Companies have found themselves in uneasy territory and are trying to figure out where Virtual Reality (VR) fits into their business plan. If they don’t show some sort of involvement in the VR space they appear backward. But if they rush into it just by using VR as a ‘gimmick’ to show involvement, this is also dangerous. If the VR content turns out badly, the customer will always associate the bad VR experience with the brand.
For some fields like the medical sector, there is less trepidation. In April of this year, Dr Shafi Ahmed, co-founder of VR and augmented reality firm Medical Realities, performed live cancer surgery in VR. At the Wired Health conference in London he spoke about seeing VR assisting a “low-cost approach to surgery” where people can tune into a surgery via a VR headset from different parts of the world.
But in other sectors the answer is less obvious. At the VRX conference in London, as one audience member put it: “If we invest in Samsung Gear/HTC Vive now – what about its longevity? What if we invest large sums of money but something better comes out soon after?”
Good VR content served with a practical business purpose equals a winner, though. For Audi, this is attracting more customers to dealerships and helping solve the complexity of customers having too many personalisation options.
“People rarely visit dealerships anymore. They are already well informed thanks to Google. Plus, there are three million combinations that customers can do and it’s increasing,” Marcus Kuehne, VR Project Lead at Audi tells the audience at the VRX conference.
So now Audi customers can configure their car and experience it through VR headsets at dealerships. But Audi knows it will have to do more to keep the customer engaged. So the VR experience even puts the car on the moon so customers leave with a memorable experience.
Another possible business use for VR is in engineering. At one of the stands, Vitek Goyel, CEO at PixelTek demonstrated a VR training simulation for engineers he developed for one of his clients in India. The user puts the Oculus Rift headset on and is taken through a training exercise designed to solve a mechanical problem with a turbine. I got to try it and while it was impressively futuristic, the main drawback was the lack of accuracy when I pointed and clicked at the mechanical components floating in front of me. Goyel had to guide me at several points.
“The client develops analytic tools for companies like Boeing and GE and initially just wanted a cool VR application to show their clients that they are involved in the VR space,” Goyel tells me when I catch up with him by phone later. “Later they realised that actually, this could be used for training purposes too.”
Goyel says he’s received a lot of interest from the business sector looking for VR solutions for some of their training needs. His latest project is with a leading car manufacturer in India and developing VR based training modules to train workers on painting the cars correctly in the factory.
“Workers often face the challenge of positioning themselves properly when aiming the paint trigger at the car or applying an uneven coat of paint. With this VR application, they can use the Oculus Rift to train themselves on better precision. The car manufacturers themselves can at least save money and not waste paint,” Goyel tells me.
The next natural move will be incorporating haptic technology into VR applications, the ability to feel a sense of touch when immersed in the VR experience. But at the moment, there is still a lot of experimenting to be done.
“I’m still waiting for it to become more refined. It would be good to develop a module where a person just has to press a button and learn how to operate heavy machinery without having to actually go and screw it up. It would be good if each button felt different – that tactile kind of feedback and pressure will need to translate back to the user,” Goyel says.
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