Virtual Reality Gets Down to Business

Stephen Mulligan
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On: 6 Oct 2016
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Virtual Reality Gets Down to Business

Virtual Reality is already a reality for gamers. Now forward-looking businesses are beginning to realise its potential for saving time and money, reducing travel and giving customers a more immersive and effective sales experience.

We spoke to Quentin Doran O’Reilly, Senior Product Manager at Samsung, for his insights into the trend.

It’s not often that it’s consumers rather than businesses taking the lead in the early adoption of technology. Usually the business use comes first, then consumers realise how good it could be in their lives, and manufacturers take up the challenge to produce an affordable, mass-market version. But Virtual Reality (VR) has turned that on its head. It’s already a reality in the consumer market, and only now is business starting to see the possibilities of VR.

The speed of development of VR technology has been rapid – and adoption is keeping pace. A year ago you would need about 10 cameras to shoot 360° VR content and once it was filmed, around six months of studio time was needed to “stitch” the material together into a usable VR format. Now, not only can one camera shoot everything, but the stitching actually takes place in-camera, on the go.

At the same time, advances have been made which overcome the issue of latency. This time lag between the movement of the head and the response of the image leads to a feeling of slight seasickness. But the latest headsets have gyros and accelerometers built in to overcome the problem and eliminate the queasiness.

However, technical advances are not enough to attract customers. What has really helped VR take off in the consumer market is that it’s easy to understand what it offers and how it can be used to – literally – add another dimension to many online activities.

Now business is beginning to realise that potential too.

VR as a Sales Tool

Reality is costly where sales are involved. Estate Agents, for example, have to take potential home-buyers to view numerous properties, wasting employees’ valuable time in travelling and spending money on fuel, not to mention the logistical and administrative nightmare of arranging appointments in lots of different locations.

However, one early-adopting estate agency in Ireland, Sherry Fitzgerald, has taken the leap into VR with films of the properties on its books. Now potential buyers can sit in the office and enjoy VR viewings of as many homes for sale as they want, with no appointments with householders required, and in less time than it might take to drive to just one property. A far more immersive experience than simply looking at photos or watching a video, a VR tour of the property enables buyers to spend as long as they like looking at each room from any angle, not dictated by a photographer or cameraman.

For holidaymakers, a visit to their destination before booking is not an option, and photographs, videos and reviews can only do so much. But Thomas Cook customers can take advantage of VR not just to see the hotel or villa, but to “walk around” inside, inspect the swimming pool, and check whether the view really is of the beach, or the car park.

Speaking of cars, the VR test drive is already a reality for some Audi customers. A central London showroom is good for attracting passing trade but not so good for taking a test drive. Half an hour sitting in a traffic jam doesn’t really show off any car to its best advantage. Audi’s answer has been to offer VR test drives, not just around city streets but on a test track. This gives potential car buyers the chance to push the car to its limits without doing the same to the company’s insurers.

Whilst these uses of VR are highly effective, they’re also quite specialist. But the strength of the technology is that it can be used just as effectively to enhance the day-to-day activities of almost any business.

VR to Save Time, Money and Energy

Many business people complain about the time they waste in meetings, or travelling to and from them. Not to mention the associated costs and the time that could be better spent doing something else. VR offers a cost-effective alternative. It is especially effective for training. Training is usually one of the more expensive and time-consuming tasks for a business, especially when trainees might have to travel to a specialist facility, where they can work on dismantling an engine or building a machine for example. But with VR, trainees can get completely hands-on without getting their hands dirty.

Have VR, Won’t Travel

As VR is adopted by more and more businesses, it will start to bring real savings in any area of business where physical distance is a consideration.

With VR, travelling need no longer eat into employees’ time and into budgets. On the other side of the coin, it will bring customers closer, however far away they may be, enabling them to “visit” a restaurant or virtually experience a product, even from the other side of the world.

As more and more content creators and app developers become familiar with working with VR, content will improve, the available applications will expand exponentially and businesses will reap the benefits.

In fact, for a technology based on not having to go anywhere, it will be interesting to see just how far VR can take a forward-looking business.