In case you missed it, the last few weeks have heard whispers abound about Virtual Reality’s doomed marriage to the smartphone. Google and Samsung announced – to not a whole lot of gasping it has to be said – that they’re calling it quits on mobile VR, and many would say not a minute too soon.
Samsung Gear VR, a prime example of a big idea that garnered little traction (despite shipping a rumoured 3.65 million headsets back in 2017), and Google Daydream, that old “smartphone within a VR headset” innovation (in which significant time and money was invested), have simply failed to deliver.
These failures, whilst perhaps predictable, also prompted the inevitable and recurring whispers about whether or not VR actually had anything to bring to any table beyond entertaining the bored, and, given its super-slow ascent, whether we’d be about to witness the demise of any momentum at all behind the growth of everyone’s favourite technology.
Sad times indeed, but before you start crying into your virtual milk, let’s back up a bit! Whilst VR might have fallen short of expectations when it comes to handheld devices, to think that it’s falling short when it comes to enterprise would be a mistake. Indeed, it may well be taking the long way around, but virtual reality in the business space is far from being designated to the ‘let’s pretend that didn’t happen’ bin. In fact, quite the opposite …
A brief history of VR
Believe it or not, the concept of virtual reality first appeared in 1935 in Stanley Weinbaum’s book Pygmalion’s Spectacles, a story in which a professor invents a pair of ‘spectacles’ that enable the wearer to watch a movie – replete with sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.
Twenty-two years later in 1957, VR technology was actually born, named Sensorama and conceived of by a man called Morton Heilig in 1962. The Sensorama was a device that’s today considered one of the earliest examples of “immersive, multi-sensory (now known as multimodal) technology” – aka virtual reality. And before you disappear down that wormhole, we can tell you that no, there were no Oculus Rift style shenanigans going on in 1962. Think more fans, odour emitters, a stereo‐sound system, and a chair that moved to mimic motion. The Sensorama simulated a motorbike ride through the city of New York by which the participant would sit on their imaginary bike and view the street via a screen in front of them.
So far so funfair, but there’s more … the noises and smells of the city were ‘manufactured’ nearby and delivered at the most appropriate points in the user’s journey – exhaust fumes, the smell of pizza and nearby fans mimicking the sweet sensation of the New York wind on skin. It’s basic (and probably toxic!) to put it mildly, but the idea was there! Where is it now? A much healthier place, it has to be said … and probably a long way from where we expected it to take us – for now.
Although it’s been a somewhat slow start for VR, the pace is picking up. Globally, the VR market is predicted to be touching around 98.4 million sales by 2023 (that’s a worldwide population penetration of 2%), which isn’t bad for all the VR nay-saying we’ve been hearing.
Driven by the gamers out there, and the desire for bigger, better, more immersive, more real experiences, growth in the VR space has been impressive. Availability and affordability (£400 for an OR headset, anyone?), massive investments, the remarkable, ever-increasing advancements of the technology itself and the growing digitisation of the world around us are ensuring no signs of a slow-down – yet – but is there really a place for VR in business? Yes! And if you don’t believe us, consider that much of the growth we’ve seen so far is being driven by increasing investments from both the commercial and public sectors. Curiously, the largest chunk of spending on VR technology over the coming 3 years is going to come directly from the financial and infrastructure sectors, followed closely by manufacturing and then public sectors. Something is surely afoot …
VR in Enterprise – where we’re at, and where we’re going
Not so long ago, Varjo unveiled its shiny new high-resolution enterprise VR headsets to an excited CIOs, CTOs and CEOs the world over. “The world’s most advanced virtual reality device”, and coming in at a cool $5-6K, the VR-2 Pro is replete with capabilities you definitely won’t experience with your OR headset – this is where we start to see the gaps between enterprise and consumer VR.
But hey, we all have to start somewhere, and where these expensive cousins tread now will be where we’re all treading sooner or later. Indeed, the remarkable human eye-resolution (over 60 PPD, or pixels per degree) and outstanding fidelity is of particular interest, if not utmost importance, to the sectors that want their hands on this technology (and for whom the $6k price tag is laughingly affordable). So who are these cool customers that are exploring enterprise VR? What are they using the technology for – surely it’s not on the PerkBox list? More importantly, is VR bringing high-value benefits to its proponents -and will it still be delivering 5 years down the line?
In the virtual realm, things are different. Walls can be moved just by pointing at them, houses can be built using eye movements, and spaces can be created where there are none. Complex information can be visualised in three dimensions, and movement from one point seemingly miles from another takes only a split second. Mistakes, when they happen, can be unmade, new worlds can be created, and the boundaries between the real and the unreal become fluid. No wonder some philosophers and future forecasters imagine that one day we’ll all be happy to live in a virtual world. The rules are different here.
