Is this crisis the catalyst VR needed?
How coronavirus is boosting VR use
When virtual reality (VR) first broke onto the mainstream scene about five or so years ago, it was met by some with scepticism and some as a revelation – predicted to revolutionise how we consume content and interact with each other. But the big boom predicted didn’t pan out quite like that. Consumer uptake remains relatively modest and it has turned out to be enterprise use – where the technology has been put to a practical purpose – that has seen most growth. But the situation created by the coronavirus has changed how everyone around the world is living. Could this crisis be the moment for VR to shine?
At the time of writing, the world is still very much in the grip of the coronavirus crisis. While lockdowns are easing in some areas, we are still adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and working out ways we can safely return to life in the office, schools, pubs, theatres – the list goes on. One thing, however, is certain. Quick and easy international travel as we know it has come to a near standstill, with many borders closed and quarantines in place for travellers. For a global economy, this has fundamentally changed how businesses operate – and VR has stepped into the breach.
Conferencing and expos
The potential that immersive technologies hold for enabling us to reconnect with people – and continue global business from our own homes or offices – is exciting. Enterprise use of VR is already double that of consumer use – and VR and 360º video gives us ways we can continue to experience different places and interact with people in a way that feels more real, more connected, than a group video call through a laptop. While Zoom and the like do suffice for team meetings in a workplace or virtual social events, VR could bring a whole new level of realism. We’re seeing more and more companies look to create virtual conferencing options – where attendees can put on a headset and walk around in an environment in VR and interact both with it, and other people. It’s not hard to see how this as a solution built for enterprise might find its way into the hands of customers who want to use it for virtual socialising in the future.
Virtual tours have come into their own during lockdown. From the property market, to the tourism market to the higher education sector – virtual tours are allowing people to get an immersive look inside a place that they cannot, or don’t feel safe to, visit. For students on the brink of picking their university, it allows them to get a better feel for the place they will call home. For estate agents, it enables the property market to continue and for the tourism market, it’s a lifeline to sell in future holidays when current travel is not possible. And it doesn’t have to be headset-based either – while VR technology enables the creation of these types of content, it can be viewed through a desktop monitor or smartphone too, making it much more accessible.
Training and education
With schools and training centres closed, the need for learning has not gone away. For emergency services and key workers, it’s possibly more important than ever to access training. This is a big area of potential for VR. A recent study showed that VR training has the potential to improve patient outcomes significantly by demonstrating an 83% improvement in surgical performance during keyhole hip surgery. And while VR will not give the same stressful or emotional experience of the real-world, it does give a highly accurate simulation where it’s safe to make mistakes – and this remains critical for sectors such as medicine and energy, where demand remains high. And with clinical practices undergoing some big changes due to the coronavirus, VR offers safe training while allowing safe social distancing.
A practical solution
What’s important to remember is that these solutions are not short term. Even when society finds itself back on an even keel, the changes that have been made during lockdown will stick with us. Coronavirus has accelerated the development of home working and virtual solutions to mass gatherings – and as such the practical benefits of VR have been shown, from reducing the need to travel, to cutting costs of travel, to boosting accessibility, to ensuring human connection when we can’t meet face-to-face. From a business perspective, these benefits are clear – but they bring with it greater potential for consumer VR too, from immersive socialising to escapism when we can’t travel. As the world slowly edges back to normal, it will be interesting to watch this space: the pandemic altered the world almost overnight – but VR has the potential to alter it for the long haul.