Twenty years ago, “virtual reality” (VR) meant taking clients’ printed rack brochures and turning them into web pages. Then, Wi-Fi and satellite connections made it possible to stream experiences from almost anywhere over a live webcast. Today, the opportunities for bringing virtual experiences to life are poised to take yet another leap forward, as the technology advances and prices come down.
This opens up a new frontier for experience design—one we’re excited to be a part of.
Back to the future
Everywhere I turn these days there is a VR meetup, conference track or lunch conversation. Whether it is a content management system engineer who has a vision for storing and personalizing VR or a startup seeking to put customers at center ice, VR is quickly moving from a hobby to a business strategy.
It reminds me of the internet in 1996, when hundreds of passionate early adopters would stay late into the night discussing the future and sharing advancements.
VR is not new—its roots can be traced back to the mid-1960s. By 1991 Sega and Virtuality had produced the first VR arcade at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center for $71,000 per machine. In addition to the sticker price, challenges included a giant system form factor and prohibitively expensive content production costs.
VR gets real
Today Oculus Rift (acquired by Facebook for $2 billion) has ignited a renaissance in VR that appears to be anything but a flash in the pan or a fad. The form factor is not much larger than ski goggles, the cost is as little as $200, and the content can be produced with nothing more than some duct tape and a few GoPro cameras.
Industry momentum for VR has picked up, as seen at the Silicon Valley VR conference in May. Attendance grew from 400 at the inaugural 2014 event to 1,400 this year. It’s predicted that three million people will have VR-capable gear by the end of 2015, surging to more than 20 million in 2016.
Start your wish list
Keep an eye out for these new VR platforms set to launch between now and the end of 2016:
If you are VR-capable with a supported cell phone such as the Samsung Note 4 or Galaxy 6 and Google Cardboard or the Gear VR there are many experiences already available for you. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Raft the Grand Canyon and feel the rapids
- Ski off a mountain and hang glide to the bottom
- Immerse yourself in a Cirque du Soleil performance only on the Gear VR
- Experience a Syrian refugee camp through the eyes of a 12-year-old in the United Nations production Clouds over Sidra
These kinds of immersive experiences open up new opportunities in multiple fields.
Empathy education through experiences such as the Clouds Over Sidra production are fertile ground for VR, allowing people to step out of their own perspective and immerse themselves in the world of another.
The healthcare industry has been using VR for some time now to treat conditions from Parkinson’s Disease to Agoraphobia to PTSD.
Another interesting application comes from Sixense’s vRetail platform, which leverages VR and related motion capabilities that allow users to experience virtual retail environments and products in a way that is not possible through any other medium.
Travel and tourism
Personally, my ideal scenario, as simple as it may be, is vacation planning. VR enables you to get a realistic preview of the experience, from touching down on the runway to the various activities and experiences available once you arrive.
For example, VR would have provided a fun and engaging way for my wife and me to plan out our week on Vancouver Island. And if we’d been able to see what the experience would really be like before we arrived, we might have traded our honeymoon stop in Nanaimo, British Columbia for a more scenic spot on Vancouver Island, such as Tofino.
Here are some easy ways to jump into VR with a toe or both feet.
- Join a local VR meetup—most cities have one
- Buy a Gear VR or Google Cardboard
- Keep an eye on Kickstarter for the latest innovations, such as FOVE
VR is more than a technological advance; it’s a new paradigm for how people will make decisions and experience content. And as VR tips into mass adoption, opportunities abound
for new systems, strategies, and business model innovation.
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