Where will VR be in five years? Everywhere, according to research firm Tractica.
Thanks to the advances in consumer virtual reality technology from big companies like Facebook-owned Oculus VR, Sony, HTC, Valve, Samsung, and Microsoft, Tractica forecasts the enterprise VR business to grow from $114 million in 2014 to over $4.5 billion by 2020.
According to Tractica managing director Clint Wheelock, the billions of dollars being invested into the consumer VR market has raised the profile of VR immeasurably, and technology vendors, software developers, and enterprise end-user organizations are taking a closer look at how VR could apply to a wide variety of enterprise applications.
“Unlike the consumer market, virtual reality has existed in niche enterprise and industrial segments since its origins in the 1950s and 1960s,” Wheelock says. “VR plays an important role in combat training for the military, for example, while advanced visualization techniques are extremely powerful tools for research purposes. Health care has also made use of the technology for quite some time.”
And as technology matures and costs decline, VR will increasingly be used for everything from training to marketing and advertising, and in industries such as academia, travel, and retail.
For example, rather than have a welding trainee accompany an experienced worker to learn how to carry out a repair, a 3D simulation of the process can be created so that the trainee can learn before starting the job.
“Consider a virtual welding simulator with teaching software that lets a remotely-located instructor develop content and then provide feedback to the trainee,” Wheelock says. “Or, in the case of medical applications, a virtual house call enabling a doctor to carry out an examination without having to be located in the same country, let alone in the same room.”
In addition, Wheelock says scientists at the University of Arkansas are using a VR system developed by British company Virtalis, which is integrated with PyMol, a molecular viewing program.
“VR is an extremely powerful tool for research and teaching of almost any kind,” Wheelock says. “Not only does it help academics, scientists, and students do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, it can help them communicate with others and help their institutions save money.”
Travel and retail are also already experimenting with VR. Leading clothes retailer Topshop, for example, last year teamed up with 3D agency Inition to allow fans of the brand to experience a virtual front-row seat at a fashion show. Outdoor gear retailers The North Face has designed a VR experience that makes people feel like they are rock climbing at Yosemite National Park, while Volvo has created a VR driving experience to show off the new Volvo XC90.
“Tourism bureaus, hotels, museums, and even airlines are starting to offer experiences that offer a sneak peek of the real thing,” Wheelock says. “Marriott experimented with the VR Teleporter app that transported people to different hotels across the United States. Australia’s Qantas offers the Samsung Gear VR headset to passengers in select A380 first class cabins to showcase network destinations, new products, and the latest in-flight blockbuster movies.”
“In general, we don’t see this as a case where VR will create new types of jobs, but rather it will be incorporated into the workflow of existing types of roles,” Wheelock says.
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