Beyond virtual meetings, companies are employing virtual reality (VR) as a training tool.
The devices help create, say, a virtual factory where people do their job virtually before they do it in real life.
"Oil platforms can't afford any downtime to train employees. And the risk of failure is very high; the threat of losing lives is very high," says Peter Schlueer, president of WorldViz. "In these cases, virtual reality can give trainees a full sense of scale and a map of the environment—where they have to go, what they have to do. They can do it on a one-for-one scale, and when they go into the real scenario, they are fully oriented because they have a real memory ingrained in their brain."
WorldViz has been helping companies create such VR experiences since 2002, at prices starting at $20,000. With the advent of consumer VR, the cost of such training solutions will decrease dramatically. Which means more widespread use in businesses.
"The words virtual reality throw people off. Virtual reality gets them thinking 'gaming.' At the end of the day, the way we think about it is that this is not virtual, this is the real thing; the only difference is that you are not there," says Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit. "It's reverse teleportation. Instead of sending you somewhere else, we are bringing that location to you."
But what if you could visit a location for more than just fun? Imagine walking around a virtual Rome and actually stepping into a bustling Colosseum in its heyday. Imagine then going underwater to learn about oceanography, or ducking for cover in the middle of a World War II siege, or launching into space to better grasp astrophysics.
Sony's Richard Marks says, "We worked with JPL and NASA to see how we could do something that goes beyond gaming. We took data that NASA had on the Mars surface and took a model of the Mars Rover and created an experience of what it would be like to stand on Mars."
Beyond virtual "trips," VR could change online learning. Classes could be held in virtual classrooms: You could see your teacher, see your fellow students, collaborate on projects together in a 3-D space. And taking it one step further, universities like MIT or NYU could have virtual telepresence, where you attend live classes via 360-degree and 3-D video streaming to your headset. You could have thousands attending lectures via a single camera.
With such a huge variety of possibilities, it seems to be more of a matter of when and not if virtual reality will become mainstream.
It may take several iterations and some years for costs to go down, but VR will spread to more and more homes and provide more and more experiences beyond games. But it all hinges on VR hardware creators and game developers providing more than games.
States one subject matter expert: "For VR to be a really transformative technology, it's going to have to be something more than just another device to play games on. It's going to have to change the way we do things in our lives."