How virtual reality is increasing collaboration and improving outcomes across industries
Those old enough to remember the arcades of the 1980s and 1990s will have experienced a rudimentary version of what we now know as virtual reality. Fast forward three decades and the technology that allowed people to hit tennis balls around with virtual adversaries has matured beyond recognition. The average consumer now experiences near-life like virtual gaming in the comfort of their own home, on PCs and consoles.
With advances in processing speed and graphics capabilities, the technology has finally caught up with the promise, providing incredible immersive experiences. Even more exciting are the new potential applications of these revolutionary technologies.
The new promise of VR is in the upending and transforming of traditional industries: Goldman Sachs predicts commercial spending on virtual reality will overtake consumer spending next year, growing to a £63.5 billion market by 2025. Already, VR is revolutionising work, saving lives, and providing innovative solutions to even the most unexpected industries.
Designing, collaborating, and digital prototyping
From architects to designers, urban planners to car companies, creating scaled-down physical models has long been a critical part of pre-production across a range of industries. Now, with ever-more globally dispersed organisations, accelerated design processes and consumer demand for speed and personalisation, traditional methods of modelling are giving rise to new technologies. Design, adaptation, collaboration, prototyping, review and production are being massively accelerated.
Take cars, for instance: typically designed using digital drawings, then developed into full-scale clay models, prototypes are a difficult platform for collaboration and iteration across geographies. Today, car companies including Audi, BMW and Porsche are using VR to design, manufacture and market their cars. Audi even uses HP VR to improve customer experience: prospective buyers can experience their personalised car before it has been built and inform the product design workflow to ensure the finished article meets their specifications. Thanks to immersive technology, they can step inside the car, sit in the driver's seat, take a lap around the track, or even make use of anti-motion sickness features.
Industrial maritime and aquaculture industries also stand to benefit. Nagelld, a Norwegian 3D visualisation company, is using VR to create immersive experiences for businesses from salmon fisheries to offshore oil and gas producers, in efforts to create more sustainable processes and digital prototypes before equipment is physically produced.
Training first responders and promoting mental health
VR can also provide an authentic alternative to risky training in high-pressure professions, mitigating risk to either the individual or those around them.
For example, approximately 9% of all firefighter deaths in the UK are training-related, while a staggering 43% were due to routine incidents. In a controlled, yet realistic environment, personnel are more likely to remain calm under stress, resulting in a higher retention of information while reducing the initial danger of normal simulations involving real fire.
Audi, BMW and Porsche among others are using virtual reality to design, manufacture and market their cars: prospective buyers can experience their personalised car before it has been built
Proper training and experience of high-pressure situations can be the difference between life and death. Consoles like the HP Z VR Backpack PC mean that delivering mission-critical training via VR becomes significantly more cost-effective than traditional alternatives which often involve extensive preparation, clean-up, maintenance and downtime.
Healthcare aims to improve patient outcomes
Elsewhere in the public sector, the healthcare industry is revolutionising patient outcomes by using VR to train doctors in complex surgery, enhance pain management and accelerate the recovery process.
Programmes are already in use that provide practical experience to physicians-in-training, meaning even a first-year medical student can perform open-heart surgery, learning the organ's intricacies and how to repair it, with no risk to the patient.
These added years of tactile surgery experience provide a deeper breadth of knowledge and confidence that will very likely lead to improved patient outcomes. When a doctor in training is eventually faced with life and death situations on the operating table, it won't be their first time working through those complications.
VR is also being used to promote mental as well as bodily health. At Oxford University, immersive technologies are being used to treat issues ranging from severe fear of heights to social anxiety and psychosis. Meanwhile the University of Southern California's ‘Bravemind' has shown that VR was successful in treating veterans suffering from forms of PTS, who were unresponsive to other types of treatments.
The benefits of VR are also profound when it comes to patient care, helping with pain management, and accelerated recoveries that reduce stress and pain for the patient, and decrease the cost of care for the provider.
Clearly VR is quickly becoming a must-have technology that corporations and governments are incorporating into everything from product design and development to training, collaboration and presentation tools. VR is improving everyday life in a myriad of ways and has the potential to transform a wide range of industries.
As the technology continues to improve, adoption increases, and lines further blur between the virtual and real worlds, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what these powerful tools are capable of.