Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to be the next big thing in IT and business, changing the perceptions and realities of industries such as gaming, education, healthcare and manufacturing.
At Samsung’s MWC Unpacked event, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke of VR as "an increasingly important computing platform". So important, in fact, that Zuckerberg has created a Social VR team focused entirely on exploring the future of social interaction in VR.
"This team will explore how people can connect and share using today’s VR technology, as well as long-term possibilities as VR evolves into an increasingly important computing platform," he said.
However, the CEO said work in VR is still in its early infancy, with a myriad of hardware and software challenges needing to be solved.
He said: "In the future, VR will enable even more types of connection, like the ability for friends who live in different parts of the world to spend time together and feel like they are really there with each other."
VR, for the time being, has primarily focused on the consumer market, but this could soon change as the application of VR in the workplace, and across industries, continues to evolve and develop.
Sasa Marinkovic, head of VR and software marketing at AMD, said that he is "particularly excited to see how VR is set to make a big impact in the world of business in the near future".
"From retail to education, travel to ecommerce, the potential VR applications are limitless. A great example to consider here is the potential VR has to play in the property market, especially how it can improve the ‘viewing’ process for potential buyers and turn ‘your room’ into ‘showroom’ without ever leaving the comfort of the couch," Marinkovic told CBR.
The VR market is, according to Deloitte, set to reach $1 billion this year, with over 2.5 million headsets expected to be sold. Following Samsung’s Unpacked event at MWC, this number is set to increase with every Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge buyer to be offered a Gear VR headset. If Samsung repeats this with its S6 and S6 Edge sales, this could mean that 45 million people would be able to use a VR headset by the summer.
With BYOD and the rise of consumerisation in the workplace, it seems a plausable jump to consider VR making inroads into the enterprise if it is indeed adopted by consumers.
Although, as previously mentioned by Marinkovic, the potential VR applications are limitless, some in the tech industry are already looking at how VR could be used to drive efficiencies in business.
Chris Sainsbury, director of UX Connections, told CBR: "Whether it is to improve staff training through realistic B2B and B2C scenarios, enable more efficient communications, or new ways of interacting with complex computer systems, VR can enable important efficiencies in enterprise businesses."
Sainsbury said that any situation with a real-world environment is likely to benefit from VR rendering for staff and result in significant cost savings. Such events include expos, trade shows, museums, corporate events, retail environments and leisure situations which "can all be experienced right from a 3D model rather than needing prototypes to be built for real".
He said: "Although VR applications for enterprise are currently in their infancy, there are key ways the user experience can be optimised for realism – the real magic comes from the presence the user feels in the space."
One industry which is already seeing strong VR adoption is the healthcare sector. One example highlighted by AMD’s Marinkovic was the Neuro VR Experience, developed by Generic Electric, which combines the latest VR technologies with AMD graphics capabilities to allow users to enter a full recreation of artist and photographer Robert Wu’s brain, exploring in real-time as he processes thoughts and responds to various stimuli.
Another example of VR proving to be a successful technology in the healthcare space, was Google’s $10 Cardboard, which saved a 4-month-old’s life.
As with all technology, in particular devices enabling mobility and movement outside the enterprise perimeter, concerns around security will undoubtedly surface. Gordon Muehl, VP industrial internet at Infosys, told CBR: "VR creates a compelling, lifelike experience that people are not likely to question, IT security is therefore paramount to insure physical safety.
"People who are immersed in a virtual reality need be sure that they are not been manipulated by a third party. In other words, securing VR software will need to become part of any company’s overall IT security effort."
Conversely, Dr Wendy Powell, Reader in Virtual Reality at the University of Portsmouth and senior member of the IEEE, told CBR: "Security challenges with VR in many ways are not much different than any other computing application. The experience of VR itself is primarily about the hardware (tracking devices, display headsets etc) and does not inherently add any particular security issues.
"If you are going to, for example, run a networked VR application, it will pose the same data privacy challenges as any other networked computer application."
Dr Powell also mentioned that there are still issues with graphics quality traded off against performance. "Nice graphics use a lot of processing power, which will need a higher spec phone or computer to run. Demanding graphics heat up the device quickly, and adding cooling will increase the bulk of the equipment." she said.
"Any issues with lag (for example, when the head turns faster than graphics update) causes nausea and dizziness, which can be very unpleasant, and although this will be solved in the future, it currently has the potential to actually put customers off if not taken into account when designing VR applications."
Although VR is in its early stages, with security, hardware and software issues yet to be completely solved, those businesses interested in VR must proceed with caution. Sainsbury told CBR that firms must ask questions, conduct research and find out how VR can benefit their business.
"They should ensure they conduct research to identify specific user needs and business benefits, this will help avoid pitfalls such as investing a lot of money in gimmicks and applications that look nice but do not deliver the savings they may have promised." Sainsbury said.
For those businesses who can find the business benefit of VR, businesses must initially focus on easy, quantifiable wins, giving employees time to understand the technology, according to Alex Russell, fellow at the Centre for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth.
Businesses must also bring in third-party experts to assist with VR adoption, in addition to not rushing ahead and converting to VR technology all at once.
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