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Small businesses can see big benefits from virtual reality

Small Businesses Can See Big Benefits from Virtual Reality

Imagine sitting at a desk. A virtual reality headset is placed over your eyes and you are instantly taken to an immersive world you never could’ve imagined. The experience enables you to interact with your surroundings and get a 360-degree view of the environment. You might assume you're about to play a video game, or go on a virtual vacation. Actually, you're at the office, and about to get to work in this brave new business world.

A quick history lesson

Let’s first take a step back and define what “virtual reality” really means. Its purpose is to create the illusion that we are present somewhere while not physically there. The concept goes back as far as the nineteenth century with 360-degree murals and paintings. By the early 1900s, a form of virtual reality was used for flight simulation, using motors and pistons to mimic turbulence and disturbances a pilot might encounter during a real flight.
As cameras and computers evolved, so did the capabilities of virtual reality, eventually becoming a head-mounted display by the 1960s. In the 1980s and 1990s, virtual reality had more of pop culture notoriety than an actual practical usage. There were some limited uses for it in the aviation and healthcare industries, but as a whole it was lacking a mass-market audience, and business applications were few.

But is it an option for small businesses?

The short answer is: yes! In the last 15 years, tremendous strides have been made in the advancement and development of virtual reality. Thanks in large part to the advent of powerful mobile technologies, accessibility has increased while prices continue to drop, making it a realistic option for businesses of all sizes. While the concept of virtual reality might have seemed silly a decade ago, the way people interact with technology today—on a daily basis—is proof that virtual reality is poised to reach a wider market.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways businesses can take advantage of virtual technology—in a very real and affordable way—today.
  • Try before you buy—Whether you’re selling all-in-one PCs or automobiles, buyers not only want to see the product first, they also want to experience it. That can be difficult to facilitate if you don’t have the product on-site the moment a potential customer arrives. With virtual reality, customers can interact with the product and see it from all angles. It can also be useful for research and development, allowing customers to interact with a virtual product that is in the testing phase, without the additional costs of building a tangible test product.
  • Employee training—You don’t have to work in a factory or construction site to need an excuse to provide virtual training for your employees. It can be an extremely effective way to enable familiarity with processes, helping with efficiency, productivity, and yes—also safety. Regardless of your industry, the hands-on, interactive approach to learning can help with retaining more information versus a traditional book- or instructor-led training session.
Both of the aforementioned examples can be implemented today, but there are some virtual reality uses that aren’t as easily accessible (yet). One of those is Microsoft’s HoloLens, which can be used for the standard gaming and virtual reality applications. Where it has the potential to really shine, however, is as a conference call tool. Calls would no longer have to take place in a conference room in snowy Wisconsin. The meeting leader could pick another location—say a Hawaiian beach—and virtual participants would conduct their business while basking in the sun.

See for yourself

The point is, virtual reality is no longer unobtainable to businesses or general consumers, and manufacturers of VR technology are making sure of that. Look no further than the mass-market versions of VR products like Google Cardboard, which create a DIY approach to the technology using easy-to-find resources and user-generated YouTube content. Last October, the New York Times shipped almost 1.2 million Google Cardboards to subscribers with a special Sunday edition of the paper. Another is the HP ENVY Phoenix, a powerful gaming desktop that will support HTC’s new Vive VR headset. And the soon-to-be-released Oculus Rift promises to be the next step in fully immersive virtual reality.
Whether you’re in retail looking to do a virtual test of a new store layout, or an IT company looking to train employees remotely, virtual reality is proving to have a number of uses within the business world. As prices continue to drop, technology continues to improve, and the interface becomes simpler, more businesses can step into a world that was once only a reality in the movies.

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