What has been the dream of video game enthusiasts for decades is now a daily occurrence thanks to cheap and powerful hardware: virtual reality applications put the user in the middle of a digital world.

But VR glasses are not only reserved for “gamers”: in the context of digitalization, which changes our lives both privately and professionally, other, highly interesting areas of application have recently been found for the virtual worlds.

In the middle instead of just doing it

Virtual reality concepts can be described most easily in contrast to previous systems: even the most realistic computer game or the animated film produced with the highest budget always takes place on one screen in front of us. Of course, there are huge differences in the type of screens (compare staring on a mobile phone in strong sunlight with the big screen movie experience in a darkened cinema room), but the viewer is always aware that it is a representation.

However, as soon as the VR glasses are pulled over their heads, an end of the simulation can no longer be seen: wherever the user looks, there is no screen edge or similar that indicates the existence of the real world. Instinctively, the sensory part of our brain now accepts being part of this virtual reality – even though we know, of course, that it is a computer simulation.

The effects are still often ridiculed by people who have not yet been able to gain practical experience with the devices. However, once you have used a VR system, you will suddenly become aware of the enormous power with which new worlds are suggested to us. For appropriate applications, it is easy to put the sweat of fear on the users’ foreheads, to create real nausea with wild roller coaster rides or to cause absurd distortions in the real world with digital obstacle courses.

It goes without saying that a technology with such a high entertainment value can be marketed very successfully. However, thanks to the new possibilities and stronger networking that was brought into our lives by the digital transformation, further areas of application were quickly found.

Definition “Virtual Reality”

A definition is easy to find and is very compact: “Virtual reality” describes a simulation that completely surrounds the user and thus makes him part of the computer-generated world. This can be a real video or artificial graphics – the common altogether is that the user never perceives a screen in front of him.

Definition of digitization

Digitalization is, quite soberly speaking, simply the transfer of formerly analogue processes to digital ones. Even if we are currently increasingly encountering these and similar terms, this is a very old and simple process, because almost every form of digitization is rewarded with efficiency increases, cost reductions and new, previously unknown possibilities. No wonder we humans have always been very interested in her.

Due to the accelerating technical progress and the mutual support (new technologies enable new technologies …) digitalization has gained so much speed in recent years that it has now penetrated into all areas of our lives and is indispensable from there. This digital transformation is a technological, socio-cultural, economic and intellectual process that brings with it gigantic upheavals.

For companies in particular, the digital transformation creates unprecedented opportunities – but it also lurks with considerable dangers, especially if it is ignored.

Possible applications for companies

While the success of the technology is clearly based on the enormous entertainment value in the form of games and 360° videos, its use also brings significant value to businesses.

Employee training

Virtual Reality Simulations are ideal for the training and further education of employees. In particular, situations that can only be produced with great financial or logistical effort in reality are suitable for virtual training. For example, VR glasses are very popular when preparing astronauts for space stays, and the use is already common in the military sector.

In industry, maintenance and conversion work on machines can be simulated as often as desired in order to be able to act quickly and safely in an emergency. Shortened downtime and lower costs are the reward.

“Soft skills” can also be trained virtually: from speaking in front of large crowds to foreign language training, numerous applications await. And while HR staff use VR goggles to improve body language reading in job interviews, prospective applicants are using the same technology to work to make them look less stressed in the next interview.

Data and information visualization

The importance of data – about one’s own company, customers, suppliers, competition, market, products… – cannot be emphasized strongly enough for a company in times of digitalization. However, actually deriving recommendations for action or making contexts comprehensible can often prove difficult. Data scientists who fight for nights with the limited visualization possibilities of Bar Chart and Co. to prepare for the presentation at the management can sing a sad song about it.

With the use of virtual reality, however, these figures can suddenly be put into a visible context and thus conveyed at lightning speed. Run between the graphical forecasts of the coming and last quarter and pick out a value to make a level lower. Point to the biggest cost factor in your balance sheet and your environment will transform into the appropriate department. Choose the product that sells best and display it next to the competition’s products. Rotate and apply it or point to a component to see the cost of the part….

