by Simeon Moses
With Techcrunch Disrupt well underway, I think it is a great time to examine how virtual reality is set to “disrupt” a large part of the overall business landscape across the globe. Some industries will be relatively untouched while others will be completely transformed by the capabilities of virtual reality. In order to perceive the power of the upcoming VR revolution it is worthwhile to examine some of the industry verticals that will be changed the most. Here is a list of my “Top Ten Industries poised for Disruption” by virtual reality hardware and VR content.
Current methods- Architects use a wide variety of methods to create and share their vision of all types of building and structures. They rely on paper blueprints, physicals models, sketchbooks, and various software programs that assist in design and more technicals tasks.
VR methods in use- Currently the architecture industry has already seen penetration from VR in providing new, innovative tools. Both in viewing architecture plans and building virtual models, apps are already bringing new insights at potentially reduced costs. Seeing a 360 version of models that can be viewed at room scale is a powerful method of examining existing plans and models. Also, building and collaborating in real time to design houses, stores and even skyscrapers is one of the potential gifts VR brings to architects.
Example apps- One of the most popular examples right now of practical VR use is the company Sketchfab where people are sharing thousands of VR 3d models. Many of these models include architectural renderings and 3d scans of existing structures one can use for both inspiration and more practical engineering uses. ArchVirtual is another major player in the architecture VR space. ArchVirtual provides visualizations tools so architects can view photorealistic models of projects to review and collaborate on potential changes. They have created a platform called Immerse Collaborative that allows for multiple people to be inside a virtual environment simultaneously in order to talk and manipulate architectural scenes in real time. This is the future of design for almost anything you can build. IrisVR is another similar app that combines both architecture and engineering features for efficient collaboration.
VR Future- VR video conferencing will be an important toolset for architects. The convergence with AR will also provide tools to take existing structures and manipulate the scene where you are standing to aid in changes to a plan, which can be much more expensive to model off-site. In the future, blueprints will be converted automatically into room scale environments that one can teleport through and get a better sense of the end product as well as avoid costly mistakes one might not see when looking at a flat piece of paper.
Current methods- There are more methods than one can count for how people train employees and students on jobs and various tasks from simple to complex. From shadowing, to reading books or watching videos the industry is worth billions of dollars overall.
VR methods in use- The longest case use for VR has been military and combat training which has utilized VR since the 1980s and in some cases even earlier. Also, VR flight simulators have been in use for many years though were prohibitively expensive for anyone that was not a large aerospace company. In recent years, the market has quickly expanded to other types of training scenarios. In particular, industrial environment training using virtual reality has become a way to mitigate risks found in real-life scenarios.
Example app- A fantastic example of how VR can save time, money and materials is the company VRTEX and the VR training they created for their arc welder system. Welding is a highly skilled trade. It can also be dangerous and material costs can add up quickly not to mention potential damage to equipment due to misuse. VRTEX found VR to be the solution they needed to train welders on how to use their tools without utilizing high cost classes requiring teachers, supervision, functional equipment and insurance in case anyone gets injured.
VR Future- Look for many more industries to widely adopt VR as a training tool to minimize risks and reduce costs. More military use will occur alongside police, firefighters and other public service jobs that entail a large potential for bodily injury. The VRTEX example for industrial training will become pervasive among high skill jobs in manufacturing, robotics and repairs/maintenance staff. VR will become the go to tool for many trades for initial training scenarios.
Current methods- Currently members of the medical community have one of the broadest sets of technology to work with in order to accomplish their daily work. Machines, computers, paper charts, and most of all the human capital that powers it all.
VR methods in use- Medicine is perhaps the biggest and most important industry that VR is already making great progress adding tools for doctors, nurses and medical staff to make more informed decisions. Not only is VR great for training in the medical field but steps are already being taken to integrate VR into real-time applications such as robotic surgery. The bulk of VR experiences feature immersive 360 videos that take you inside a hospital or operating room or similar “watch how it’s done” content. Interactive apps allow exploring of physiology and guiding students to make medical decisions and see the virtual reality outcome in a safe, non-threatening environment.
Example apps- The best app I have used so far related to medicine is the anatomy app found on Unimersiv. Exploring different levels of the human anatomy from skin to muscle to organs and bones, the Unimersiv experiences is not only entertaining, but highly engaging and thus more effective in creating retainable information that can be used by students and workers in their roles. The crossover for training in medicine is even a more lucrative market with companies like Ossim who are doing open surgery training using virtual reality devices with haptic feedback.
