For decades scientists have been getting closer and closer to creating popular augmented-reality technologies to enhance the physical world. In the last few years we have reached a point where the development of such technologies has become accessible to the everyday consumer as headsets are no longer bulky and expensive. We can assume that given time, virtual reality technology will become mainstream as more innovative and daring advancements are made in this field.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence. A person who used VR technology becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within the particular environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions. There are a wide range of Virtual Reality applications that include medicine, sports, arts, architecture or entertainment.
For example, wherever it is too dangerous, expensive or impractical to do something in reality, virtual reality provides the number one solution. From trainee fighter pilots to medical applications or trainee surgeons, virtual reality allows us to take virtual risks in order to gain real world experience. As the cost of virtual reality goes down and it becomes mainstream, you can expect more uses such as education, productivity or shopping applications. Virtual reality and its cousin augmented reality could substantially change the way we interface with our digital technologies continuing the trend of humanising our technology.
How does VR work in a business environment?
Last year, Facebook purchased virtual-reality startup Oculus VR for $2 billion. The Oculus Rift is going on sale in early 2016, and there is a lot of promise coming with this virtual reality headset.
Currently, The Samsung Gear VR (available only on Samsung Galaxy Note 4) is one of the best smartphone-driven VR headsets; it’s at the top of the game and has set itself apart with the exclusive portal that Samsung and Facebook’s Oculus VR team have designed. Not only does the software offer access to games and 360-degree videos, it’s also the only way at the moment to try Milk VR, Samsung’s virtual-reality streaming service, which the company is aiming to turn into the Netflix for VR content. It currently offers wraparound 3D videos that let you “fly” a fighter jet, or “stand” in the front lines to watch a sports event.
From an educational and tourism point of view, the Polar Sea 360 is an extremely visually appealing VR application. It offers a complete tour of the Arctic area between Canada and Greenland, starting from a satellite view of the earth then continuing to a helicopter and boat ride over the planet’s coldest waters and icebergs. Interviews with scientists, hunters and sailors round out the experience and are available to the everyday consumer to enrich the experience and get an even deeper connection with the story.
On the other spectrum, Virtual Reality shopping makes sense as the next step in how we purchase products. Retale is known for putting together weekly digests of sales that stores like Target and Walmart are having. The company recently announced that it will launch a mobile app that will go on sale together with the launch of Oculus Rift in 2016. The virtual reality app will offer users the ability to look more closely at the store offerings, and users can enter a “virtual showroom” to look at products. The showrooms are officially branded by retailers like Target, Macy’s and JCPenney in the US. However, the app doesn’t actually allow people to purchase the items. Instead, it sends a notification to the user’s smartphone with a location, along with a shopping list. Of course, due to the fast paced nature of the VR industry, we predict that purchasing solutions will be quickly added to enhance the shopping experience even more.
To advertise its safety in the modern era, Volvo teamed with Microsoft to create models of its cars in virtual reality. There are no actual cars in this showroom. Instead, prospective buyers wear goggles for Microsoft’s HoloLens system, which displays virtual objects like they’re holograms, and walk around virtual visions of both the car and the invisible systems that make the car and its safety features work.
Marriott created a sense of “Virtual Reality travel” for guests, using Oculus Rift VR to make viewers feel like they were transported to Marriott hotels across the world. The Virtual Reality Teleporter campaign encouraged participants to share their experiences using the hashtag #GetTeleported which highlight how brands can get beyond VR and connect marketing activities across the different channels. The company is one of the first to try Oculus in a non-gaming application; it definitely adds to the conversation surrounding the virtual reality community and shows the potential future for virtual travel.
Another brand that makes VR shine is the North Face which delivers a unique brand experience that puts viewers at the centre of an adventure, making them feel like they’re climbing to new heights at Yosemite National Park. The experience was built for Google Cardboard, available via Google Play. The experience quality is limited by the current capabilities of users’ devices, but for a limited-time campaign, The North Face successfully grabbed the attention it wanted. While VR will likely leave its mark on nearly every industry, retail is highly likely to capitalise and gain more from VR in the near future.
In conclusion, the key element that sets these VR experiences apart from others is the element of control: users are able to create a design or move through the Virtual creation, becoming an active participant instead of a passive viewer. This ability to control the experience elevates each campaign into a compelling experience that increases a brand’s connection with its audience. One of the most exciting aspects of VR is that there is truly no limit to what companies can do with this new technology. If ever there was an opportunity to embrace Virtual Reality technology with a creative mind-set, it’s now.