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Business to Business Applications of Virtual Reality (VR)

2/9/2017

Stefan Muirhead

Managing Partner - Strategy

Overview

New communications technology inevitably is adopted by progressive companies for business purposes, and the early adopters are often richly rewarded. But is Virtual Reality a technology that can be used NOW, by businesses, or is still it too early? This blog series explores the current state of VR and answers this question. Once you’ve read it we would welcome your thoughts, reactions or ideas at vr@ignition72.com

At Ignition72 we are always looking for ways to help our clients leverage technology in order to accomplish goals, whether they are teaching financial literacy, training the Army to reduce the number of Traumatic Brain Injuries, or simply helping an organization represent themselves digitally on the web. We have two complete state-of-the-art installations in the dedicated VR space in our office. We have begun to delivering custom experiences to our partners and clients. 

Before we jump into the B2B applications, we need to have a shared understanding of the technology. 

VR Blog Part 1

VR is Still Relative

Millions of people today will tell you that they tried VR but their descriptions and recollections will vary wildly. This is because the market is still very fragmented and like anything, there are good implementations and bad ones. So if you got the Cardboard from the NYTimes, or a free Samsung Gear VR with your new smartphone (or just got to try one) rest assured that there is better VR out there, and the difference in quality is significant. 

Since the advent of television advertising, effective selling is all about delivering an experience: which is supported by other media, showrooms, and retail display, because the experience creates brand loyalty in a way that a purely rational argument cannot.

VR is all about immersion in an experience: the more you are immersed, the more you believe, the greater the impact. That means the best VR is photo-realistic, has depth, and can be walked through and around and explored, and is fully interactive. Note, this VR is also not here yet, but it is coming soon. 

In the reality of February 2017, VR has two major approaches to creating immersion: 

360 degree video Captured with a special camera, these videos capture real people, places and events and allow the participant to experience them as if they were there. From the Olympics to Machu Picchu to the golf Masters series: 360 degree cameras are capturing and storing these events for people to explore today. By this time next year the we will have better, cheaper and stereoscopic 360 degree cameras that are very reasonably priced. (we recently completed some work with the Nikon 360.) 

Challenge: High resolution footage is huge (file size) and the cameras are very expensive (and only really rentable for most of us). Stitched environments, which are a mix of static and video images, are also an option. 

Opportunity: Quick and easy, although like all video, it is an art and benefits from pro audio, editing and other normal processes.  

Immersed VR The alternative to video is a VR world that is built: either digitally using a game engine like Unreal or Unity, or by using photogrammetry and real world photography (photogrammetry software uses hundreds of pictures of an environment in order to construct a 3D version using angles, shadows and other data to extrapolate depth). The point is that everything in these worlds have depth, something not possible yet in most 360 video. (Porn of course is leading the way with stereoscopic 360 video which does deliver some depth). 

With depth comes motion, and being able to move around has a HUGE impact on your immersion. Of course there is another qualifier: with high end headsets, you can have standing only; 180 degree VR; 360 degree VR; and room scale (which is mostly Vive, although some 3 camera Oculus users are there too). We focus on room scale VR only (we have two HTC Vive systems) and believe that the high-end experience is going to deliver the best ROI, including having ways it can be extended to lower-end VR experiences. 
Challenge: Development is detailed and complicated -  we are creating alternate realities which require a specific skill set. While not building games, we are creating new worlds, and detailed experiences within them. 

Opportunity: Literally anything is possible; studios have recreated the Apollo 11 mission, are rebuilding the Titanic, and just about anything else you can imagine.

What makes VR today so amazing is that it is good enough: the technology, including screens, computers, graphics cards and sensors are all fast enough and powerful enough to trick us into believing that what we see is real, whether it is a video or constructed world. Until you have tried it you cannot believe it, but with games that put you on top of a building walking the plank, or jumping out an army plane above Holland in WWII surrounded by flak, I have seen hundreds of people declare “no way”, “not happening”, “can’t do it” when just moments ago they had been in our office, standing firmly on the ground.

The Right Audience and the Right Size

Yes, we can make a 360 video and play it for a room full of people wearing Cardboards or Gear VRs. We can rent the handsets in increments of 50 units (or we can custom print them) for as long as needed, giving us complete control over the user experience. 

What excites us the most is the opportunity to deliver the highest possible experience: one where the user gets to participate in writing the story, exercising free will, interacting and exploring as they wish, and accomplishing full immersion. This means we are not delivering to large crowds, but instead to highly valued influencers, whether they are movie stars, powerful CEO’s, bankers, politicians, or purchasing agents. Typical delivery time is 12 minutes or longer (trust me, every participant wants it to be longer) and over a three day open conference, we can engage around 150 participants. But every single one of them will leave educated and talking about their experience.

Leading edge technology like this is not cheap. Each system needs to be manned by someone with some experience, and that is after creating something great for the user to experience or do. But in these early days of VR there is literally nothing more exciting than the opportunity to escape the always blue conference floor and be amazed. People thank you for it, fully realizing that it was a sales pitch, but one like no other. They are smiling, their eyes open wide as they take the headset off, it’s like you did them a huge favor. 

This is a special way to sell and for the right audience, unparalleled. It will eventually be everywhere, but for now, we can capitalize on the scarcity of the hardware and systems and be credited with providing a truly memorable sales experience that people will talk about. Many appearances of VR in B2B will be to let you play irrelevant video games; that is a video game arcade. Custom VR is the future of B2B.

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