VR Future- Medicine is going to see amazing leaps thanks to virtual reality. Imagine a doctor who can quickly scan images or even DNA sequences to find relevant information more rapidly than ever possible in a normal environment. Medical students will get massive amounts of training in VR before ever touching a real body. And even when working with real patients they can do further analysis in VR by running scenarios over and over again to get deeper insights into potential medical conditions. VR doctor visits are going to be a real thing. VR collaboration will be monumentally important as healthcare becomes a global effort and doctors from around the world work together to eliminate diseases. Robotics and VR will be deeply interwined when it comes to surgical procedures.
Current methods- Engineering utilizes many forms of media for both design and problem solving. There is a significant overlap with the methods used in architecture. Civil and industrial engineering use software, traditional paper based tools, and models to visualize engineering problems and solutions.
VR methods in use- In the engineering industry, VR is being used most heavily in the visualization of designs. For both research and design, VR offers in depth, intuitive ways of iterating in the development cycle for machines and products.
Example app- Ford has been using for VR for over a decade. Recently, Ford has been using Oculus Rift in their product development cycle to review auto designs so they can get the customer perspective and make changes without having to create costly prototype cars.
VR Future- The future of VR in engineering relies on the ability of VR to create spaces for real time collaboration and review of engineering schematics and design. The mathematical side of engineering projects will still rely on desktop software but visualization will see heavy VR use.
Current methods- Retail has already gone through major transformations in the last ten years with online shopping taking over the market and the dominance of Amazon. People have three main ways to shop: brick and mortar stores, on the web or through mobile apps.
VR methods in use- Currently many retail outlets are experimenting with VR to recreate the shopping experience online and some have gone us far as building VR stores where items can be purchased.
Example apps- The biggest new player in the VR retail space is Alibaba. Alibaba is at the forefront of of VR retail with the release of Buy+ as China is poised to become the biggest VR consumer marketplace with high adoption rates of VR headsets compared to the rest of the world. Another fantastic example of VR in retail is the Ikea shopping experience on Steam. Ikea has created a slick app that fits well into their promotion model. If you can dream it you can build it at Ikea in VR.
VR Future- Shopping in virtual reality is going to be big business. This perhaps may become the most lucrative market in total revenue generation through all virtual reality platforms in the long run. Beyond gaming, shopping will be the second quickest monetized sector of the verticals benefiting from virtual reality experiences.
Current methods- Interior design is similar to other design oriented industries in their current tools. Much of interior design requires a trained eye standing in an actual physical space in order to interpret the needs of the client.
VR methods in use- Currently VR is being used in both commercial and residential applications to add furnishings, manipulate colors and view the overall look of designs augmenting both real and virtual spaces.
Example apps- Planner 5d is the perfect example of how useful VR will revolutionize interior design practices. It already has robust capabilities to manipulate furniture, change colors and create a custom floor plan layout. Now people can build there dream home in virtual reality and get instant results to see their vision come to life. iStaging is another very recent example and proof VR is moving quickly into this space to give consumers powerful tools to make important, creative decisions.
VR Future- This is one of the best use case scenarios for VR. VR is superior in many aspects versus traditional tools when it comes to creative designing in spaces. I believe this industry will see 90% adoption rates of VR in the next five years.
Current methods- TV and film are generally enjoyed on flat screens for over 100 years. The devices such as the ipad are more recent developments but in the end are just variations on the flat screen theme.
VR Methods in use- Currently VR is being used mainly to display shorter pieces of content. In particular journalism, behind the scenes footage, and add-on branded experiences have been popular uses for VR headsets. Sports coverage is also a rapidly growing arena in the VR entertainment as livestreaming capabilities are just reaching fruition in the past year.
Example apps- There are too many projects to count in the entertainment space for virtual reality. Jaunt has been leading the way for years in the short form content arena. Hulu and Netflix have brought the flat screen into VR environment for a hybrid experience more akin to a personal theater. The recent Rio Olympics app showed a crude form of sports media while NextVR is bringing quality stereoscopic 3d to headset screens promising a new, immersive way of watching your favorite sport or team. “Henry”, a short VR film by Oculus Studio, also shows VR can truly be a great place for storytellers too.
