Virtual and Mixed Reality technologies are stirring up quite a bit of excitement these days. Many investment firms and analysts say that Virtual Reality is the next big tech revolution after mobile, and predictions for the industry’s growth ranges from $70B to $150B by 2020.
Virtual Reality (VR) refers to a completely immersed experience where you can’t see or interact with the world around you. It typically doesn’t let you interact with others, though some social experiences are now being developed for VR. Mixed Reality (MR) are experiences that let you place virtual content on top of the real world and interact with it as though it were a tangible object, creating a blend of the physical and digital world.
Traditionally, the development of these technologies has been driven by military and training applications. More recently, VR and MR is gaining attention from various industries and it is an exciting time for companies and organizations that are looking for an opportunity to translate business solutions into an immersive media format. New applications are surfacing across an array of verticals:
- Healthcare: Today, doctors often carry paperwork and consult charts in order to assess their patients. With MR, physicians and nurses could access this information digitally and hands-free, allowing them to share it with fellow staff or even consult doctors across the country.
- Education: With VR, complex systems could be visualized in three dimensions. Teachers can use virtual displays to show students how blood flows through the heart or take students on a field trip to a South American rainforest. VR could also allow realistic, complex training simulations that take minimal resources to create.
- Engineering: There are numerous potential applications for MR and VR in engineering, especially with remote collaboration. Oil rigs, for example, require constant monitoring, but it’s not always possible to assign expert technicians to every location. Equipped with an MR headset, a maintenance worker could be instructed by someone on the other side of the world to conduct repairs properly. Architectural and design projects could also benefit from MR where multiple people could manipulate and shape objects within a shared environment.
As new technologies, VR and MR require a different approach. For any company who wishes to incorporate these new technologies into their processes, the following considerations are important to keep in mind:
Comfort and Safety
Most VR platforms require you to wear something on your face. This is a very intimate way to connect to technology compared to what most people are used to, which is a screen they can keep at a distance. Thus, ensuring a comfortable, enjoyable VR experience is important for your comfort and safety.
VR and MR Do Not Replace Existing Workflows
It can be tempting to consider VR a quick solution to problem solving. However, it’s important to remember that VR and MR are not about replacing existing workflows, but enhancing them. Companies should carefully consider their workflows and identify where MR or VR can be added as a discrete, important part of the workflow.
Choosing the Right Agency to Work With
Designing for VR and MR is not a simple task. It’s unlike any other popular software design from the last 20-30 years and requires an unusual skillset. Designers must think about the logistics of creating a 3D object; adding different behaviors and interactions to it that match people’s expectations of how the object would behave in the real world; and finally adding in digital properties such as the ability to resize, annotate, and transform it. In this environment, drawing on a combination of skills in gaming and cinema are key in conjunction with the ability to apply these skillsets to enterprise business problem solving.
Right now people are focused on moving from web to mobile, but the big question is whether VR technology will become as commonplace as smartphones. Broader adoption will probably come in the next three to five years, driven primarily by the entertainment and media landscape. This means that finding ways to effectively integrate VR and AR into a business and operations context will require creativity to design solutions and a willingness to experiment.
VR represents a real opportunity to improve the quality of human experience in two ways. First, integrating it into highly visual and hands-on remote collaboration processes can be a multiplier for human productivity. It can remove the need to be physically present, but offers more direct interactivity than teleconferencing or email. By improving the efficiency of communicating information, it can reduce time spent on extraneous workflow and processes.
Second, VR and MR can be used to help people understand complex data in an intuitive way. Imagine if FedEx could visualize all of its operations around the world, and how quickly they could identify areas for improvement for transportation and logistics.
This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as Virtual and Mixed Reality is concerned. Over the next few years, VR and MR will continue to evolve, changing the landscape of digital media as it finds its way into the hands of more and more users. To remain innovative and relevant to their consumers, companies should pay close attention to this space and begin exploring its potential to benefit their business today.