Virtual Reality has been in use for many years but only recently has it made its way into the consumer market. The first all sensory device was invented by Morton Heilig in 1957, he called his invention the “Sensorama”. This was similar to a photo booth that simulated an environment while looking into an image with depth. He later patented the first head mounted display the “Telesphere Mask”. As time went on, motion tracking was added by the “Headsight” in 1961, then the term “Virtual Reality” was coined by Jaron Lanier in 1961. In the early 90s SEGA and Nintendo released their dive into VR gaming with the SEGA VR and Nintendo Virtual Boy. Both units flopped as they were uncomfortable and the software wasn’t at the speed that it needed to be at. Flash forward to 2012, the oculus was introduced at E3 with its breakthrough 90° field of vision. Oculus started as a kickstarter that got 2.5 million in donations in 2014 it was purchased by Facebook for 2 billion dollars. HTC and Valve partnered up and announced the HTC Vive that used mounted trackers to track user’s movement and create a field of play. Virtual Reality is gaining momentum as the technology become advanced enough to provide the realism and functions that enterprises and consumers desire.
Virtual Reality works by providing each of our eyes an image that it would normally see if we were actually there. Since each eye is in a different location, 2 images that are slightly offset are displayed to create the effect of stereoscopic 3D. This distance between our eyes is what enables us to see depth. Our eyes are able to detect a lapse of 50 millisecond so any delay in the image can cause users to know that they are viewing something artificial. Thus most Virtual Reality devices strive to be below that threshold.
As time goes by we are seeing exponential computing processing power reaching the point where high-quality VR is available at consumer prices, such as the dedicated hardware provided by the Vive and Oculus. At the same time, devices that utilize smartphones such as Samsung gear and google cardboard are increasing in usage. The units are becoming more powerful and cheaper, following Moore’s law as processing power is doubling every 18 months, and VR is becoming more available to the public.
Since Virtual Reality is still relatively new, there are few risks involved in trying to utilize this technology. First is programming the virtual environment. It takes extensive amount of time and effort to create a life-like resemblance of reality. Businesses will have to weigh the cost of roll out vs realism if they decide to invest. The other challenge is the physical limitations of the hardware required. Movement is confined in a defined space, either by being connected through a cable or be within the field of the view of the sensors. Hardware is relatively heavy and prolonged use can be taxing on the body. Lastly is market adoption and business applications. Virtual Reality requires fairly powerful hardware that is not widely used in the consumer market thus business will have less of an incentive to rapidly invest in this technology until it becomes widely available such as the smartphone. This gives business time to determine if this kind of technology is applicable to their industry and how they would plan on utilizing it.
Current usage of virtual reality in business is mainly focused on creating environments and/or simulations. For example, Lowe’s created the “Holoroom” that allows homeowners to experience an immersive visualization of the newly designed areas of their home. This would not be possible in reality since creating a mock room so that homeowners could see what their designs would be is very costly. Being able to provide this kind of service to their customers could give Lowe’s a competitive edge against others to market/sell to individuals that need to see it before buying it.
Video entertainment is taking the advantage of Virtual Reality to enhance their games to immerse gamers into the world they have created providing another dimension to the experience. The Military is using Virtual Reality as a training mechanism for soldiers to fight in foreign lands without physically being there. There are hopes to integrate Virtual Reality into education and data analysis.
Virtual Reality still has a ways to go before it becomes a mainstream product, although it is beginning to show its potential to provide business solutions for brand awareness, product demos, architectural visualizations, scenario training, and cost effective customization.