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The State of the Industry: Virtual & Augmented Reality in 2019

Enterprise Virtual Reality Solutions from Oculus

We’ve come a long way since the Oculus Rift and HTC VIVE launched in 2016. Many thought Virtual Reality had finally landed, but costly equipment and a lack of compatible hardware–among other issues– threw up barriers to the technology’s mass appeal. Today, Virtual Reality is more accessible than ever before. According to a report by Zion Market Research, the global value of the Virtual and Augmented Reality markets are projected to reach $814.7 billion USD by 2025. The technology, which has been widely associated with gaming, has developed use cases across a variety of industries. From farming to manufacturing, these immersive tools offer enterprise solutions that are transforming day-to-day business activities.

With a new breed of headsets hitting the market this year–specifically the standalones–Virtual Reality is about to turn a corner, for consumers and businesses alike.

Oculus Quest standalone headset

Oculus Quest Standalone Headset

Facebook Brings Us the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest

Last year, reports swirled that Facebook would abandon PC-based VR in favour of standalone headsets like the Oculus GO, but in March the company announced the Oculus Rift S ($399 USD). With a higher resolution display, and the new Oculus Insight with Passthrough feature, Facebook’s latest tethered headset provides a much-needed update from its predecessor. Oculus Insight replaces the external sensors required for tracking and opts for embedded cameras, allowing it to track and understand its position in the space. The headset has also moved from LCD to OLED screens which minimize the screen door effect (a mesh-like appearance which occurs when there are visible gaps between pixels) that will help to boost the sense of immersion. The Rift S swaps out the tri-strap headset design and replaces it with an adjustable halo shape, which is said to increase comfort for extended play.

In addition to the launch of the Rift S, the Oculus Quest ($399 USD) is the latest untethered headset which is designed to deliver a PC-like experience with high fidelity audio and compelling graphics. The new standalone headset is a hybrid that combines the best elements from Facebook’s former standalone headset Oculus Go and the original Rift. Unlike the Go, the Quest incorporates Oculus Insight which grants the user 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF), so they can move freely around a space. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset–which also powers the Samsung Galaxy S8–the processor is paired with a cooling system which allows it to run at peak performance without overheating.

HTC VIVE Competes with Oculus Quest

Announced at the VIVE Ecosystem conference in China, the VIVE Focus Plus ($800 USD) is a standalone headset with built-in head and hand-tracking. As a direct competitor to the Oculus Quest, the headsets share very similar features. Both units have 2,880 x 1,600 total resolution, is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, feature 6DoF and pair with a set of hand-controllers. Where the headsets differ is the field-of-view (FOV). The Focus Plus boasts a 110-degree FOV, while the Quest has 100 degrees. With a refresh rate of 75 Hz, the Focus Plus outperforms the Quest’s 72 Hz. An important distinction between the two head-mounted displays is the price; the HTC VIVE is double that of its rival.

HTC VIVE Focus Plus

HTC VIVE Focus Plus

Oculus and HTC VIVE Bet on Business with Enterprise Programs

Originally launched in 2017, Facebook introduced Oculus for Business. The enterprise solution was developed to foster Virtual Reality in the workplace and has expanded its initiative to include the Oculus Quest in their suite of tools. The program works with businesses who are creating custom applications for employee onboarding, remote collaboration, and data visualization. For many of the partners that previously signed on with the program, their initiatives have transformed their companies and, VR has become an essential tool for their business.

HTC VIVE has continued to concentrate on the enterprise market with the launch of the VIVE Focus Plus. The headset includes several professional features including Kiosk Mode, Multi-Mode Support, Gaze Support, and a series of device management tools which allow you to remotely manage and monitor multiple headsets simultaneously. The VIVE Enterprise Advantage updates easily and securely while providing small and large companies with the flexibility and control to manage VIVE deployments.

Oculus and HTC VIVE will continue to champion the enterprise market and help integrate VR into workflows and services that businesses are already using.

It’s Time to Add Virtual Reality to Your Marketing Strategy

Today’s consumers are more enlightened and empowered. They are looking for experiences that are not only authentic but engaging and interactive. As customers become increasingly skeptical, brands are faced with the challenge of keeping up with the demands of their audience.