Of course, such promises and capabilities are limited only by imagination, making VR very, very appealing to the enterprise that’s open to exploring unlimited business possibilities. Involved in training? VR will help make it way more efficient and effective. What about retail? Then VR is ready to bring your brand experience to your customers in ways that could revolutionise operations. You’re in Healthcare? Virtual reality is primed to change the provision of medical (services?) forever. Or maybe it’s Manufacturing that you’re looking to disrupt with this extraordinary technology? Whatever industry you’re in, chances are that VR is going to play a part in it someday. But someday, for many, isn’t quick enough – we’re already seeing big strides being made across Finance, Energy and Healthcare, to name just a very few already dabbling and putting VR at the very heart of their plans for growth and transformation – and reaping the rewards …
VR in Finance
71% of millennials would rather go to the dentist than listen to what banks tell them. So if there’s one industry that’s been ripe for reformation, it’s finance. The good news is, they’ve been at it for quite some time, thanks. Finance is today one of the industries that have been quick – and keen – to embrace emerging technologies and innovations, and redefining financial services across the board from banking to investing to mortgaging to trading. So much so, that we’re willing to place a hefty bet on that dentist figure dropping dramatically come 2020.
So where does VR fit into the finance ecosystem? It may not seem like it fits anywhere – but you’d be wrong. Finance is within touching distance of seeing VR (along with AR; Voice, Blockchain, AI and IoT) turn fiscal traditions on their head, revolutionising financial data analytics, rewriting customer service, and redefining product and service delivery – and that’s just to kick things off:
I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly good at understanding financial data – a quick glance through the Financial Times can bring me out in a cold sweat. Are these shares I bought performing well? Maybe I should sell? Actually, maybe I should hang on to them?
This might not seem like a big problem – how many banking customers, after all, spend much time (if any) analysing financial data to see how well their investments are performing on any given day? Thing is, being able to visualise financial data in a way that’s easy to understand means that finance becomes friendly – and not the complex beast most of us understand it to be. And friendly finance means bigger, better, more valuable engagement from customers.
Allowing traders – and customers – to analyse huge volumes of complex financial data in ways that make doing so faster, easier and more efficient, VR provides the immersive, interactive capabilities that enable users to see that information from a completely different perspective.
Inviting users to step inside the data, this interactive 360 view instantly provides – literally – a vast new financial landscape that allows those invited to interact with the information presented. the available canvas and interactions become more intuitive as we can reach out to touch and manipulate what is shown to us. In other words, VR turns data visualisation from an action to an experience. Insights previously inaccessible are now there for the picking. Details once lost in the milieu of … even more, details, are revealed and new options presented. Users can interact with facts and figure in three dimensions, enabling the comparison of data sets, and providing a completely new perspective around how one financial decision will impact across the whole. Clarity never looked so good … now I understand what I’m doing with my money, what I could do, what I should do, and why I should take one route or another. Products and services become interesting, engaging, and more importantly, valuable. Investments become informed and missing puzzle pieces slot into place …. and everything makes far, far better sense.
Examples of VR in Finance
VR in Oil & Gas
There are one or two sectors where emerging technologies have so much to bring to the table that they’re now in the process of being radically redefined in unimaginable ways. Oil and Gas is one such sector, and it’s on a VR mission, making its foray into upstream, midstream and downstream activities and rewriting the rulebook for each. If that sounds a tad inflated, or perhaps over-egging it a bit, hold your horses … BP, Shell, Baker Hughes, Chevron. ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Gazprom, Halliburton and Saudi Aramco, to name just a few, have all been busy exploring the benefits of enterprise VR … so what’s the story?
Making a mistake when you’re operating a till might not matter much, but making one when you’re on a platform in the middle of the North Sea might matter a lot. An exceptionally complex industry that has to manage and adhere to a huge number of health and safety rules and compliance-related activities, the oil and gas industry is no stranger to the vast commitments required for lifelong (or career-long) training that will help to ensure not only that these guidelines are being met, but that lives are being protected. So ‘traditional’ training is usually (very) expensive, logistically challenging, particularly when it comes to getting trainees to the training site, and often impractical when it requires removing equipment from service. And when it comes to training for emergency situations, it’s almost impossible given that replicating said events is as risky as the real thing. Given the vast, complex nature of facilities and equipment across the oil and gas landscape, training has to be robust, efficient and most of all effective.
