Christmas, 2017. Like most high schoolers, I had been waiting weeks for the day to finally arrive. This Christmas, however, was different, because in 2017 I asked for something special. It was a video game console, but not any ordinary one. Fast forward to Christmas morning. I wake up, head downstairs, and open up a large box to find exactly what I was hoping for: an HTC Vive virtual reality headset. I couldn’t wait to set it up and start playing. That was four years ago, when virtual reality was more of a “gimmick” targeted to a niche audience of video game enthusiasts. Since then, virtual reality has gained much more mainstream prominence.
So, what exactly is virtual reality? Technically speaking, it involves a virtual 3D environment that a user can interact with. There are many ways to achieve this, with the most popular being the use of a headset that a user wears, allowing them a 360० view of the virtual environment. What most people think of when they hear “virtual reality” are video games that you can play using a virtual reality headset. The two most prominent companies that sell such products are HTC, who creates virtual reality headsets under the brand “HTC Vive”, and Oculus, owned by Facebook (now Meta), known for their “Quest” headsets. Sony also offers PlayStation vr, a virtual reality headset used in conjunction with their flagship console, the PlayStation (both 4 and 5).
Overall, video games are the most prevalent (or at least most known) usage of virtual reality. However, there are many other virtual reality applications. Businesses from across the globe have sought out to utilize this technology, and have been doing so for years. This has led to a wide variety of business applications involving the technology. Such benefits of utilizing this technology could include cost and time savings, increased collaboration, and more. The pandemic may have added to the appeal of virtual reality, acting as a way to conduct meetings without needing to be in person. When it comes to virtual reality technology, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
So, what are some of the business applications of virtual reality? First, companies can use virtual reality to enhance their design process. Using the technology, companies can create complex virtual prototypes that can be tested and manipulated, all without actually having to utilize physical materials. Therefore, companies save costs as well as saving time on design and development of a prototype. One company that has used virtual reality in this sort of way is Boeing. Mechanics at Boeing used virtual reality technology to help them prepare to build the 737 Max 10. Using virtual reality, mechanics and technicians were able to construct a prototype for the plane and examine and test different parts. Aircraft manufacturers aren’t the only ones to utilize virtual reality in this way. For example, Land Rover also uses virtual reality to create, examine, and test 3D models of various parts that are used in their vehicles. When it comes to manufacturing and design, virtual reality is incredibly useful.
Another business application of virtual reality is training. In fact, training is easily one of the most popular uses of virtual reality technology in business. According to recent research, about 71% of businesses who used virtual reality technology in 4th quarter 2018 used it for training purposes. Virtual reality can be used to train professionals in a wide variety of different fields. For example, in the medical field virtual reality can be used to train for surgeries, try out new medical procedures, and more. Virtual reality can also be used in training retail employees. Walmart uses virtual reality headsets to train their employees in their “Walmart Academies”, which is what they call their training centers. Training can vary and can include a variety of situations, such as dealing with large crowds on black friday. Other applications of virtual reality in training could be for school teachers, law enforcement, and many more. It is easy to see why using virtual reality for training is so popular; after all, it allows users to put themselves in risky or unpleasant situations at no risk whatsoever, can drastically reduce training time, and more. It is likely that the variety of applications of virtual reality in training will grow even more into the future.
Another one of the many applications of virtual reality in business is enhanced data visualization. Anyone in business understands the importance of data. Data interpretation and analysis is relevant in all aspects of business, especially during the era of big data. Now, imagine doing all of this in a 3D environment. Companies such as Virtualitics do exactly that. Using their software, users can collaborate to create complex 3D data models. Another company, BadVr, allows users to monitor real time data in a virtual 3D environment in telecom and public safety applications. The benefit from using virtual reality for data analytics comes from gaining a new perspective. When interpreting data, it is always a good idea to look at data from every angle in order to understand underlying patterns and meaning in the data; with companies such as Virtualitics and BadVr, one literally can look at data from every angle. A unique perspective, combined with enhanced collaboration and a variety of other benefits, make virtual reality a wonderful tool for analyzing data.
Virtual reality is a fascinating technology that can be used in numerous ways within business. Although many companies have been using the technology for years, it will likely continue to grow and develop for years to come, becoming much more advanced in the process. I look forward to witnessing the growth of virtual reality technology, and what new applications in business come with it. And who knows, maybe one day I will be able to use virtual reality as a part of my future job! Until then, however, I’ll stick to playing in these virtual worlds while sitting on my couch using my HTC Vive.