Heads up – enterprises embracing virtual reality

After years of hype, VR is finally being embraced by businesses and consumers alike.  According to Deloitte, Touche Tohmatsu, in 2016 VR sales will hit $1bn for the first time

Twenty years ago, VR was limited by processing speeds, computer graphics and clunky headsets which all hobbled its adoption. Facebook’s $2bn purchase of Oculus VR in 2014 brought virtual reality back into the limelight. At CES 2016, the VR headset was being touted as this year’s big thing.

Gartner predicts that by 2018, 25 million head mounted displays (HMDs) will have been sold, sending VR and augmented reality mainstream. HMDs, which have previously only been used for speciality applications such as military design and simulation, are already finding their way into enterprises.  

According to market research company Tractica, virtual reality adoption in the enterprise market will be driven by training, simulation, virtual prototyping and 3D modelling applications. Other key markets will include medical, academia, research & development, and marketing and advertising. The automotive, aviation and architecture industries, for example are all using more and more 3D models in design.  

Tractica estimates that the commercial VR sector’s revenue will hit $4.5 billion worldwide by 2020, up from just $114 million in 2014. The figures include HMDs and VR Content.

“Virtual reality will take hold first in enterprise and industrial applications that benefit from powerful and versatile visualization tools,” explained Craig Foster, principal analyst at Tractica. “As the technology matures and costs decline, VR will increasingly be utilized for more mainstream commercial purposes such as marketing and advertising, travel and tourism, and retail.”

One early user is McCarthy Building Companies, one of the largest builders in the US. It uses VR to work with clients on the design of buildings, such as the Martin Luther King Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center in Los Angeles. Here doctors provided input via VR headsets on where medical equipment should be placed. 

And in hospitality, Marriott Hotels is piloting “VR Room Service” where guests can request a Samsung Gear VR headset to view “VR Postcards”, designed to immerse users in travel experiences for future destinations.

Enterprise VR development is underway

Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley giant that sees potential in VR. Intel recently invested in VR pioneer WorldViz, a developer of VR software for industries like manufacturing, healthcare and defense. Google is has been working in secret on Magic Leap while Apple also reportedly has a top secret team working on VR, which follows on the recent acquisition of augmented reality developer Metaio.

Virtual reality in the enterprise will enable businesses to truly transform the way they communicate, design and train staff. WorldViz claims customers will save about 90% of the costs involved in making real physical models such as designing a laboratory, for example. Intel and WorldViz are working together to develop scientific and industrial VR offerings.

Envelop VR recently secured $2 million in seed funding to grow its immersive VR business in both the enterprise and consumer spaces, including investment from Google Ventures. Envelop VR’s solution is designed to accelerate the implementation of VR by improving the workflow for developers, as well as businesses who want to use it help solve critical workplace visualization challenges. “Virtual reality, the technology that’s been 10 years away for 40 years, is finally here,” said Bob Berry, co-founder and CEO of Envelop VR.

Foster points out that VR is not without its challenges in the enterprise space.  For one thing, headsets are not cheap although prices are falling thanks to the emergence of consumer-grade equipment that can be used by enterprises in certain settings. Another challenge is getting users comfortable with the technology and transforming established business practices and processes. Nonetheless as volumes go up and more software is developed to make use of VR headsets, user acceptance will increase and costs will fall.

Read about the first ever holographic car navigation system developed by WayRay. 

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.