With the new year upon us, spirits are high and the possibilities seem limitless. This is especially true when it comes to technology and its applications. While they may begin on the fringes as passion projects by enthusiasts, many niche technological developments have blossomed into world-changing industries.
In my time as an accountant and entrepreneur, I’ve seen this with cloud computing and the birth of the SaaS (software-as-a-service) industry. A more recent example I’ve observed is the way that 3D printing has revolutionized the engineering and manufacturing industries. But in my opinion, the next fringe technology that is primed to shake things up is virtual reality.
Although this technology has been around for a few years now, I believe that it is this year that virtual reality (VR) will make a considerable impact, especially in some of my own business ventures. If you’re still not convinced, here are three potential applications for VR technology that are primed to disrupt several long-standing industries in 2019:
Thanks to high-speed internet and an increasingly computer-oriented workforce, more and more employees are working from home. According to data gathered by Global Workplace Analytics, the amount of United States employees who work from home who aren’t self-employed has increased by 140% since the year 2005: a little over 3% of the total workforce. This number includes several of my own employees, which is why I’ve been following this trend so closely.
With so many people choosing to telecommute to their jobs, the platforms and programs that enable this practice have evolved at a frantic pace. What started with Skype and simple video/chat conferencing has evolved into shared document editing with Google Hangouts and app cross-compatibility with Slack. But what’s the next step?
Thanks to the head start provided by the gaming industry, many of the logistics have been figured out in terms of VR teleconferencing. Video games like Rec Room and VRChat demonstrate how to design software that works around hardware limitations to simulate face-to-face interaction. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that professionals from the gaming industry have begun to apply these tools to business teleconferencing, as is the case with rumii and its staff of former game developers.
When coupled with the decreased cost and hardware requirements for VR, this is the logical next step for long-distance communication. In fact, this exact sentiment was reflected by Facebook when it announced its acquisition of Oculus in 2014. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg statedthat this company, and by extension VR technology in general, has the chance to “change the way we work, play and communicate.”
In addition to changing how we work and play, VR has the astounding potential to change how we learn. This is another industry in which I have considerable experience, and I believe there are many exciting ways that this technology will improve the world of education, both for the teacher and the student.
The first educational application that comes to mind is training. Although hands-on experience is obviously the best way to learn any new skill, the next best thing is a realistic simulation of hands-on experience. This is certainly the case with retail giant Walmart, which implemented VR training to 5,000 stores and over one million employees in 2018. This technology also has the ability to train even more complicated and risky careers, as is the case with law enforcement and military training company VirTra.
Something you may have noticed is that these examples apply to more technical education, such as for vocational trades. This begs the question: Does VR technology have any applications in a traditional classroom environment?
Currently, the classroom applications for VR are little more than gimmicks, at least in my opinion. For example, a demonstration conducted at an Alabama public high school showed teachers that VR can be used to provide students with an interactive exploration of ancient historical sites or the inside of the human body. However, this is little more than a more involved form of wheeling out the TV to show an educational film. Still, it’s entirely possible that some new VR development or application will appear that does cause a major paradigm shift in this environment, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this space.
One of the most interesting and conceptual applications for VR technology involves empathy: helping people to identify with the struggles of other communities and individuals. This has been a key strategy in modern journalism, with many companies approaching VR as an “empathy machine,” a term coined by Chris Milk in a 2015 TED Talk.
There are many issues and conflicts across the world, making it difficult for any singular crisis to gain traction in the mind of the observer. For that reason, journalists and documentarians have turned to VR as a method of increasing exposure and emotional impact to their chosen stories. A terrific example of this can be found in this journal published by Nonny de la Peña, describing the scientific basis behind the design of an interactive project based around Guantanamo Bay.
It is in this industry, and in this form of storytelling, that the features of VR technology that appear gimmicky in a traditional classroom can have a significant impact. Visiting a virtual representation of ancient Rome is one thing; it’s another thing entirely to replicate asylum seekers in the UK or an Ebola clinic in Liberia.
If the last few years are any indication, we can expect 2019 to be full of interesting, shocking and tragic occurrences all over the world. And with so many stories vying for attention, VR is sure to be one of the methods that journalists use to make their voices heard.
What makes VR such an interesting trend to follow this year is that all the stars have finally aligned: the technology, the developers, the market and the enthusiasm from everyone involved. And if any of the concepts or applications listed here generate enthusiasm in yourself, I highly recommend doing a deep dive of your own into the world of VR.