Using immersive technologies to sell products and services has become an important marketing tool that brands are leveraging. According to Greenlight Insights, the top 100 global manufacturers by revenue will be incorporating VR/AR marketing solutions that will assist with B2B and B2C sales by 2025.

Incorporating Virtual Reality into the marketing strategy can increase brand awareness, enhance consumer engagement, and improve the overall client experience. According to Touchstone Research, 80% of consumers feel positive towards a branded VR experience, which shows that jaded audiences are ready for new and innovative methods of marketing.

An example of a business who found success by integrating VR into their marketing strategy was Rinnai America. Launched at the 2018 International Builders’ Show in Atlanta, the company showcased their Yank the Tank VR experience. Designed for DIY’ers and professional installers, the application was used to showcase just how easy it is to install a tankless water heater. Understanding that many people find it overwhelming to perform an installation, Rinnai America asked tradeshow attendees to give their VR experience a try. To put the user at ease–and provide them with a sense of play–they started by choosing a “weapon of choice” to destroy the old tank. Once they had demolished the tank, they began the step-by-step installation process. By simulating this procedure, the user gained more confidence then if they had watched a demonstration. In addition to inspiring potential customer’s confidence, the activation increased their sales leads by 50%.

Rinnai America Virtual Reality Training

Rinnai America Virtual Reality Training

Including an immersive activation at a conference, tradeshow, or retail store provides potential customers with the understanding of how a product or service would function in their own lives. By showcasing how a product interacts and behaves, the consumer can form a deeper connection with the brand without interference from external distractions.

While Virtual Reality immerses a user in a simulated environment, Augmented Reality layers graphics or animations on the user’s pre-existing space. Proving to be a powerful marketing tool, AR has been utilized by brands in a variety of industries. Earlier this year one of the most famous whiskey brands in the world, Jack Daniel’s, released an AR app designed to tell the brand’s history. When a user opens the mobile app the bottle’s label unfolds like an illustrated diorama. The three-part story features a miniature version of the distillery, a step-by-step walkthrough of the whiskey-making process, and the last installment features stories of Jack Daniel, himself. Unlike the VR activation, the AR app allows for the brand’s story to be explored in the consumer’s own home or space. The Jack Daniel’s app is being heralded as the application that will define best practices for future AR-driven campaigns.

Jack Daniels Augmented Reality App

Jack Daniels Augmented Reality App

The Future of Corporate Training is Virtual

When it comes to training employees–particularly ones that work in potentially dangerous environments–how can a company adequately prepare them for situations that can be stressful and highly complex? For decades, companies have been training employees with a combination of videos, role-playing, demonstrations, and text-based materials. When a problematic situation arises will these training methods have prepared workers to make the right decisions in a stressful environment?

According to a study from the University of Maryland, which analyzed whether people learn better through virtual, immersive stimuli versus traditional methods like computers or tablets, they found that people have a better recall when information is presented to them in an immersive form.

Virtual Reality is revolutionizing how companies are preparing employees for their working worlds. Offering the same benefits of training in the physical space, Virtual Reality can create engaging learning experiences but without the safety risks.

What makes VR a crucial training tool is the ability to evoke emotional and physiological responses to a simulated experience. Training exercises mimic real-life situations and provide controlled exposure to stressful stimuli. From managing irate customers to assembling an aircraft, the user can be exposed to multiple levels of intensity without the risks. Similar to exposure therapy by psychologists, the “dosage” or intensity level of the experience can be increased over time to bolster the adverse effects that stress produces in that particular situation. In addition to preparing the user for a complex and possibly distressing event, VR training allows companies to construct simulations that would otherwise be difficult, expensive, or dangerous to execute in a real-life environment.

To prepare the New York Police Department (NYPD) for everything from hostage situations to terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana State University provided hundreds of officers with a week-long Virtual Reality training program. Running a number of simulations which placed officers into chaotic, stress-inducing situations while having to perform their duties, the program recorded the participant’s behaviour in order to facilitate further training. The pilot project also noted if multiple officers responded to a virtual event in a similar manner. This will help the NYPD gain a better understanding of how to plan and execute their emergency response based on the behaviours of their officers. After the pilot project has been completed Louisiana State University plans on working with other police departs and taking their training nationwide.

