So many of the conversations about virtual reality are centred — perhaps naturally — on the consumer side of the business. But look beyond the PlayStations and the Rifts, and there is a maturing business delivering real value for some very unexpected companies.
I know this from two recent conversations and experiences.
First, from catching up with a contact at EON Reality, one of the few industrial-scale providers of VR technology and content into big enterprises. It’s a company I’ve been tracking for a few years now and every time I meet with my contact there, I’m impressed at the new niches they have discovered, for what to most people remains a gaming gimmick.
And second, from my visit to The Dock, Accenture’s research facility in Dublin, where I got to try a nuclear melt-down simulators using HTC’s Vive platform.
Think for a second about what it means to be able to train someone in a virtual environment, rather than the real thing. For a start, the virtual environment is safer. Many of the training applications for VR are for high risk environments: oil rigs, manufacturing plants, military equipment.
In VR, someone can make mistakes until they get it right, and you don’t have to worry about what they might do to themselves or anyone around them. Well, mostly — I did manage to bash someone with a Vive controller. But that’s still less of a risk than the real environment.
Over and over
Which leads to the second point: repetition. We get good at things by doing them over, and over again. In VR, someone can practice and practice until completing their task is as much a matter of muscle memory as it is of conscious memory. And they’re wasting no consumables in the process.
The third point is about supervision. Having someone watch over a trainee is expensive. A VR environment can contain both the instruction and the exercise, meaning that a whole cohort of trainees can be instructed at once, with only minimal supervision.
All of these are fairly established arguments for the use of VR in training. The one that really caught my attention recently was about measurement.
Because someone is interacting with a fully digital environment in VR, you can capture every last movement in great detail. This means that not only can you validate their ability to complete certain tasks, you can measure improvements in performance over time.
This presents a fascinating opportunity to monitor and optimise training and validate added value from any particular programme or approach. What would have been grand-scale time and motion-style studies in an analogue world can be conducted by a single data scientist with access to data from VR simulations.
For organisations providing training at scale, this presents an incredible opportunity for improvement — and savings.
While VR may remain largely a gimmick in the consumer world, in business it is starting to look very serious indeed.