Even away from purely commercial considerations, VR applications offer new possibilities: an engineer can view the engine from the inside and change it in real time; an architect will commit his masterpiece directly together with the acceptance board. The market research department is testing ten new layouts for the fashion chain’s stores without moving a single (real) shelf, and the surgeon is virtually in the patient’s body during endoscopic surgery, ensuring she doesn’t miss anything.

Because we as humans are primarily visual beings, this new way of viewing data, objects, and environments offers enormous added value. Formerly two-dimensional representations can now be viewed, grasped and changed from all sides.

Virtual meetings and collaboration

The importance of good long-distance cooperation was not only made clear with the global Covid-19 pandemic: there has always been an attempt to increase productivity through improvements in communication.

While telephone and video telephony offer great speed advantages over, for example, correspondence via e-mail, in a virtual reality, conversations once again mean a considerable advantage in terms of simplicity and clarity.

Stopping in the same room (though not a real one…) increases the quality of meetings enormously. The possibilities for data visualizations mentioned under 2 allow the interlocutors to view the information presented by the respective speaker in a multidimensional way.

A presenter who masters the means of the new medium is able to create excellent presentations. Complex information can also be conveyed in a fraction of the time that one was used to in previous appointments. Hopefully, the traumatic experiences of hours of foil battles, to which so many managers have become accustomed, will soon be forgotten.

In addition, provided the appropriate technique is taken into question, it is even possible to transmit body language and facial expressions. Since the actual content, as we know, only accounts for about 10% of our total communication, such VR meetings reduce the risk of misunderstandings and problems.

Even if the necessary sensors and cameras are not available and a participant is only equipped with VR glasses, the presence of his “avatar” in the virtual world already offers an advantage: it feels easier to see the people in the respective room.

In addition to these “meta-potentials”, which can improve processes and work in a company, virtual reality can also become or support the actual business model. In addition to the nearby fields “video games” and “3D videos”, the glasses in the medical field can be used to successfully treat fears, chronic pain and other ailments. This is a possibility that already generates high revenues for many providers.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with using the enormous entertainment value of the devices in the business context: a VR system reliably manages to employ waiting customers or business partners for a longer period of time and can thus ensure a more relaxed atmosphere in the upcoming appointment.

Barriers to technology

While staying in the virtual world can be impressive, entertaining and helpful, a behind-the-scenes look reveals some difficulties: the production of virtual reality, i.e. the creation of objects, etc., is still a time-consuming process that is still not very automated. The many advantages that a VR system offers must therefore always be seen in the face of the enormous effort required to produce even simple graphics.

In recent years, there has been enormous progress here: the production of a 360° video using a corresponding camera and the subsequent viewing via VR glasses has become a smooth process, thanks in part to the commitment of YouTube. Vr games can also be created or transferred from traditional systems without much extra effort.

In the business sector, however, it remains rather difficult to use virtual reality with reasonable effort. The possibilities for data and product visualization therefore mostly remain demonstration applications and are still too labor intensive for everyday life.

Another general problem arises from the changing way we consume media today: while digital transformation has become accustomed to fast-paced, lightweight content on different devices, VR is going the opposite way. Instead of lying on the sofa watching Netflix and scrolling through the Instagram feed on our smartphone at the same time, while answering 4 messages in 3 different measuring instruments, the use of VR glasses demands all our attention.

Since technology encloses us completely, by definition, it does not allow the use of further inputs (almost). This concentration on a single medium, on a single activity, is becoming increasingly difficult for us: we continue to train ourselves to this kind of “focused consumption”.

Digitization laid the technical foundations for modern VR technology and enabled its fame and dissemination. At the same time, however, it changes our way of life and thus makes it more difficult for it to achieve success.

Conclusion

Virtual reality glasses are extremely entertaining, impressive devices. Their benefits in the business environment, on the other hand, are manageable. It is true that they can be an extremely effective tool for communicating content or training staff; in reality, however, due to the high production effort, only out-of-the-box offers often make sense.

Even if we will not produce content at the touch of a button from our desk for the foreseeable future, but will depend on the costly work of professional VR studios: the great potential of the technology is undeniable. Anyone who has ever tried such glasses will confirm it to you!