Oh, how far virtual reality has come in recent times.
In its fledgling years, virtual reality (VR) was simply thought of as a new frontier in gaming technology, where players could immerse themselves in their favorite gaming worlds. While there have been many iterations of the gaming device over the past few decades, the Oculus Rift has most notably brought the concept of VR to the consumer forefront in the 2010's.
But virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) have found their way into more practical uses outside the realm of gaming. Developers are experimenting with real-life simulation software, such as one that allows the user to climb Mount Everest from the comfort of their home. Psychologists are also hopping on the VR trend, using the technology to combat phobias and other, more serious mental illnesses. With the help of AR, you can even shop for furniture — new technologies are allowing shoppers to transpose various furnishings into a photo of their home.
Related: Virtual Reality: Changing Shopping Experiences
Still, all of these applications are relatively novel ideas. Perhaps the most impactful use of VR and AR we will see in coming years is in the world of business. I had the chance to speak with Taylor Freeman, CEO of Upload, Inc., about some of the important ways businesses can use virtual reality to communicate, envision and expedite their projects and operations in ways that we have never seen before.
Reduce business travel.
You are probably sick of dealing with the security checks, long lines and crying infants that are synonymous with business travel. Luckily, with the advances in voice and video conferencing in recent years, you may soon be able to forego a few flights each year. However, this form of communication can often be unreliable, and it still doesn’t truly connect you with your constituents across great distances.
Enter the concept of VR meetings. It’s exactly as it sounds — you put on your VR headset and are transported to a virtual space occupied by your colleagues, business partners or potential customers. Or rather an avatar meant to represent them. Now, you may ask, “How is that better than a video conference?”
Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, says that as the technology gets more sophisticated, VR business calls will usher in more nuanced nonverbal communication that is lost in today’s video conferences. He imagines that one day users might be able to enable touch and smell, should they so desire.
“Current digital meeting solutions are inherently flawed," said Freeman. "Only one person can speak at a time and the video and audio always seem to have problems. When you attend a meeting in VR, you are able to share the same sense of place with multiple others, interact naturally with 3D objects and speak one-on-one with others as you would in the real world."
Unfortunately, the utilization of these virtual meetings is still largely experimental, so you might want to keep racking up those frequent flyer miles for the time being.
Enhance collaborative efforts.
Let’s say you’re an architect. You spend countless hours toiling away to create a blueprint in your favorite architectural software. You put the finishing touches on your mock-up and email the project file to a senior colleague or your customer for a critique. You wait patiently and nervously for a response, only to hear back hours or perhaps days later that your design was a disaster and that you need to start over. You throw your hands up in frustration and sit down to try again. Collaboration with the client or managing partner earlier if not throughout the design process might well have averted the crisis, but how?
Related: This Couple Is Amalgamating Virtual Reality with Architectural Visualization
Collaborative business efforts conducted in VR or AR could one day make email seem as antiquated as the Pony Express. Imagine being able to analyze a new prototype for a car engine with your colleagues in a virtual space in real-time, or visualize the schematics of a solar panel installation before even going to the project work site.
John Restrick, chief technology officer for Cisco Systems’ collaboration technology group, identifies these virtual and augmented technologies as a paramount asset to Cisco’s collaborative work in the future. “All of these scenarios involve connecting people, letting them exchange information efficiently and letting them collaborate around content,” Restrick said.
A business’s success is measured by its ability to operate efficiently, and these virtual work spaces will dramatically reduce fumbling with communicative or strategic inconsistencies.
Make humans more efficient and healthy.
We humans are feeble, easily-damaged creatures. Recently, studies have found that sitting all day at work stunts brain activity and carries a myriad of health issues. Additionally, repetitive motions like typing on a keyboard and clicking a mouse can ignite further complications down the road. In light of these findings, it may be time for us to be a little bit more mobile in our workplace.
Virtual reality can help us do just that. A VR environment is an exciting place to be — it will encourage people to stand up and move around at work. Furthermore, the controls used to interact in the virtual space are much more ergonomic than typing and clicking on a computer.
Here in the early stages of VR development, the controls and functions in VR can seem toilsome and inefficient. However, as the technology improves and people become more savvy, we can expect to see a huge uptick in human efficiency in the virtual world. And we're making headway quickly. "VR is already having a profound impact on our physical and mental health," Freeman said. "Paraplegics are regaining control of their bodies, PTSD victims are successfully recovering, doctors are using VR simulations to successfully prepare for advanced surgery, along with many other examples. Immersive technology is unlocking the next generation of healthcare.”
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The full acceptance and adoption of VR and AR in the workplace may be a few years off, but we get closer and closer every day to creating an amazing technology that will help better connect and inspire us, and will improve the overall way in which we conduct business.