Blog posts

Opening up the world through Virtual Reality

 

Author: Salma Chaudhry

When Alison Larke was 30 weeks pregnant, her husband Jace Larke was working a job that placed him 4000 km away from the hospital room. Jace was told that he would miss the birth of his son. But he didn’t. When their child came into this world, Jace was right there in the room – virtually, at least. Jace attended the birth of his child in real-time with a Samsung Gear Virtual Reality headset.

During an unprecedented time, where little of our social interactions feel “normal,” Virtual Reality (“VR”) holds enormous potential to bring value to a variety of industries post-pandemic. Now is the time for VR companies to differentiate themselves and to make their product and service offerings more mainstream. As investors continue to support the market and invest in devices, the general public should stay on top of developments as this technology begins to evolve from a mere luxury into an at-home necessity.

Why VR?

The value proposition of VR amid COVID-19 chaos is enormous. VR tools help overcome the limitations of physical distance and obviate the need for physical presence. This year’s projections estimate the economic impact of VR and augmented reality at USD 29.5 billion. By 2026, the global VR market is to reach USD 120.5 billion, driven by a compound annual growth rate of 42.2%—a substantial upturn from 2018 when the market was valued conservatively at a mere USD 7.3 billion.

The market continues to move forward with investment from corporate giants. Facebook first fueled the VR industry with its $3 billion acquisition of Oculus in 2014. Then in Fall 2019, Facebook acquired CTRL-labs, a neural interface platform company, to complement Facebook Reality Labs. Late in November, Facebook also announced its acquisition of Beat Games, one of the most successful VR game developers. Apple also is anticipated to enter the smart glasses realm in late 2022. The device, powered through iOS technology, holds the potential to disrupt the VR wearables market.

As the VR industry matures, we can also anticipate costs coming down. With the launch of Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset at the price of $400, companies are aiming to make VR more accessible. Oculus Go units start at an affordable $149. Moreover, with the rise in smartphone technology, we have seen systems like Google’s Cardboard and Daydream VR, as well as Facebook and Samsung’s Gear VR—giving you a virtual experience for a fraction of the cost.

Potential for Enterprise Use

Gone are the days when VR primarily had its foothold among the video-gaming community. When HTC’s 5th annual VIVE Ecosystem physical conference in Shenzhen, China, was canceled in March 2020, HTC quickly pivoted and fully powered its event for the Vive VR headset system through ENGAGE, a VR platform that launched in 2016 in Ireland and was initially marketed as a distance-learning tool. Over 1,000 people from across 55 countries attended the conference as unique avatars. Attendees could raise their hand, get up, switch tables, and walk over to other attendees.

Spatial's virtual meeting rooms provide a 3D collaborative space in an office overlooking a landscape. Spatial offers a holographic collaboration platform that enables people to meet through both augments and VR using strikingly authentic avatars. Here, workers (with and without) VR headsets “meet” and work together. Importantly, with the ability to grasp emotional nuance on the user’s face and body language, Spatial facilitates an organic interaction between and across teams. You can also follow your co-worker’s voice as it naturally moves across your ears while you navigate different areas of the virtual office. Not only can users add and import a variety of 2D and 3D images from Google and Google Poly, they can also "grab," resize and maneuver the object however they please – making a table so big that you and your co-workers can gather around or an object so small that it fits in your virtual palm.

In the automotive industry, U.S. Ford Motor Company, one of the oldest players in VR, is using its VR Immersion Lab to not only design new vehicles but also cultivate autonomous vehicle technologies. For instance, designers can virtually sketch and adjust a car’s design by anchoring the driver at the center of the car and maneuvering the vehicle until they are pleased with their 3D design. Ford is also having its Mach-E engineers work on vehicles from home, testing vehicles in the driveway. Ford uses VR to train technicians on how to service and maintain cars without the need to access the physical model to confidently perform diagnostics and maintenance.

In the retail industry, Wal-Mart created a learning program for its employees called NextGen. At “Walmart Academy,” VR headsets are used to place sales associates in real-life situations to test which employees have the aptitude for management positions. Employees walk through a variety of simulated scenarios that Managers face daily, from dealing with angry customers to stress simulations of Black Friday sales.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson Institute, the training institute of pharmaceutical giant (“J&J”), launched a new surgical training program for physicians, nurses, as well as students and trainees in the medical field. Earlier this year, J&J partnered with startup Osso VR to advance medical VR training. When students put on the Oculus Quest headset, they instantly find themselves in an operating room: a ticking clock on the wall, bright examination lights, and of course, the patient on the operating table.

Organizations can now use VR to train employees’ “soft” skills as well. Against the backdrop of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives have moved center stage. In the fight against unconscious workplace bias, VR Perspectives provides inclusiveness training for leaders through immersive VR. For instance, in an office scenario, a CEO or senior partner can role-play a junior and navigate a difficult conversation through the junior's lens.

VR is also playing a role in the mental health and wellness of remote employees. In August, BehaVR entered into a joint development and collaboration agreement with Sunivon Pharmaceuticals Inc. to augment traditional cognitive behavioral therapy and help individuals manage their social anxiety disorder virtually. Set to launch in 2022, the product leverages BehVR’s unique platform to aid the individual to find and target an active source of stress or anxiety and provide active coping skills training and behavioral reinforcement. The platform uses machine learning that further personalizes the experience. For clinicians, the technology provides visibility into patient progress and can be integrated into other health care systems, such as Electronic Medical Records and telehealth systems.

As the world resets to the “new normal,” and we dive deeper into the online world, there is a unique opportunity for spatial technology to flourish in our everyday lives – helping to keep us safe while remaining connected in a meaningful way.

Salma Chaudhry, a law student at McCarthy Tétrault's Toronto office, authored this article.

A special thanks to Aliya Ramji for her support.