Beyond games and roller coasters: Next steps for virtual reality

While VR has hit the mainstream in terms of consumers trying out the technology, can businesses jump on the VR train to better interact with customers?

YouVisit Trafalgar Square virtual reality
Credit: YouVisit

In our recent beginner’s guide to virtual reality, we showcased various Google Cardboard VR headsets and apps to try out on a limited budget. A lot of those apps were either gaming-based apps or ones that gave you an experience, like a virtual roller coaster ride or a view of 360-degree photos of a particular location (like New York City).

If you’re not interested in those types of experiences, you might say, “Is that it?” and miss out on the next steps with VR, which could expand the use of the technology in your own life or as part of your business.

In looking at ways that VR can be used in business cases, I came across the folks at YouVisit, which helps businesses create VR experiences to connect better with customers. The team offers two opportunities for businesses - a VR software platform that adds interactivity to VR experiences, and a Studios division that can help businesses create VR photos, videos and experiences. 

“VR offers [companies] the ability to let [customers] go behind the scenes like no other way,” said Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit. He says the company wants to offer experiences that go beyond the 360-degree photo or 360-degree video that many companies are now experimenting with, by offering an additional feature - interactivity.

“VR gives you a sense of what it’s truly like,” Mandelbaum said. For example, when you go and view a 360-degree photo of a hotel room, you often wonder, “Is that what it’s really like?”, he added. With VR, there’s a depth of experience not seen in the other formats. Interactivity also lets the customer choose where they want to go, what “hot spots” to select (in a tour of Hollywood, for example, is the user choosing ‘restaurants/night life’ or ‘shopping’?). These analytics are valuable to the business, giving them a sense of how to better engage with the VR user, Mandelbaum said.

Mandelbaum warned, however, that this wasn’t just about VR. He said that the entire experience is also made available for visitors who are accessing the material via a mobile device or their desktop computer. It’s a way to help expand the potential audience for a business that might be wary about spending money on a VR project for a potentially limited audience.

The list of projects that YouVisit has already filmed is extremely impressive:

 

Harvard Square YouVisit virtual reality YouVisit

 

EDUCATION: One of the biggest use cases is for colleges to provide virtual campus tours to prospective students who might not get a chance to physically visit. The YouVisit page of colleges is quite impressive, and several of the experiences let visitors apply or make contacts with the college/university directly. Chances are you’ll find your school/college in this section of the YouVisit site.

TRAVEL: Another big area where VR could take off is expanding beyond the 360-degree hotel room area.  VR can deliver tours of a hotel room, the hotel property, areas of a cruise ship, or tourist locations to give you a feel for the area you want to visit. Mandelbaum said that conventional thinking was that if people could visit an area virtually, that they wouldn’t want to go in person, but the opposite has occurred. Visitors to VR locations actually spur an increase in bookings, once they get a sense of what they see in the virtual space. Among the highlights include a tour of Houston, Texas; West Hollywood, Calif.; the Carnival Breeze cruise ship, London, England (see photo above); and Rome, Italy.

 

Real estate New York City YouVisit virtual reality YouVisit

 

REAL ESTATE: Offering prospective home and/or apartment buyers a chance to visit virtually can be a big selling point for real estate agents (make sure you clean those ceilings, home sellers!).

EVENTS: Can’t get to the festival this year? Watch some of the highlights and pretend that you’re there, or see what you missed so you won’t miss it next year.

BUSINESS: YouVisit includes a tour of the Cisco Security Operations Center, the HP Enterprise Technology Renewal Center and even the KinderCare Learning Centers. The range of how regular businesses can use the technology is fascinating, at least early on.

 

YouVisit Tavern on the Green virtual reality YouVisit

 

RESTAURANTS: Can’t afford a visit to the Tavern on the Green, but want to see what the experience is like? You can visit it, and other famous (and yet-to-be-famous) eateries and bars, mostly from the New York City area.

What’s Next for VR?

If we’re in Year 10 of the mainstream smartphone era (the iPhone emerged in 2006), Mandelbaum says we’re probably in Year 2 of the VR era. The next eight years could see more VR equipment (I think we’re all wondering if Apple will get into the game), and more form factors (headsets will get smaller, and the hardware might be integrated into more fashionable looks, like glasses that can switch from a regular/augmented view into a VR view. The next logical step would be to expand the audience on the content-creation side - gear that can record 360-degree and VR experiences will likely come down in price. Look what happened when cameras got put on phones (well, at least good quality ones) - when you can start recording a 360-degree or VR video on your phone, then watch out - all of your Facebook friends will get involved (maybe that’s why Facebook bought Oculus Rift).

Quick update: More fun VR stuff

NBC announced it would be broadcasting 85 hours of VR programming during the Rio Olympics - but only to customers of Samsung Galaxy smartphones and the Gear VR headset. It will be done through the NBC Sports app, and you’ll need one of these phones: Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5. 

Stay tuned, as well, for a report on the Superman VR roller coaster experience at the Six Flags New England amusement park in Agawam, Mass. That is, if I survive the experience.

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