Facebook, Oculus, And Businesses' Thirst For Virtual Reality

Mar 30 2014, 6:14am CDT | by

Facebook, Oculus, And Businesses' Thirst For Virtual Reality
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR is just one sign of the growing business thirst for using virtual reality technology to change ways of working and improve customer experiences.

The acquisition – which was made this week and swiftly followed by polarized reactions from Oculus’ Kickstarter backers and the stock markets – brings Facebook a brand new way to enable people to communicate and share experiences. Experts note that it also demonstrates the growing opportunity for revenue gain through the technology in other industries.

The potential of virtual reality, an interactive digital 3D image or environment which can be experienced through special helmets or glasses, has clearly not been overlooked by Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, the social media network’s founder and chief executive, said this week that while mobile is the key platform of today, virtual reality will be one of the major platforms of tomorrow.

It can “change the way we work, play and communicate”, he explained, with potentially strong applications in communications, media, entertainment, and education, among other sectors. “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face, just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Virtual reality has been around for decades as a gaming technology, and there has been mixed success with its adoption in business, notes Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum. But he says that as the technology advances and businesses seek new opportunities, there is plenty of potential for it to benefit niche areas.

It is already being used in the medical world, for example, with Conquer Mobile and VRcade partnering to introduce immersive medical simulation. “High-tech manufacturers of spacecraft, aeroplanes, and cars have also used VR to simulate and test product design and assembly for many years”, he says – and in retail, U.K. fashion chain Topshop has experimented with VR, letting shoppers see the runway show of its latest clothing lines.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer of non-profit IT industry association CompTIA, says that while broad adoption of virtual reality technology is “still years away”, some of the most aggressive early adopters have seen successful application in sectors such as the military for pilot training and battlefield readiness, and in medicine for teaching surgical skills.

The evolution of Oculus as a business “could create the critical mass necessary for more standard multifunctional hardware that could be used in many different situations”, he says. If Facebook can retain the technical talents and pour more research and development money into the company, it could advance the platform further.

“Virtual reality is a holy grail technology, because no matter how many false starts we’ve had, the possibilities are still there in medicine, engineering, telework and manufacturing.”

The future of the technology offers many potential outcomes, says Little at Ovum. “Who knows, picture ‘Microsoft Office DataVisor’ (fictional, naturally!), a heads up display as you work on your computer screen giving you enhanced data visualization, augmented cross-referencing of information, and the face of your colleague calling on Skype who can see everything you can.”

One key factor in the technology’s  success could be if the ability is developed to properly “bring together the real and virtual worlds, interactively, overlaying the virtual on the real”, he explains. The two would need to be fully integrated, rather than running alongside each other.

“This could well be part of the deep vision that Facebook has for its Oculus VR purchase,” Little notes. “Imagine a Google Glass Pro for Enterprise with far more virtual real estate to play with.”

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Source: Forbes Business


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