I’m still going over my notes from the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC) last week, and one of the things that really struck me was that virtual reality (VR) for business was far closer to being ready for the market than VR for the home. It comes down to the experience and the fact that businesses can easily justify a far higher cost for the implementation than consumers; with business, there is a payback, but for consumers, it is just another form of entertainment. And even then, were you able to tie this to some kind of education program, it is likely a consumer would pay more for the system than they would if it was just gaming.
I think most of the difference is that the actual requirements for business may be far less than they are with entertainment functions.
Virtual Reality Requirement Differences
At GTC, back to back, I tried out the Star Wars home gaming experience and then went and saw the Audi experience. With the Star Wars virtual reality experience, the Millennium Falcon comes down right on your head and then you engage in a fight with some storm troopers; they have blasters and you have a light saber. I really noticed what was missing. No wind (I was outside and had a space ship land almost on top of me), no feel for the light saber (it looked like a light saber but felt like the HTC controller it was), and no feeling when I missed stopping a blaster bolt and got shot. That should at least tingle. So while it looked amazing, it didn’t feel real.
With the ZeroLight Audi experience, I was just selecting and looking at a car based on preferences. I could see the instruments, see the wheels, and see what the interior looked like, as if the car were right in front of me, full size. I was in a dealership and it felt, big surprise, like I was in a dealership. And since I was just looking at something static, I didn’t miss what I wouldn’t have had anyway. No one was shooting at me, no space ships were flying overhead, and I had no need for anything but the visual experience. Tied to a real car, I might have even been able to touch the vehicle, as it is just the appearance of the car that I was changing.
Further, NVIDIA had an Iray, an even higher resolution demonstration where I could wander the yet unbuilt new headquarters building. Yes, I moved around by clicking, not walking, but since I was just reviewing how the building looked, the lack of atmospheric and motion reality wasn’t a problem. The experience wasn’t trying to fully emulate reality, just give a good sense of what something that only existed on paper would look like when built. They likely could have emulated sound resonance, as well, if desired.
Now, with the business implementations, the justification for a high-end rig, and even custom controllers and a stage, could be made because of the financial benefits that would result: more people coming into Audi stores and buying cars for Audi, and more happy clients for the architect that used VR to model their creations. A VR walkthrough as a part of a pitch would likely compare very favorably against another presentation that was just models or 2D rendered pictures. The architect can use VR far more effectively to make suggestions that will improve the look, how light plays both outside and inside the building, and to fully convey the impression that the new structure will have on visitors and neighbors (to reduce concerns and costly objections).
Wrapping Up: VR for Business Makes Sense Today
In the end, I walked away from the experiences thinking that VR wasn’t just coming for business: It had arrived. And it could do today what no other tool can do, place a buyer/customer/employee realistically near something that hadn’t been built yet, vastly improving the sales and design process. Full VR is still some years away, but business doesn’t need full VR, it just needs the ability to improve on the tools it currently uses to transform ideas into something far more tangible.
Business has both a higher budget and a lower set of requirements than gaming users do, which is largely why VR is acceptable to business first.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+