Virtual Reality Within the Workplace
Over the past couple of years, Virtual Reality has slowly become more and more realistic for everyone to use in their day to day lives, with its more probable use being in the workplace setting. With there now being a wider range of options when it comes to VR headsets it now gives companies the choice between what headset best suits their needs.
This latest uptake of Virtual Reality was lead forward by Oculus Rift who released their headset back in March 2016. Oculus also released a developer package of their headset, available before the consumer version even hit the shelves. Developers were able to then feed back bugs and improvements to Oculus, further accelerating the pre-release development of the headset. The Oculus Rift is priced between £550-600 which includes the headset, one sensor, remote and one Xbox One controller. Oculus also teamed up with Samsung to produce an entry level headset, the Samsung Gear VR, this makes use of the user’s phone to function as the screen, and costs around £100.
Never one to be late to the party, Google has also come out with its own budget headset, following the release of their new Pixel mobile phones, they quickly announced their Google VR headset that seamlessly pairs with the Pixel phone.
Now Oculus is only one of the three major players in VR. HTC Vive is a headset which has been a joint venture between HTC and the gaming giant Valve. The Headset is definitely geared more toward gaming, being shipped with two motion controllers. This does not limit its uses though. The Vive uses a different type of motion tracking to other headsets available on the market, through the use of “lighthouses” that get set up around the room, it can track the controllers, headset and the user’s body using infrared light pulses. This gives the user a much more interactive and precise experience within the virtual reality setting. The Vive is more expensive than the Oculus Rift, around £760, but does come bundled with two motion controllers and two sensors.
The last of the big players was only released recently, 13th October 2016. The PlayStation VR is the only one out of the big three that is compatible with a games console. This makes it a lot more accessible for the masses, a point that is only bolstered by its price point, just £350 for the headset. It’s also compatible with the pre-existing PlayStation move controllers.
Due to the PlayStation VR being the only headset that is compatible with a games console it does set itself up to be the best all round gaming headset. It also has the advantage over the other 2 headsets in terms of price, undercutting the next best (the Oculus Rift), by nearly £300.
Something to note, VR does require some high spec, and often high cost, computing to run successfully. Shown below is Oculus’s sample spec of what you need to run the Rift comfortably.
Due to the costs of the headsets and associated equipment that you need to be able to run successfully, it does price out many everyday consumers, making the more likely customers businesses. Even with the cost factor being ignored, some companies may wish to avoid VR through lack of technical expertise to configure and upkeep the hardware, something that could be alleviated by purchasing a managed GPU Server off-site that they’d simply connect to and run VR software from remotely. But is this the right type of augmented reality for business?
Microsoft definitely doesn’t think so. This week Microsoft released its HoloLens headset for pre-order to the general public. Compared to the other headsets, the user isn’t enclosed in a purely virtual environment that shuts them out from the real world. HoloLens is a “mixed reality” (or Augmented Reality) headset that projects digital images onto the real world around you. It’s able to do this by projecting images between the surfaces of two pieces of glass that sit in front of each eye. The headset decides where to place these images by using cameras to track your environment as well as to track your eyes. The result is a near seamless mix of virtual overlay atop your vision of the real world, even as you move about.
This headset seems to be a lot more business focused in comparison to any of the Virtual Reality gaming headsets, especially when you see that companies such as Volvo and Nasa have already adopted early and are using the HoloLens in various applications already. In a business environment, I think the fully immersive, gaming style VR isn’t entirely suitable. HoloLens allows the user to interact with both the real and the virtual at the same, enabling them to talk about a digital design with a colleague whilst actually being able to see them in a real setting.
So what are the actual business uses? As mentioned before, HoloLens is already being used by some large companies such as Volvo and Nasa. One of the major uses for the headset is in product design. Designers can use 3D design software and have their design appear in front of them. With hand gestures the user can then interact with their design, rotating, enlarging and even breaking it down into its component layers, seeing individual parts of the design, highly beneficial compared with just interacting with the design on a screen in 2D with traditional mouse and keyboard.
There is also a great opportunity for using augmented reality in training and education. There’s already examples of VR headsets being used in training doctors on how to perform operations, without having to use an actual patient to practice on. With augmented reality headsets, medical students could actually be able to see and use their own hands when practicing operations. They could also be beneficial in actual operations by showing the doctor vital stats and other information, overlaid directly onto the patient in front of him.
Like doctors, this could be translated into other job roles. Mechanics could be diagnosing a problem with a car, he plugs in the fault reader and in front of his eyes the HoloLens renders the cars diagnostics over the car, directing the mechanic to the problem. This could be the same for an electrician, using the device to locate wires in walls or to see wiring plans against a surface.
So to draw this article to a summary, even with the recent leaps in technical advancement, I still feel like there is going to have to be some improvements in the headsets before they gain a huge uptake. Many of the available headsets aren’t the most comfortable, with many people complaining that they are heavy and defiantly not suited for long use times. This makes it hard to see them being used in more active environments, limiting them to more static jobs.
I do believe that over time more people and companies will begin to use VR and AR. The key to this would be the reduction in headset prices and associated hardware required to run one successfully. Over time such methods of visualising and interacting with work may become more industry standard than something new and “buzz word”-like. As well as this, you will probably start to see a wider variety of programmes that you can use, diversifying the uses of the equipment and widening the job sectors that can utilise the technology.