VR technology first made a splash in the mid-1990s. It was highly cool, at first. But the expense, the clunky graphics, and its nausea-inducing motions caused it to gather dust alongside the Apple Newton and other not-ready-for-prime-time technology.
That’s now changing, as a wide range of companies have begun exploring how such VR applications as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Facebook’s Oculus Rift can help create better products. Those moves have prompted Tech M&A advisor Digi-Capital to forecast Augmented and Virtual Reality market revenue could reach $120 billion by 2020.
Ford Motor Company offers a telling example of the business case for VR. The carmaker has begun using the Oculus Rift VR headset at its Immersion Lab in Dearborn, Michigan, and at its Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California. Among other applications, Ford engineers use VR as a sort of mobility tool — it allows them to walk around, climb into and scrutinize a virtual mock-up of a car.
Meanwhile, Audi engineers in Germany are employing a form of VR to identify minute imperfections in car designs before they make it to the production floor. And medical technology firms are looking into VR to design devices that can conform to the tiniest of the human body’s contours.
What are some other possibilities? VR could allow designers to examine three-dimensional versions of mechanical objects through a mobile interface. Doing so would let technicians create and inspect virtual models of large-scale structures such as buildings and oil tankers. VR could also help employees across the globe jointly visit a difficult-to-reach facility to review, say, schematic diagrams.
Another application that companies including Facebook and Sony have proposed is telepresence — the capability to “be” in a remote location without leaving your office. Videoconferencing already exists, of course, but combining it with VR could provide a much richer communication experience for all virtual-meeting participants.
VR could even make business-to-business and e-commerce transactions a little smoother. A VR interface could provide buyers with a stronger idea of how an item would look once built. Customers could even have a role in the design process, providing early feedback.
Bottom line: If VR technologies can continue to make improvements in cost and user-friendliness, they could make running all kinds of serious businesses more productive, and perhaps even a bit more fun.
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