Virtual and Augmented Reality: Moving From Games to Serious Business

It had never been done before, and the people at Jaguar-Land Rover were understandably anxious to get it right. One slip, and the world’s first virtual reality car launch could be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Instead, the Autumn 2016 event set a new bar for luxury auto launches and pushed the envelope in Jaguar’s use of immersive technology, which the brand described as “incredible” for sales. Guests were reportedly “squealing with joy and amazement” as headsets provided by HTC and synced by Dell gave them a fantasy whirl of Jaguar’s inaugural electric car, before the real vehicle appeared.

Once the domain of video game makers, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming some of the world’s most traditional businesses.

A PwC study shows that more than one in three manufacturers expect to adopt virtual technologies by 2018. Digi-Capital forecasts combined revenues of $150 billion for these innovations by 2020, with augmented reality taking the lion’s share at $120 billion.

“Almost every day, there’s a ‘wow moment’ of somebody doing something you’d have never thought of, or even thought possible, in this space,” says Gary Radburn, Director for Commercial VR and AR at Dell. “And it all began with video games.”

Gaming Roots

At its core, a VR headset immerses you in a playful virtual environment that tunes out your real world, letting you, for example, box with a giant squid, navigate a starship in a cutthroat galaxy and defuse a bomb in a room full of talking people.

With augmented reality, your real surroundings appear in the headset, overlaid with virtual objects or information. Pokemon-Go, also playable on phones and tablets, is best known for bringing the world attention’s to AR in gaming. But you can also create a fantasy mafia fiefdom in your neighborhood, rid your city of zombiesghostsaliens … you name it. The thrill quotient in AR gaming can go even higher with theme-park style Ghostbusters adventures staged by Utah company The Void, for example.

“Actively using more of the human sensory capability and motor skills has been known to increase understanding and learning for some time.”
— Jason Jerald, NextGen Interactions

The gaming sector has led innovation in these virtual realities because consumers there have always looked for the next big thing, industry observers say. But the business world benefits as advancements in graphic processing units that are generally developed in gaming first are vetted for stability before being released to a larger commercial audience.

And videogame makers have continued to find fixes for other industries adopting virtual technologies, said Chris Sutphen, global marketing director at Alienware, who cites headset maker Oculus’ annual conference for prescribing remedies on VR-related motion sickness.

“Those who have spent many hours and days in front of large screens playing first-person shooter games apparently experience less vection when locomoting themselves in VR,” University of Illinois robotics professor Steve Lavelle writes in his book, Virtual Reality.

Multiple Real World Use

These days with VR, real estate is being leased or sold to customers who view them solely on a headset; building and car designs are revised and approved with more ease than on paper; children are taught geography through simulated visits to faraway lands; and geoscientists looking for oil are virtually locating and “testing” drilling sites.

Augmented reality is ubiquitous with today’s navigation apps that provide turn-by-turn directions, overlaid with information on real-time traffic and locations of interest. More serious experiments for the technology are underway. Limpid Armor, for instance, has built a helmet with Microsoft’s AR-Hololens that gives Ukraine’s military tank operators a 360-degree view of an approaching enemy. In other industrial uses, Caterpillar displays the weight load on its excavators for site inspectors watching remotely with headsets.

Beyond VR and AR, there’s a third dimension in virtual technology known as MR, or Mixed Reality. Here, viewers can interact with simulated images appearing in their real environment while having other sensory experiences. Examples of MR include therapy like helping brain-injured war veterans regain certain cognitive capabilities through simulated battlefields, explosions and vibrations, and aiding paraplegics to walk through visuals on headsets and neuro-waves delivered via wires. NASA is also conducting various MR trials for astronauts.

“Actively using more of the human sensory capability and motor skills has been known to increase understanding and learning for some time,” Jason Jerald, founder of virtual reality consultancy NextGen Interactions, writes in The VR Book.

Even so, there are worries that VR might still require a leap of faith for those fearing sudden, radical changes in work process. Radburn assuages some of those concerns. “Your day-to-day workflow is still going to be desk-based and monitor-based. VR is just going to be an addition. The headsets of today have good resolutions but are still not good enough for long-term commercial exposure, reading text on screen and interfacing with desktops and email.”

“My advice is quite simply to try it. The moment you put people in something that’s pertinent for them, give them a headset and they see it for themselves, they understand the value in 10 minutes, maybe less.”
— Gary Radburn, Director for Commercial VR and AR, Dell

Bring it to Life

But with imagination possibly being the only limit to the uses of these devices, the onus is on businesses: If they have an idea for VR, they should bring it to life.

“My advice is quite simply to try it,” says Radburn. “The moment you put people in something that’s pertinent for them, give them a headset and they see it for themselves, they understand the value in 10 minutes, maybe less.”

Capital One did just that on its “Banking Reimagined” tour of America. It let visitors at tour stops in major cities to use augmented reality lenses to visualize how they could make their financial goals a reality, making them “walk” into a new home or “vacation” on a Caribbean beach.

And it need not always be a product push. Diageo, owner of cult whisky brand Johnny Walker, made a virtual car crash of people driving after a night of drinking, creating a social message and different kind of engagement with its customers.

Ultimately, what is currently possible with VR and AR is just the tip of the spear. Over time, they could even bridge the physical divide between people around the world.

“If displays are presented to senses other than vision, then even more possibilities emerge,” writes Virtual Reality author Lavelle, suggesting that someday it might be possible to “give someone a meaningful hug on the other side of the world if they are wearing a suit that applies the appropriate forces to the body.”