VR in Oil and Gas
Learning how to perform complex activities by reading a book or looking at two-dimensional images can only get you so far … but delivered with VR? Now we’re looking into a whole new candy box of opportunities to learn on the (virtual) job, address the challenges of this multifaceted, demanding training, and start lowering the eye-watering training costs that are begging to be lowered:
Benefits of VR training:
- Drives a higher level of emotional engagement from the trainee
- Increases information retention
- Several individuals can be trained at the same time
- Training sessions can be provided at the same time across a number of different locations
- Enhances employee familiarity with complex equipment and machinery before working in the field for the first time
- Trainees get to see, hear, and control various scenarios – including emergency situations – from the first-person perspective – helping to fine-tune responses to maximise effectiveness in real situations
Bottom line? VR is making the oil and gas sector more safe, more efficient, and far more cost effective than it could ever have dreamed it could be. In just a few short years, we’ll see this technology transform the entire energy ecosystem in ways that benefit not just the organisations using it, but for their customers, and the world around us too.
Examples of VR in Oil & Gas
VR in Healthcare
Similar to the disruption oil and gas is undergoing thanks to VR, Healthcare finds itself on the cusp of its own revolution. Hyperbole this is not. From creating extraordinary new methods of delivering healthcare to those in need, to training the surgeons of the future, to the promise of saving tens of thousands of lives, when VR meets health, we really are entering a brave new world.
In 2017, the VR healthcare market was reported to have grown to touch $976 million from $525 million in 2012 = that’s a whopping 85% increase in a very short space of time. Come 2025, we’re looking at a $5.1 billion. As we see this new digital landscape opening up in front of us, we’re all privy to an extraordinary paradigm shift across healthcare that’s being guided by the unique capabilities that VR brings. As well as the obvious benefits of employing VR to help with the manifold needs of intricate training – medical mistakes are not only costly, but they can have serious consequences – it’s the treatment of some of the most costly and complex medical conditions around which we’re starting to see the life-changing impacts that VR makes possible …
The ramifications of poor mental health are vast – astronomical costs to the healthcare ecosystem to treat, huge societal costs for all of us to bear (lost working hours, the ripple effects across family and friends), and enormous personal costs sometimes too great to bear. Mental health is a huge problem we all desperately need to address, but which we time and again find ourselves unable to do so both effectively, and efficiently. The system, as it stands, is simply unprepared to address this growing problem. But all that may be about to change with the introduction of VR into the mental health space, and particularly when it comes to the treatment of PTSD.
Whilst many people think of PTSD as a condition that affects only military personnel, it can, in fact, affect anyone exposed to a traumatic event – think accidents, violence, natural disasters etc. Most of us experience at least one traumatic event during our lifetime – but most of us don’t go on to develop PTSD. That said, the statistics are startling:
- 1 in 5 of us who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD
- About 13 million people have PTSD in a given year
- 1 in 13 of us will develop PTSD at some point in our life
PTSD can be a condition that’s not only extremely debilitating to sufferers, but one that’s particularly challenging to treat. However, there are murmurs afoot that VR is already rewriting that particular script, and with astounding results.
‘Exposure’ treatment is considered one of the most effective methods of addressing PTSD – it’s not new, but the traditional approach to exposure treatments is costly, often very long term, and usually very hit and miss as far as successful outcomes go. How, after all, does one expose a sufferer to a realistic presentation of the often very individual situations that cause distress – and do so on a regular basis? In a word, you don’t – traditional exposure therapy in PTSD uses imagination alone, a process in which the patient is required to imagine time and again the situation that caused the trauma – a big ask of someone who’s spent years avoiding doing that very thing. And here’s where VR steps in.
After first imagining and then spending time looking at images related to the events that lead to their condition, PTSD patients are then guided by their healthcare practitioner to ‘relive’ these events through virtual experiences that closely mimic them. Practitioners can customise and tweak these virtual environments, slowly exposing sufferers to the stressful stimuli. As patients being confronting and processing the resulting painful emotional memories, over time, desensitisation begins to happen and recovery can occur – all in the safe environment of the healthcare facility. A process that can take years using traditional methods, VR enables faster, more cost-efficient, more successful patient outcomes -particularly when combined with other treatments and medications. Of course, the good news is that the use of VR in mental health therapies doesn’t stop at trauma – we’re already seeing VR being used to treat phobias, addictions, depression and even eating disorders. Watch this space – we’ll be taking a deeper dive into this in the very near future …
Examples of VR in Mental Healthcare
So there you have it. VR may well have started life as some fantastical dream on the pages of an obscure book, and it may well have struggled to make the leap from imagination to invention, but today VR is very much a reality that’s making a real difference to real lives in the real world. And the payoffs are clear, with the successes detailed above proving that VR is today relevant and recognised as having more than a whole load of hype holding it up. And as enterprise gets serious about driving transformation with a technology that’s literally redefining entire industries, the potential of VR becomes even more captivating. Yes, there are obstacles to overcome, hurdles to leap, and minds to change, but the momentum is picking up pace, and we all want to be part of where it’s taking us …
What to do next
If you’ve been wondering where emerging technologies can take your business, Waracle can show you the map, and help get you there. Just tell us where you want to go, and let’s get the conversation started!