The last few months have been exciting for those interested in the advancement of virtual reality technology. Two leading headsets (the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) saw permanent price cuts, following reported sales jumps from the Rift’s temporary price cut this summer. Now, both devices are significantly less expensive than the newest iPhone, meaning that the technology is more accessible than ever to a larger audience, which could help push VR toward center stage for mainstream consumers.
At the enterprise level, though, virtual reality has been transforming behavior for several years. While media attention tends to focus on consumer applications (and why they’re not yet ubiquitous), more and more industries have started implementing transformative behind-the-scenes applications for VR. The price cut should accelerate the types of changes we’ve already seen in fields as diverse as education, medicine, retail, and more.
Here’s an overview of what the next wave of subtle VR disruption might look like.
If you ever read a Magic School Bus book as a kid, you likely envied Ms. Frizzle’s class, which got to travel to the solar system, through the human body, and back in time in a magic school bus. Ms. Frizzle’s lessons were far more engaging than those from textbooks because her students got to experience things first-hand.
Now, thanks to lower price points on VR headsets and a few education-focused VR apps, Magic School Bus-esque classrooms are closer than ever to being real. For those of us whose classroom days are over, apps like Unimersiv are dedicated to providing immersive educational experiences of great world sites, historical events, and more.
While the “cool” factor here is enough to get excited about, it’s also worth noting that educational philosophy generally holds that firsthand experiences are more effective at helping us retain information than reading or listening to lectures – meaning VR in the classroom could potentially lead to better educational outcomes.
With healthcare costs higher than ever and our coverage options constantly in flux, VR holds considerable promise as an accessible, inexpensive alternative to traditional medical treatments.
Researchers have seen promising results in the area of pain management, which could be especially helpful given the current state of opioid addiction in the United States. Ongoing studies are looking at whether VR treatments can help patients take fewer opioids, in part by sticking more consistently to treatments that have been shown to work, including cognitive behavior therapy.
People suffering from anxiety and depression may also find relief from VR treatment. One promising example: exposure therapy. Often used to treat phobias, it becomes much less expensive and time-intensive when administered via a VR system readily available in a doctor’s office than when carried out in the real world.
In manufacturing, shipping, and other industries that rely on heavy machinery and manual labor, on-the-job training has long been an essential, expensive, and risky part of life. With new VR applications designed specifically to teach these hands-on skills, though, manufacturers can save time and money and improve employee safety by having them learn digitally before applying their skills on the job.
In the classic movie 12 Angry Men, the fate of an 18-year-old defendant depends on the ability of the jury to translate testimony they’ve heard into a real-world understanding of events. Without the intrepid and determined Juror 8, the defendant would have likely been hanged.
VR applications designed to recreate crime scenes could make it much easier for all jurors to understand and interpret court testimony. If the jurors in 12 Angry Men could have seen the type of three-dimensional depiction of the crime scene VR makes possible, it’s likely their deliberations (and “Not Guilty” verdict) would have happened in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
So far, the technology to make courtroom VR recreations a reality has been too expensive to implement at scale, but as the cost of hardware comes down, that could start to change.
Online shopping can’t be beat for convenience, but certain parts of the analog experience – like trying on clothes – mean that the internet has its limits. But with VR applications currently in the works, the best of in-person shopping might soon be available online.
Technology currently being developed would reportedly enable customers to try on clothes (via 3D holograms), test out products in their intended environment, and interact with sales professionals and other customers while shopping.
Other applications would let retailers and brands redesign store layouts or shelves virtually, in order to visualize new concepts and evaluate customer responses before moving any actual floor displays. These kinds of virtual tools, like what we provide at InContext Solutions, allow retail companies to significantly cut retail costs while making data-backed decisions about how (and whether) to modify floor plans, shelf displays, and more. As VR technology prices continue to fall, more retailers will find the investment worth making.
While many VR products pitched to individuals still focus on gaming experiences, they also offer the compelling promise of enabling intimate, person-to-person interaction regardless of physical proximity.
While 2016 and 2017 showed the power of social media to create echo chambers that let people become more firmly entrenched in their idealistic bubbles, 2018 and beyond may see VR help us mingle once again. By restoring the possibility of chance encounters with strangers, VR could help restore goodwill among people who are ideologically opposed but have similar interests.
Virtual reality technology has been gaining momentum and popularity behind the scenes for several years now, enabling leaders in many industries to develop transformative experiences. Newly lowered prices may provide the push VR technology needs to become a part of every industry and have a more visible impact on day-to-day experiences.
Mark Hardy is CEO of InContext Solutions, a provider of virtual reality solutions for retailers and CPG manufacturers
Originally featured in Venture Beat.