11 January 2017

#VelpicVR 1: A panoramic view of virtual reality for workplace training

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You may not believe your eyes, but it’s time for early adopters of training innovations to immerse themselves in the next tech wave: virtual reality for mass workplace training.

If someone asked me three years ago when we first launched Velpic if virtual reality (VR) would be a game changer for workplace training, I’d say the answer was always ‘yes’, though the timing and costs wouldn’t have been right back then.

For business interest in VR to reach critical mass, we need a combination of fast and affordable computer processors, cost-effective VR viewers that are accessible to anyone, and easy-to-produce VR content that’s economically feasible.

Fast and affordable computer processors

The first transistor, the building block of all microchips, was invented in 1947, and Moore’s Law, coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, has been pretty accurate in predicting that “the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention”.

Today, in almost every pocket or purse are mobile phones with a roomy screen 4 to 6 inches wide, and with more processing power than NASA’s combined computing power in 1969 when man first landed on the moon.

Fast and affordable computer processors: Tick.

Cost-effective VR viewers

Mankind has always had their eye on virtual reality.

In 1838 (yup, that’s almost 200 years ago) stereoscopic vision was first discovered to give a sense of depth and immersion, though it wasn’t until 1987 that the term ‘virtual reality’ was first coined and popularised by Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab VPL Research in San Francisco.

The first idea of a stereo optic viewer was conceived as Pygmalion’s Spectacles in a science fiction story by Stanley G Weinbaum in the 1930s.

The same technology is behind Google Cardboard, a low-cost VR viewer released in 2014 which is designed to encourage VR uptake by the masses, starting with content developers. With this device, you simply slip in a smartphone running a VR application to have an instant VR experience.

While the tech world may herald Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook for sparking the latest renaissance in VR development by buying Oculus (the company behind full-featured VR headset the Oculus Rift) for a eye-watering $2 billion the same year, it will be unassuming mobile headsets like Google Cardboard (and the variations it spawns) that will sweep VR across the world one smartphone at a time.

Cost-effective VR viewers: Tick.

Easy-to-produce VR content?

VR for training is not a new phenomenon.

While Google Cardboard did not exist until three years ago, the first commercial flight simulator was developed more than 80 years ago in 1929 to train fighter pilots.

Today, while VR is not yet widely adopted for workplace training, it has long been used by the military, medical, mining and high risk manufacturing industries for training hazardous or critical scenarios where it would be unethical, dangerous, or costly to involve real humans in real life. They would, of course, use full-featured simulation chambers or headsets like the Oculus Rift, not mobile VR viewers.

With high-cost full-fledged VR headsets, only the most tech-savvy companies with the most well-lined pockets would invest in VR ‘training’, for example:

  • Architects letting clients walk through and redesign houses before they are built.
  • Hotel chains offering virtual tours of properties and concierge services.
  • IKEA (love it or hate it, it’s in a category all its own) lets customers walk into their virtual kitchen using the HTC Vive which turns a room into a navigable 3D space.

With mobile VR viewers, the forerunners producing apps are from predictable sectors:

  • The adult industry . . . the less said, the better.
  • The global gaming market (worth $99.6 billion in 2016 and growing) is the primary consumer of mobile VR viewers. For games, naturally.
  • Retailers have been experimenting with virtual stores for years, most famously Alibaba via the Buy+ app for their online ‘e-tail’ store Taobao.
  • Educators use VR and Google Expeditions for bringing lessons to life in the classroom, and may even operate from 3D virtual classrooms.

Whether fully-fledged or mobile, what VR applications all have in common is that content creation is neither easy nor cost-effective enough to be produced en masse by a typical organisation.

At Velpic, where we are passionate about empowering workplaces through education, we’ve been wondering what we could do about that.

  • What are the wide-ranging benefits of using VR at the workplace?
  • What are the current problems that need to be solved before it is feasible for VR to be adopted by every business for training?

I’ll be exploring that in my next blog.

Velpic has exciting plans to provide a VR-ready eLearning platform that every business can afford. To find out how Velpic can help you evolve workplace training from "Do I have to?" to "That's entertaining." (video) to "Let's do that again!" (VR), please visit our Virtual Reality page.

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