Virtual Reality for Business: 9 Key Use Cases

While virtual reality for business is still nascent, a pioneering crew of businesses is investing aggressively in virtual reality.

Is virtual reality for business for real? This year could finally be the year virtual reality takes off, after so many failed attempts in the past. There is an abundance of hardware choices on the VR market and VR technology finally seems to be catching up with the concept.

However, VR for business is still on the horizon. VR is overwhelmingly being positioned as a form of entertainment and gaming. As of 2016 Q1, virtual reality for business is something of an afterthought, at least to the hardware vendors like Oculus and Samsung.

But that's not to say businesses are shunning virtual reality. There are some exceptional examples of VR for business use that are slowly emerging even as people play games. Some are designed to give a virtual experience, while others give an alternate experience.

Virtual reality for business is still in its infancy but is already showing promise to help companies provide customers with information in ways that a 2D monitor simply cannot deliver. And it will only improve as vendors get better at it and more VR firms for business and not games enter the market.

IDC says that shipments of VR headset worldwide will reach 9.6 million units by the end of this year, up from 350,000 last year, and reaching 64.8 million by 2020. While it expects the bulk of use to be for games, there will be some business uses as well. There already are. Here are some examples:

Virtual Reality for Business: Key Uses

1) IKEA's virtual store

Visiting an IKEA can be akin to torture, with its confusing layout and often chaotic activity. Then when you get to the floor models for room designs, the model might be only in one style and you don't have the option of seeing other designs.

So the Swedish retailer partnered with HTC, maker of the Vive headset, to create an VR for business app called the IKEA VR Experience. It allows interior decorators and designers to create custom kitchens and explore different three different kitchen designs and customize them at will. The user can change the color of cabinets and drawers with a click and move around the kitchen from the perspectives of small children or tall adults.

The app was has its roots in gaming, developed by French game company called Allegorithmic and using the Unreal Engine 4 from Epic Games. The app is sold through Steam, the online store that is to PC game sales what iTunes is to music.

2) Excedrin's Migraine Experience

Now why would anyone want to experience a migraine headache if they don't get them? The answer is empathy. Excedrin's VR Migraine Experience makes a non-sufferer go through at least the visual element of a migraine, even if it can't simulate the pain (and be glad it doesn't), so they see that what the migraine sufferer endures is not a minor experience.

Novartis, maker of Excedrin, says 36 million Americans are affected by migraines, about one-tenth of the population, but that "Migraines are still widely misunderstood — largely because those who don’t experience the condition can’t fully understand it."

The purpose of the VR experience is to show what it's like to have the visual symptoms, like sensitivity to light and sound, disorientation, and visual disturbances, sometimes manifesting as spots or jagged edges or flashes of light that are blinding.

3) Surgical streaming

In 2014, British oncology surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed live streamed the removal of a tumor from the liver and bowel of a patient using Google Glass. It was watched by 13,000 surgical students, healthcare professionals and members of the public in more than 100 countries.

Now he has one-upped himself with procedure to remove a colon tumor that will be live streamed at the Royal London hospital and viewable there with VR headsets. The operation will be filmed by a number of special cameras placed above the operating table, which will allow trainee physicians to have a better view than traditional filmed surgery, which is usually over the shoulder of the doctor. With the VR cameras, they can position themselves anywhere and view the operation from all angles.

Ahmed told the UK Guardian he he thinks the next step in a few more years would be to add additional components that would allow surgical users to experience touch and feel via a VR type of glove.

4) AOL's virtual newsroom

AOL just acquired Ryot, the maker of a virtual reality-powered news service, which will be incorporated into a special subdomain of The Huffington Post to create "the world's largest 360° and VR news network." Ryot will be expanded to all of AOL's properties, like Engadget, TechCrunch, and Autoblog.

Ryot was founded in 2012 by two Americans who met while working in Haiti to help with earthquake relief. They came up with a news outlet focused on socially conscious issues, like the earthquake in Nepal and the raucous political rallies being held this year. They shoot with a special 360-degree camera so when watched on a VR headset, it puts you in the middle of the story instead of just watching it.

5) Lowe's Holoroom

Lowe's Home Improvement is slowly rolling out a VR experience at its stores nationwide that allows customers to have a 3D view of a room redesign before actually building it. The customer uses an Oculus headset in the store, and can then export their design to YouTube 360 and view it at home with a Google Cardboard headset, since it is much cheaper.

Holoroom uses Marxent's VisualCommerce to turn its products into 3D objects, which the customer then uses to design a kitchen or bathroom. They can choose from tile, countertops, sinks, faucets, appliances, toilets and other finishes and products. Selections can be swapped out at will to create a final design. Once the design is complete, the customer then can purchase the actual selection of products.

6) Drone Virtual Visuals

Drones have become a popular toy, and often misused. Just ask an airline pilot. But drones also have practical uses and can provide a really great high altitude perspective that would otherwise require renting a plane or helicopter. The problem is you might have to wait for the drone to land to get the video.

Drone maker Parrot has a fix for its quadcopter drone, known as Bebop. It uses Oculus Rift to see what the drone sees through its 180-degree fish-eye lens. This gives a first-person perspective, rather than squinting at a monitor, to give a direct view of something like inspecting a construction site.

7) Virtual home tours

Lowe's and IKEA are helping with home redesign, but what about shopping for an actual home? That means driving around and doing walkthroughs of homes that might be presently occupied, having to arrange schedules, and so on.

In India it's an even bigger problem, with home purchases taking six to 12 months and involving a lot of driving., India's leading online real estate platform, has a fix for that with CommonFloor Retina. The application offers potential buyers the chance to view/review/assess multiple properties from anywhere at any point of time, walk through the home and see how it looks without disturbing the owner or making a pointless drive.

8) Retinad Analytics

Retinad takes 3D advertising into the virtual world in two ways. First, it adapts ads for the VR medium rather than just inserting a random banner ad. This makes the advertisement, like a 360-degree video or photo, both immersive and interactive without being annoying or disrupting the game, as in-game ads often are.

Second, it does analytics for the advertisers and e-commerce sites using them. Analytics are usually done through row-and-column data or some kind of 2D visualizations, like bar or line graphs. Retinad puts its analytics, in particular browsing, navigation, purchasing and other behaviors on an e-commerce website into a 3D visualization of behavior and statistics.

One of the unique features is the analytic "heat maps" which allow advertisers to see visually where users' attention is drawn to throughout the course of the ad. This allows advertisers to see both problems and popular features alike.

9) Mechdyne

Big Data creates data sets that don’t fit onto a 23-inch monitor. So what better way to visualize them than to literally walk through them? Mechdyne uses Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE), which projects a virtual reality environment on three and six of the walls of a room-sized cube to visualize data in a number of ways, with special focus on modeling and simulation, Big Data, and collaboration.

A researcher can turn data into smart data that they can visualize and interact with. They see trends, patterns, outliers, and unanticipated relationships faster and more effectively in a 3D model than a 2D model on a flat monitor. This allows for more informed reaction and response to that data and more discoveries.

The visualization tools from Mechdyne enable users to see trends and patterns in the data, revealing opportunities to improve processes, strengthen customer understanding and retention, and drive efficiencies both inside and outside of the organization.

Tags: augmented reality, virtual reality, VR, virtual reality use cases

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