NYPD Using Virtual Reality

NYPD Using Virtual Reality

While Virtual Reality training is beneficial to users who are facing dangerous situations, it can also benefit other aspects of on-the-job training. When it comes to manufacturing or engineering recreating a training scenario can be incredibly expensive. Virtual Reality can save time, money, and can free up equipment that would otherwise have to be used for training.

When Qatar Airlines found training their engineers on the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines difficult, they turned to Virtual Reality. Familiar with the technology, as they had used it to simulate real air-side conditions for their ground operating teams, Qatar Airways decided to provide similar training for their engineering department. Before implementing this approach to training, the aircraft would have to be taken out of service or separated and shipped back to Doha for the engineers to take part in the refresher training. This process was not only costly but risked damaging the equipment. The Rolls-Royce team developed the VR program–which uses an HTC Vive headset–and allowed users to “separate” the engine and carry out training in a virtual environment.

Saving Lives with Virtual Reality

While immersive technologies have proven to be successful across many industries, healthcare has become one of the major adopters of Virtual and Augmented Reality. From surgery simulations to treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the medical community has embraced these mediums as an important industry asset. According to a report by Goldman-Sachs, the VR and AR healthcare market is predicted to reach $5.1 billion in value by 2025. Factors contributing to the industry’s growth include the steady stream of research and development and an increase in investments.

In a report published by Zion Market Research, the North American VR/AR industry is forecast to dominate the healthcare market from 2019 to 2025. This projection is attributed to a variety of factors including the prevalence of psychological and neurological disorders amongst North Americans, adoption of advanced technologies in the healthcare sector, and increasing investments by the government. Last year, Europe was also a significant player in the global market while the Asia-Pacific industry is estimated to show the highest growth in the coming years.

Many industries have welcomed Virtual and Augmented Reality as a training tool, and the medical community is no different. Combining VR and haptic technology–which creates a sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user–a new surgery training simulation was developed. Launched in August of 2018, the simulation provides doctors with the opportunity to rehearse, practice, and test out real-life surgical procedures.

Virtual Reality Surgery Simulation

Virtual Reality Surgery Simulation

While students traditionally practice procedures on human cadavers–which is expensive–an immersive training program can help reduce a medical institution’s costs without limiting their training needs. Surgical residents can develop new skills or can practice procedures that they rarely perform. In addition to the cost-savings and the ability to hone their skills, the program also helps to minimize medical errors.

Providing tactile feedback, the program mirrors the sensation of touching a physical object. With the help with of a PC-based VR headset and a Geomagic Touch unit, the user is able to interact with a variety of tissue textures and tools. The program is currently focused on the orthopedic surgical fields but will expand its offerings in the future.

Immersive healthcare experiences are not exclusively developed for medical staff and also offer patients relief and peace of mind. Last year, Rockyview General in Calgary was the first hospital in Canada to use Virtual Reality to help wound care patients alleviate the pain and stress of treatment. Using Samsung Gear headsets featuring 12 VR experiences, patients were able to escape to distracting and relaxing environments. This complementary therapy reported no side effects, unlike the reactions caused by painkillers or sedatives. The patients who received the VR treatment reported a 75 percent reduction in discomfort.

Although there have been great strides in developing immersive tools which can improve the healthcare industry, the technology is still in its infancy. While these solutions are enticing and transformative, they will have to continue to navigate the technical safeguards and industry regulations. Unlike the world of gaming–where virtual reality is most prominent–the healthcare industry is wrought with strict regulating bodies. Once the governing infrastructure finds the ability to properly manage Virtual & Augmented Reality, these tools and treatments will no longer be labelled as experimental or complimentary, but mainstream and primary.

In Conclusion…

The VR/AR landscape has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. Manufacturers are making strides with important hardware and software improvements and 2019 is set to be an important year for the industry. With the boundless uses for immersive applications, businesses and consumers alike are ready to have our work and play transformed.