Virtual reality gains a small foothold in the enterprise

Prototypes and simulations based on virtual reality can save companies millions.

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For example, low-cost head-mounted displays will allow retailers to replace their immersive CAVE environments – which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up. Companies can use the technology to have focus groups walk through virtual stores, interact with different shelf layouts, or even try out new products.

“It would significantly lower costs, allow companies to do more of this, and allow them to do it in multiple locations,” she says.

The second wave

One virtual reality wave has already come and gone, in the 1990s. Movies like “The Lawnmower Man,” devices like Nintendo's Virtual Boy and virtual reality arcades made the technology hot, but by the time “The Matrix” came out at the end of the decade it was clear that virtual reality technology was too expensive and too bulky for widespread use. In addition, graphics quality was poor and high latency and poor head-tracking combined to make users nauseous.

As a result, virtual reality became limited to high-end, narrowly focused applications such as military simulations, movie special effects, and training and simulations in manufacturing, oil, and the medical industries, says Jacquelyn Ford Morie, formerly a virtual reality expert at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies. Virtual reality immersion therapy has been used for a decade now to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to manage the pain of burn victims.

“Now we have this second wave of virtual reality,” says Morie. “The difference between then and now is that it's affordable. Instead of a $30,000 head-mounted display, you now have a $300 head-mounted display.”

jacquelyn ford morie

Jacquelyn Ford Morie is founder and chief scientist at All These Worlds Inc., a Los Angeles-based virtual environment consulting and development firm.

The general population is also more used to technology than they were 20 years ago, she adds, and there are more companies creating content for the new virtual reality platforms. Her own company creates applications in virtual worlds for NASA and other enterprise clients.

“We're doing things like making virtual worlds that will help astronauts on long-duration space flight missions,” she says.

Today, most enterprise virtual reality is internally focused, she says. That is likely to change as more of this technology gets into the hands of consumers, and she's looking forward to working on consumer-focused projects.

“If everyone has a 3D head-mounted display, there's no reason not to feed a preview of that new product,” she says. “Create emotionally evocative, 3D immersive ads, so all of a sudden they feel like they're on the mountain, about to ski down with my new snowboard.”

Korolov is a freelance writer. She can be reached at maria@tromblyinternational.com.

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