This week in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference, much of the focus—who am I kidding, ALL of the focus—was on gaming and entertainment. Virtual reality was very prominent at the event; in fact, my first briefing was on AMD’s LiquidVR development effort.
However, I believe that virtual reality’s greatest achievements, and real power, will have little to do with games, at least those that don’t kill you. Let’s talk about how VR is likely to change the business world we live in.
For a long time, VR seemed always to be a few years out. Or it seemed like a technology that would be just for gaming—and really not that good at that. However, with Oculus Rift finally in ramp to market, it appears we will have hardware that can do a decent job of rendering a scene at relatively low price in market by year end.
The current level of technology is video only, but coming on its heels are controllers and two-dimensional treadmills that will allow game players to better interact with what’s around them.
In addition to these gaming applications, there are a number of relatively obvious business directions this technology will expand as well.
Telemedicine has been one of the first uses of VR headsets. They allow remote doctors to see as if they were looking through the eyes of a technician or doctor next to a patent. The first high-quality headset I ever used was one Sony designed for this purpose. It cost well over $20,000 back in the late 1990s, but it not only provided a relatively high resolution image (for the time), it could also be made semitransparent so that someone could see both a video feed and his or her hands at the same time.
As we overlay VR and use technology to emulate patients, surgeons could use this technology for training or to practice difficult procedures before trying them on live patents.
With robots and controllers, remote operators can use VR to place themselves in the head of a robot or in the virtual pilot seat of a drone. Imagine security guards who could work from home or drones that could perform more like fighters (assuming you can address lag). You could suddenly be where the action is, even if it is in another hemisphere.
This is how NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is using this technology, which they have advanced somewhat with Microsoft. They are now able to put scientists on Mars and use the mars rover remotely to allow these scientists to work as if their offices were actually on Mars.
Building models is clearly one of the most ideal places to use VR. As an architect, you could show what a building will look like inside and out from a unique perspective almost identical to being there. I actually saw this demonstrated by Matterport, an AMD-supported firm that created a 3D model of my San Jose home.
With this technology, you can walk through my house as if you were actually there. I wish this had existed when I was a child as it would be fun to visit the homes I grew up in, some of which no longer exist.
This type of modeling could be particularly useful for space planners, who could work more closely with employees to create office space that they liked and that made them more productive. That could avoid the problem that Conan O’Brien pointed out in his visit at Intel. (Intel actually paid for this.)
What we are seeing now is just the start. With ever more powerful controllers and better 2D treadmills, you’ll be able to interact with the virtual worlds much as if you were actually there. With tools like AMD’s LiquidVR and advancements like HoloLens, it shouldn’t be long before more of us are working in a virtual world. That’s got to be better than working in a cubicle farm.
The enterprise impact of VR should be better working spaces, better ways to work remotely and better ways to escape reality, at least without getting in trouble or ending up with a hangover.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.