Big business - the age of virtual reality

Virtual Reality is back and this time it intends to revolutionise every aspect of the way we do business.

Back in the eighties and nineties, virtual reality was the next big thing in tech. Admittedly, a few crazy nerds tried to point people towards a new thing called the internet, but virtual reality was where it was at. Things didn’t work out too well that time, but now its back with a new generation of technologies which could transform both the gaming and business worlds.

At the head of this trend is the brains behind Oculus Rift, Palmer Luckey. He hit upon the idea of developing a head mounted display which was both better than existing products and more affordable for gamers. It worked. He proposed a crowd-funded development project and surpassed his funding total with room to spare, and now Oculus Rift is one of the most sought after gaming technologies in the world. Bigger names have also spilled onto the scene, with Sony, X Box and Playstation all releasing VR products.

Luckey’s vision goes no further than gaming, but the possibilities for business are so much more.

A real life Matrix

In 2015, UK start-up Improbable launched what is already being termed a ‘real life Matrix’. The Spatial OS Platform was showcased at the Slush Start-up Conference in Helsinki, which allows users to build their own worlds connected by a complex cloud based infrastructure. The technology can simulate entire cities, vehicles and objects, and goes much further than creating a gaming world, but builds a real virtual universe which is limited only by the user’s imagination.

This creates endless possibilities

Home buyers could benefit enormously. One of the biggest difficulties in buying or renting a new home is that you can’t see enough of them physically. Estate agent photos and video walkthroughs are one thing, but they can’t match the real thing. Virtual reality could do that, allowing you to walk around the house and take a look at the neighbourhood.

The barrier to this has previously been the cost of laser scanning a space, however, development company Matterport has pioneered a means of virtual scanning. They started by simply trying to make 3D scans more affordable, but are now making that technology easily transferable to mobile devices and placing themselves at the forefront of the VR revolution.

Health and virtual reality

VR is already making waves in the healthcare sector. V-Blast is a high-tech virtual simulation which allows surgeons to gain first-hand surgical training without the inevitable risk to the patient. It uses touch feedback technology to help young doctors develop the complex skills needed for surgery and is said to offer an experience close to that of real surgery. Estimates suggest that it takes between 50 and 100 patients for a surgeon to completely get to grips with a procedure, so that many people are potentially at risk from a surgeon who is learning their craft.

A world of possibilities

Elsewhere VR could potentially be combined with augmented reality to help doctors see highly specific and visual details of a patient’s medical records simply by looking at them. Both VR and AR also have potential in care for the elderly, for example by giving them the experience of a day out at the beach. Such technology still has some way to go, however, both in terms of sophistication and acceptance among its core user groups.

Virtual reality is still in its relatively early stages. Most of the more advanced and sophisticated technologies are still a long way from being in the hands of the everyday consumer, but the possibilities are limitless and stretch across all sorts of sectors. Designers could use VR and augmented reality to see designs in their full glory while they are working on them. Social media platforms will allow you to walk side by side with a friend even if they are thousands of miles away. Games will become ever more complex and realistic, and films could be based in virtual reality, allowing you to walk around a scene and see the action from multiple angles.

It's an exciting vision, but before we get carried away it’s worth remembering that we’ve been here before – a long time ago in fact. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s virtual reality was big business. Sony and Nintendo piled in with headsets which were not so dissimilar to the designs we see today. Films such as Tron and Lawnmower Man painted a picture of the virtual reality world which was surely about to descend. It didn’t. Part of the reason was a culture which wasn’t quite ready yet, but most of all the technology fell far short.

Today’s experience is far more immersive, and the possibilities that much wider. That’s not to say VR won’t fall flat on its face once again, but comparisons to earlier failures do not bear scrutiny. The technology may be virtual, but the potential is very real indeed.

© Wavebreak Media Ltd/123RF

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