough for these to also seem real. 'I have tried robot hands, they give a convincing handshake' he said. 'Eye tracking can, in theory, mean that avatars will have the correct eye movements so eye contact and similar cues will be available. I think the financial drive to make this happen and to work well is huge.'
One aspect of meetings that cannot be replicated in virtual reality is sharing food. 'It is very important to share food at a business meeting,' Professor Glennerster said. 'But why not have the same food delivered to the houses/offices of people at their different locations across the world? 'You can then all be eating the same food, seeing your hands and knife and fork through the headset, and still be in the same virtual space.
'It is quite hard to think of an aspect of meeting in real life that will not be transferred to virtual reality. 'Certainly there is a massive effort at the moment to get haptics to work well.'
One of the companies doing this work is called Altspace VR, a social virtual reality platform. 'One click and you’re in a virtual space with people you care about,' the Altspace VR website says. 'Our newest VR Call feature brings you even closer to being there in person.' Businesses like the Bank of Ireland and National Grid PLC have trialled VR technology for meetings, including software from Altspace VR, according to some of their employees' Twitter accounts.
But whether the technology will completely replace conference calls is another question. 'I definitely can see VR becoming widely used for the purposes of collaborative working,' Jonathan Wagstaff, head of the VR division at Context, an IT supply chain company working with developers of, VR technology told MailOnline. 'But I doubt it will replace cheaper conferencing technology where visual content is not important,' he said. 'There are already applications available for both the Vive and Rift which give some idea of the collaborative potential of VR,' he added.
A Norwegian company became the first to set up an office inside the virtual world of Minecraft earlier this year. This virtual office has views of the open sea and is said to be a perfect place to hold client meetings. A barrier for use at the moment could be the cost, but there is no shortage of companies developing affordable VR technology.
Those on a budget can already use cheap smartphone-based VR headsets such as the Google Cardboard, while those who want a more sophisticated product may lean towards established brands like Oculus. 'VR is the next big computing platform and will reshape the way we experience the world,' said Nicolas Zibell General Manager of International Business and President of Alcatel parent company TCL Communication.
The company recently released a virtual reality headset that works without a smartphone. While rivals like the Samsung Gear VR require a mobile phone and the HTC Vive is designed to work with a computer, the Alcatel Vision is completely independent.
Professor Ken Perlin from New York University's Media Research Lab has been investigating how VR will change people's lives. He agrees with Professor Glennerster's predictions that VR in businesses will become a reality. 'Of course we're going to embrace any technology that makes us feel more connected,' Professor Perlin told The Wall Street Journal