You might not know it yet but VR is creeping into all aspects of our lives. Businesses are leading the way, with industries like construction and medical using it to train better and work more efficiently. Sam Watts is Director of Immersive Technologies at the Brighton-based Make Real; they create a wide range of VR products and experiences for companies small and large, including Lloyd’s Bank, EDF and Mcdonald’s. We called him to discuss this brave new world and the often mind-boggling ways companies are embracing this technology.
Hey Sam. VR is still uncharted territory for many businesses. How much of your job is managing expectations?
There’s a lot of that but it’s also really important to find valid use cases. There’s been a lot of hype around VR and some people just want to tick off that particular type of innovation. For us it’s crucial that the market and user base continues to grow, but that we ensure the content we create is a valid use for VR.
Oculus Quest [a successor to Facebook-owned VR headset Oculus Rift]has now been released. How much difference will this make to VR adoption?
It makes a huge difference as it removes some barriers to entrance that typically put people off. Beforehand you needed a high-end PC or laptop to run a headset and you needed external sensors for the full VR experience. So there was a lot of clutter and cables. But now the computer is in the headset and it has inside-out tracking – cameras on the headset that are constantly scanning the geometry of the surroundings to determine its position in the world whilst tracking the hand controllers – so it’s all ready to go.
VR is regularly used as a training tool, isn’t it?The most obvious training use of VR is the ability to place people in a world that is representative of a sector or aspect, but the training can be carried out safely because there’s no danger of them hurting themselves. This could be a nuclear reactor, say, or a construction site. It also saves money because you don’t have to interrupt day-to-day work with people training onsite. You can also add an element of consistency because the experience is the same each time. People will need onsite training eventually but you will be able to reach a base level quicker.
And what about meetings?Global companies will often spend a lot of money flying regional heads of office to meetings. That’s a lot of costs, a lot of time and high environmental impact. So there’s applications – like rumii or ENGAGE – where you can don your headset, join a private room and have your 3-D avatar represent you in a meeting with people from across the world. With the available head, hand and individual finger tracking, you start to recognize people in VR from their natural movements and the nuances of their subconscious gestures.
Presumably one day this could be used in schools?Yes, it could be education-focused for schools. Everyone could go, say, into a 3-D model of the Great Pyramid.
What other industries could utilize it?Architects have and the visualization of buildings from 2-D to 3-D has been commonplace. It’s a natural progression from reading something on a screen to actually stepping into that building. You can do everything at 1:1 scale so you can understand where the design might not work. The light might be cut off in a certain way or the overall aesthetic – the feeling you’re trying to create when someone enters the building – isn’t achieved.
If we’re walking around buildings, could estate agents use it?Yes, you can create a 3-D scan of a house or building and visit from an office rather than having to meet people every time
The ability to view someone else’s environment could also be a powerful tool for change?Absolutely. You can put an individual in someone else’s shoes and help them understand their viewpoint and position. It can help us all to be more accepting of each other’s beliefs and situations.
And what about the medical industry ?
Also, cadavers are expensive so VR can enable trainee doctors nurses to get some training before working on actual bodies. Again it’s about getting to that base level of knowledge.
How much must we be aware of people’s physical and emotional safety when using VR?It’s a powerful sensation: giving up your sight and sound and touch, to a degree, in this simulated environment. It’s very important that if there’s strong messages or themes that you make people aware of potential triggers. You have to verbalize everything and you need a safe space because the person in the VR could be walking around flailing their arms and not aware of their surroundings – they might end up punching someone else in the head!
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