Virtual and augmented reality are largely associated with the gaming and entertainment industries.
However, with rapid advancements in technology there are a vast number of potential applications for businesses.
But how are they being used? What difference is this emerging technology making?
The initial explosion of VR headsets a couple of years ago created a media buzz about the seemingly limitless possibilities of this technology.
Samsung, Sony, Microsoft and the Oculus Rift are just a few examples of the major companies that have stepped into the virtual world. This has meant that smaller tech companies are benefiting from the supply economy this has created.
Yeovil-based Invirt Reality use VR within the aerospace industry to speed up staff training. Having originally started out making aerospace simulators, in 2013 Invirt moved into virtual reality.
They specialise in the training and safety aspect of VR and are currently working with FlyBe, oil-provider Chevron, NTR Crossrail and the National College for Nuclear in Bridgwater.
Business Development Operations Director, Chris Jones elaborates: “We want to train the employees of these companies more efficiently. Our technology is allowing employees, students and graduates to train in more realistic scenarios and make mistakes that they won’t repeat in real world environments.
“For example, with thousands of staff across various locations, WR can supplement the four weeks of training FlyBe currently offer staff in Exeter: it can mimic a real cabin experience and the crew can practise the procedures they will need in the air.”
Other applications for VR within the entertainment industry include streaming live sports events. For example, BT Sport used virtual reality for this year’s Champions League Final in Cardiff.
Chris continues: “If we can stream 360-degree video live, there will be a huge opportunity there. I can see that happening a lot in the future for sporting events and concerts, especially for live football matches. You will be able to put a headset on in your living room, be completely immersed in the stadium. That is where the future is.”
The missing part of the jigsaw for virtual reality is haptics feedback says Chris. Haptics is the science of applying a touch sensation through a computer application – this is the next stage of virtual and augmented reality.
Bristol-based Ultrahaptics are world-leaders in this advancement.
Business Leader Magazine recently met with the company’s CEO, Steve Cliffe. He explains the potential of his technology: “We use focused ultrasonics and high-frequency sound to create the feeling of pressure on your skin.
“We are never going to push your hand out of the way. It is there to give you the feeling of engaging with a piece of equipment, or of touching something.
“Applications range from automotive gesture controls to making it feel like something is touching your hand.
So, when you put a virtual reality headset on, suddenly it becomes even more real.
“At the moment, you put a headset on, reach out for something, and your hand goes through it. Or you see something run across your hand but you don’t feel it. We are at the next evolution of this technology.”
To get to this stage of VR/AR advancement, it takes a large and diverse team who can draw upon their scientific expertise to make a virtual object feel real. Indeed, Ultrahaptics has its own dedicated team of electrical engineers, bio-medical engineers and acoustic engineers.
So, what are the business opportunities for this technology? Which settings can be used in?
Steve comments: “The main markets are business and leisure. For example, we can create the sensation of spiders running up and down your arms, which can be used in the promotion of a movie.
“Additionally, this ability to create a sense of touch opens up opportunities for us to sell to social media companies. Take this scenario: there are grandparents in one part of the country and grand kids in the other part. With our technology, you can reach out and touch them. This is something social media businesses are looking into, as we can also create haptics emojis and virtual high-fives.”