Virtual Reality is Stunning. But is it a Business?

Courtesy of Ford

Virtual reality is a whiz-bang technology that makes people who strap on the necessary headsets feel like they’re skydiving or visiting the Sahara Desert.

But how do companies make money from the technology?

At Fortune’s Global Forum on Tuesday a panel of leading virtual reality pioneers from companies like Nokia, camera maker GoPro (GPRO), and the startup Jaunt, discussed the current state of the technology and possible business models.

For Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies (NOK), we’re barely getting started with virtual reality. Current devices are still too bulky, too expensive, and using them for more than 15 minutes can make some people feel nauseous, he explained.

However, VR technology that’s still being developed like contact lenses that lay VR video on top of what people see in real life can be less bulky than current products, explained Arthur van Hoff, co-founder and CTO of Jaunt. That technology may, therefore, make VR more mainstream, he said.

Jaci Hays, head of global brand partnerships for GoPro, said her company is busy filming VR videos to create more content for the masses. Right now, the technology is still “fairly niche,” so GoPro wants to fill the VR video void and hopefully spur more interest by the general public.

After the technology reaches a point where enough people are using it, Haidamus sees a variety of possible businesses emerging. For example, travel agencies could better entice people to buy a trip to New Zealand if they show them 3D clips of the country to give a taste of what to expect. Additionally, mining companies could also use the technology to help train their employees to work without actually having to send people underground, Haidamus said.

As of now, the biggest interest and funding in the virtual reality space is among Hollywood movie studios, the executives said. Haidamus said Nokia has partnered with several studios, and Hoff cited Disney (DIS) and Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency as one of Jaunt’s investors.

“I think every studio that knows the power of storytelling has a huge, vested interest in using virtual reality,” said Haidamus.

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