Innovative technologies

The Future Is Here: Is Virtual Reality Becoming A Reality For Business?

Virtual reality (VR) finally is on the verge of becoming practical. With new, light-weight headsets that provide immediate response times coming onto the market, VR advocates say almost every industry could benefit by immersing their employees or clients into virtual worlds for some activities.

Real estate sales is a prime example. Sacramento broke ground in October for the Sacramento Entertainment and Sports Center (ESC), replacing the Sacramento Kings’ Sleep Train arena. With completion still two years away, selling the high-end Kings suites normally would rely on architectural renderings and floor plans. Instead, potential buyers can strap on a VR headset and tour a realistic virtual model that has the same look and feel as the finished, amenity-rich suites. Cha-ching!

From a participant’s perspective, being in a virtual world is like being in a real world. Perspective is determined by position trackers linked to the goggles, so when you turn around, you see what’s behind you. The result is a very realistic, immersive experience.

Nordstrom, a leading fashion retailer, used VR’s spatial realism to help an internal team improve the look and feel of its stores. As Mark Selander, industrial designer at Nordstrom Innovation Labs, explains, “We experimented with VR to help a fabrication team that was building a demonstration of a store façade. VR helped us understand the space in terms of proportion and scale in relation to its environment.”

“At Nordstrom, technology is an enabler of the service experience… to help us enable our customers to shop on their terms,” adds Nordstrom spokesman Dan Evans.
Innovative technologies

VR’s applications extend beyond architecture and real estate sales, however. DeepStream VR is developing virtual reality as a healthcare tool that works with biosensors and biofeedback to help relieve chronic pain and to help people deal with phobias. “The objective is to use VR to help patients develop a mindfulness, which enables them to avoid knee-jerk reactions by recalibrating their responses to stimuli, even when they’re not in the virtual world,” says Howard Rose, CEO of DeepStream VR.

For example, VR programs are used for analgesia and for range of motion exercises in the clinic and at home. When linked with heart rates, galvanic skin responses and other data, therapy can be modulated so, “Patients can progress at their own pace,” Rose says.

The benefits of this approach are real. A University of Washington study found that immersion in virtual worlds reduces perceptions of pain during procedures like wound care by about 50 percent. Consequently, UW’s game “SnowWorld,” is being used by several children’s hospitals and by the U.S. military to help distract burn and amputation patients from their pain and teach them techniques to cope with that pain. This allows them to control pain with less reliance on opioid drugs like Vicodin.

“We’ve just reached the confluence of maturing technologies at the right time to deliver presence – where your brain actually thinks you’re somewhere else – without the motion sickness,” that affected earlier versions, says Bob Berry, CEO, Envelop VR.

New VR headsets are lightweight, with quick response times and a 100-degree field-of-view. That makes experiencing the VR world similar to experiencing the physical world through scuba goggles (though, at just under one pound, VR goggles are slightly heavier.) Additionally, Oculus VR just introduced a mobile prototype, Gear VR. With a snap-in Samsung Galaxy Note smart phone as the screen, the price for a headset dropped to about $200, making headsets affordable.

Virtual is becoming the next big thing in technology. It’s about to become the next big thing in business, too. Applications like these are at the forefront, proving VR has value by improving people’s lives and, hopefully, businesses’ bottom lines as well.

Gail Dutton covers the intersection of business and technology for a variety of cutting-edge publications.

First published on forbes.com.



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