VR Future- The future of VR in film and television is a giant market and potentially lucrative. Though its doubtful VR will be as competitive in the next 5 years as traditional television and movie screens, we should see a sizable niche carved out for VR enthusiasts. The question is whether long form content will penetrate the viewership as most VR experiences thus far are geared towards shorter engagement times. The logistics of eye strain is still very real and better hardware that is more comfortable for longer periods of use will need to be developed to allow VR film and content creators to deliver stories that will compete with traditional viewing options.
Current methods- Ads and marketing are pervasive in every form one can think of in media. Print, digital, television, and more esoteric forms of brand promotion drive the consumer world we live in.
VR methods in use- Currently VR advertising is in its infancy. Some embedded ads are present in VR content and the popular use of the nadir patch at the bottom of the viewers gaze is often where companies place their logo. Branded ad content is the main use currently providing a cool commercial experience versus showing boring old TV commercials or photo ads. This is also an industry where AR and VR convergence will be an important milestone in the development of both mediums.
Example apps- A great example of promotion using VR was the Game of Thrones introduction reimagined in VR. In order to further stoke the sensation that is GOT, the creators added a 360 VR version of their famous TV intro flying over the kingdom. Though GOT hardly needs any more promotion, it was a fantastic example of taking something that was good and making it great by creating a VR version of the content. Audi, Coca-Cola and Nike all have created VR experiences to promote their already strong brands. Finally, Hyper Reality was an AR concept film but also applies as a great example of how VR can similarly utilize brand promotion everywhere and anywhere.
VR Future- A recent study showed VR ads got more than ten times the engagement levels than mobile or desktop ads presented to viewers. VR headsets prevent distraction at this point in time and therefore almost force users to at least watch advertising content when they are immersed. This golden age will not last forever but for the next few years VR engagement levels will be orders of magnitude higher due to the uniqueness of the content and the forced watching nature VR provides potential advertisers. Not to mention eye tracking and head tracking analytics will provide deep and powerful insights to brands and advertisers that are big data miners dream come true.
Current methods- Libraries are still one of the great public goods funded by the community and private donors. Though progress has been made in bringing some features of the library online through downloadable ebooks, most library utility centers around using the brick and mortar space of the library to read, write, research and utilize librarian knowledge and resources.
VR methods in use- Currently the library vertical is untapped by virtual reality. Very little has been invested in this space likely due to the difficulty in reading text in headsets at this moment.
Example app- Chimera Reader is an example of a reading app that is a glimpse into the future of literature. Though the app is buggy and nearly unworkable, it demonstrates the basic functions needed to read a book in VR with gaze activated selection of material and page turning using positional tracking.
VR Future- Kindle like experiences are on the horizion for virtual reality. Imagine the Gear VR store but for books. Though nothing replaces the feel of a book in hand, VR will carve a serious niche into the library space when reading becomes an easier task within the VR environment.
Current methods- The final and perhaps most important vertical that VR is poised to disrupt would be education. Currently, every method you can think of is used to communicate knowledge to students through all forms of media. Traditional book learning and web-based content are still the primary sources of information for students when outside the classroom. In classrooms, whiteboards and oral lectures still dominate as teaching tools.
VR methods in use- Currently virtual reality is penetrating education on multiple fronts. VR headsets are being used to attend classes virtually or supplement class lessons. Educational apps of all varieties are being created for self-learners. Schools are utilizing virtual reality as a subsitution for field trips. So many different aspect of education are being transformed this very minute through VR.
Example apps- In Japan this year a group of students attended the school opening ceremony in virtual reality using Samsung Gear headsets. People around the world are learning language with a fun bear in House of Languages. Some are even choosing a more social method of language learning by practicing with real individuals in Altspace VR chat rooms. Google has already taken thousands of students on virtual field trips through their Google Expeditions app.
VR Future- The future for VR in education is the one industry with the highest ceiling. Imagine the best teacher in the world who has ten million students all logged in simultaneously to hear their lecture. Learning programs will not just be online they will feature partial or even full virtual courses taken with VR headsets. The crossover of training with VR alongside education will make virtual reality one of the most effective tools for educating both young students and life long learning adults. The Oasis from Ready Player One will take shape someday and a child born today may never see the inside of a real classroom.