How B2B can harness the power of virtual reality

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Virtual reality is well known for its uses within the gaming community — but the business community is realizing the many doors VR can open, too.

The software came most prominently into the public eye with Oculus Rift, an affordable piece of hardware with cutting-edge capabilities. The device is, physically, little more than a headset with motion sensors that projects images on the retina. Everything, from riding a roller coaster in your living room, to exploring brain scans, to flying, to seeing your own brain activity, is possible. It allows an immersive, 360-degree experience to its users, with add-ons built and designed according to specifications and needs.

The company was acquired by Facebook in July 2014 for $2 billion. As The Guardian reported at the time, “The social network is paying $400m in cash plus 23.1m Facebook shares for the maker of the Oculus Rift headset, with a further $300m in incentives if it hits certain milestones in the future.”

Industry leaders are exploring the possibilities using virtual reality successfully within their respective business ventures. As Tech Radar outlined last July, the areas of education, architecture, 3D design, and treatment of both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety and phobias mark only the beginning of possibilities. The military, engineering, manufacturing and medical industries are also using virtual reality technologies for in-the-field training, research, prototype design, and preparedness exercises. The retail sector has experimented with VR tech as well, with British giant Topshop using 360 virtual technology in 2014 to provide a peek at its latest fashions.

Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum (a London-based analyst and consultancy firm), told Forbes contributor Leo King last year that an important factor in any future success for VR technology in business applications would be its ability to “bring together the real and virtual worlds, interactively, overlaying the virtual on the real.” This seamless integration seems to be what is guiding business giant Bloomberg in the development of its own virtual reality technology, a prototype of its wildly profitable data terminal.

A woman testing Oculus Rift
A woman testing Oculus Rift

As Quartz reporter Zach Seward wrote last June after testing the technology, “as a proof of concept, it succeeds.” That’s largely because the Bloomberg/virtual reality solves the problem that Nick Peck, the Bloomberg employee behind the device, calls the “limited real estate space” of physical terminals. A virtual reality device allows users to expand screens at any distance, without the limitations of physical restrictions, making the updating and exchange of financial information faster and more responsive. Seward outlined the device’s other uses:

…a virtual workspace could be transported home, where terminal setups are typically far less elaborate. Screen arrangements could easily change based on time of day. Colleagues could come together from different parts of the world. Data visualizations could add a third dimension of analysis.

Bloomberg isn’t the only company investigating the possibilities of virtual technology. Within architecture, buildings are being created before they actually exist, providing contractors, designers, and architects themselves with a more fulsome and all-consuming feel for a particular space. According to Business Insider, architecture-specific company Arch Virtual “creates augmented reality apps” for Oculus Rift. In one example,a building model was provided to the company; that model was then adapted to work with gaming engine Unity 3D, thus allowing the company to provide the client with a more immersive experience.

This sense of immersion is one that could revolutionize the travel industry. As TTG Digital’s Jack Dutton wrote last spring, “Travel agents in the future will be able to use hardware like Oculus Rift to give clients a feel for their destination. They can walk about an accurately modeled resort and see its rooms, restaurants and pools before committing to paying a deposit.”

Skyscanner, a global travel search site, unveiled its report, The Future of Travel 2024, in May 2014, where, at a live event, it showcased Oculus Rift as being an intrinsic part of its vision. Filip Filipov, Skyscanner’s head of B2B, says the use of virtual reality in the travel industry “part of the planning and booking process that takes away the fear some people have about traveling.”

Microsoft has just thrown its hat in the VR ring as well, with the launch of HoloLens this week. An augmented reality headset, its APIs are set to be part of every copy of Windows 10. What’s more, Windows Universal apps will extend automatically to HoloLens. Associated Press reporter Brandon Bailey says that Microsoft executives discussed the many possibilities for HoloLens at its launch, where it would offer applications “from helping a surgeon learn a new operating technique to designing objects for 3-D printers.” Bailey also wrote how he “could also see applications in the kitchen, classrooms and retail shops.”

Virtual reality technology is a highly competitive industry that, if Microsoft’s recent announcement and Google’s quiet investment in tech company Magic Leap are any indications, will be playing a major role in business operations of the future. B2B might just be the perfect platform for VR to soar, within industries we never thought would make that jump into immersive environments.

 Oculus Rift photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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