What's New (and Crazy) in Virtual Reality
The future of technology is within another dimension. With the launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and the rising market of smartphone-based virtual reality (VR) technology like Google Cardboard, VR has found its place in the mainstream. So has ambient computing, which “makes the technology pay obsessive attention to us—serving us, helping us make good decisions and operate more efficiently,” as Ticky Thakkar and Louis Kim of HP Labs have succinctly put it.
Thus far these technologies have been heavily marketed to consumers—think VR video games and that Nest thermostat on your wall. But how can they help your business? Let’s go through the options.
Virtual Reality (VR)
The high end: The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, both of which buzzed about for years in tech circles and finally made their debuts this spring. Facebook invested an astounding $2 billion in the Oculus Rift—founder Mark Zuckerberg believes immersive experiences could be the answer to the question, “What comes after smartphones?” While Facebook’s acquisition of the Rift was making headlines, software developer Valve and phone manufacturer HTC were working on their own answer. Prices are $599 and $799 respectively, and both require some serious PC hardware to support them (HTC developed the Vive to work in lockstep with the new HP Envy desktop).
The low end: Google Cardboard, a $15 VR headset that straps a smartphone to your head for a 360-degree experience.
On the horizon: Augmented reality (or A.R. for short), which creates realistic holograms superimposed on your field of vision. The HP Zvr 23.6-inch Virtual Reality Display is the first commercial 3D display from HP that delivers a virtual-holographic 3D1 image so you can see every angle and curve in lifelike detail. HP and Mountain View-based software company, EchoPixel, are using the HP Zvr to give healthcare professionals a three-dimensional perspective on medical images—they’ll be able to see and interact with virtual body parts as if they were real, physical objects. The Microsoft Hololens has a tentative release date for October (and a $3,000 price tag for a developer’s kit). And then there’s Google’s $542 million investment in Magic Leap, which recently released a video demo that’ll make you feel like Tony Stark in Iron Man. (There’s no release date or price tag yet.)
Should your business invest in it?
Probably, either now or down the line. Here are a few things to consider:
• Try before you buy: Do you sell a product that customers want to see or experience first? VR can let them take a virtual “test drive.” It’ll save you money you’d otherwise spend on logistics, production costs and possibly brick and mortar retail outlets.
• Research: Before you put a new product into production, VR can let users test it out. There’s no need to manufacture a prototype when you can ship it straight to their headset. (Cool fact: Experts are predicting that by 2115 VR tech will integrate “haptic” touch sensation as well.2)
• Employee training: An interactive approach can be more impactful than a manual or instructor-led session.
• Virtual offices: Down the line, imagine if your employees could interact with their colleagues as if they were in the same room—but from the comfort of their own homes? The savings on an office space could be well worth the tech investment.
The buzz: The tech world has been talking about the Internet of Things for a while now—but we’ve only scratched the surface of it. Go beyond the physical things you interact with towards sensors and machines in your environment that see, understand and react to your needs—without you having to ask first. “Think of ambient lighting. Ambient music. An ambient element is tuned to your immediate environment, adapted to enhance a particular mood or activity,” says Thakkar and Kim.
The tech: Too many to mention, but here’s a start:
• Sensors that monitor sound, motion, temperature, location and more. Often, these will be embedded in devices you’re already using.
• Interconnected devices that use these sensors and other monitoring tools to communicate with you—and each other.
• Ambient services that use all of the above to analyze data and make complex events happen.
Should your business invest in it?
In small ways, you probably already have. Here are some things to consider:
• Stay focused. What business outcomes can an ambient system contribute to? Concentrate on your goal and then determine what tech can help you get there—not the other way around.
• Go step by step. Break down each step of the business process you’d like to develop or optimize so you don’t get overwhelmed.
• Put customers first. How will they initially react—and then interact—with these new systems? Put their experience first.
• Get disruptive. Are there ways you can disrupt your industry with ambient tech? Are there other companies you can partner with to create new types of networks that would benefit both your customers?
• Get office smart. We’re already on the road to having “smart homes” that feature ambient tech. Adding similar “smart” features to your office can make your employees more comfortable and productive.
 3D content is required for 3D performance
 The Atlantic, Virtual Reality Gets Real