Matrix come true
24 October 2014
Virtual Reality - it’s closer than you think!
Do you remember when the Matrix was released in 1999? The World Wide Web was gathering momentum on a global scale and the merging of real and unreal worlds in cyber space fascinated us. Fifteen years on and the applications for virtual reality are finally taking off- science-fiction techno wizardry, it seems, could be closer than we think!
What exactly is virtual reality anyway?
Well, in short, virtual reality is an advanced computer interface that allows humans to become immersed in a computer generated simulated environment. Still with us? It’s most obvious application is the world of video games, but if you think about it, a lot of life is now conducted in a virtual arena. Facebook, arguably the largest online world of them all, has just forked out $2 billion to buy Oculus, a state of the art virtual reality headset. It’s founder, Mark Zukerberg, is keen to point out that the future for Oculus doesn’t just lie in a shoot ‘em up sci-fi games.
“This is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," wrote Zuckerberg as he announced the deal. "Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home."
It seems that Facebook aren’t the only ones playing around in cyber space, either. Samsung recently launched a gadget that turns one of its smartphones into an Oculus Rift-style product that straps to the face and the development of Google’s Cardboard and Sony’s Project Morpheus suggest there’s only one way that things are going to move.
Getting customers closer to your product
What virtual reality does is take people to a different place. We generally think of that place in terms of the fantasy world of science fiction, but what if that ‘place’ was your showroom, your product development centre or a trade show? Take this a step further and imagine how convincing your sales pitch could be if you could just take your customers on the holiday you want to sell them, show them round the house you want them to buy, and answer their questions face to face!
Stuart Morris, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Henley Business School, believes small businesses waste a considerable amount of their annual budget in transporting the product to trade fairs, flying staff to events, setting up the exhibition stands and entertaining potential clients. According to Morris, “Virtual trade shows are cheaper to engage with than physical shows,” and certainly don’t waste staff time.
Back in 2013 Nissan gave virtual realitya go the Tokyo Motor Show by giving potential customers the opportunity to design their ideal car. The tag line of the company has always been “Innovation that Excites” so to take a lead in the virtual world was a further extension of their brand.
Speeding up research and development
Car manufactures have actually been one of the first industries to really harness virtual reality for their product research and development. Ford’sImmersive Vehicle Environment applies a variety of real-time, advanced visualization technologies to allow efficient, quick and effective evaluations of vehicle design proposals. This saves money, time and speeds up a notoriously slow production process. Its application across industries could be broad, just think how harnessing customer feedback in the production phase of a product could save a lot of heartache later on!
What does the future look like?
At the moment, the major factors holding development back are the cost and the inability to scale such a niche product. However, it wasn’t all that long ago that mobile phones were the size of bricks and the thought of watching last night’s Eastenders from you phone on the train were ridiculous. With the current wave of development and investment going on, it might only be a matter of time before we’re all stepping into the virtual world.