Virtual Reality (VR) – the interactive technology that uses a headset to create a simulated environment – has created quite the buzz over the last handful of years. What was once a unique method of viewing television shows, movies and short videos has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, one that has expanded far beyond entertainment. Looking back just a few years ago in 2016, the augmented and virtual reality market size was a mere $6.1 billion. Though not insignificant, it was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential. Now, experts predict that these markets will reach $209.2 billion in 2022.
The world of virtual reality, and by extension, augmented reality, is changing at a rapid pace. Fortune 100 companies are adapting virtual reality in their outreach content strategies, start-up organizations are expanding to create new service offerings and solutions, and the technology is being used for practical applications, like helping counselors support their patients through behavioral and addiction challenges.
This virtual world, however, is only just getting started. The end user, the consumer, is only just becoming aware of practical applications for this technology. It is certainly an unknown, and one that video creators, headset innovators and technology enthusiasts are working to uncover.
Yet, there are three significant questions that both companies and individuals are asking – how did we get here, where are we (really) and what’s the future of virtual reality?
We have sought to uncover these questions and address the future, all while taking a look in the mirror and reviewing where we are now, the present, when it comes to virtual reality.
Here’s what you need to know about virtual reality – the past, present and future of this innovative technology
This is how virtual reality originated.
“Crazy headsets, strange head movements…and who would even dream of purchasing such a thing?”
This is likely a question you’ve asked yourself – either now, in this present time, or when you were first introduced to the concept of virtual reality.
You’re not alone. When this technology was first introduced to mainstream media and consumer purchasing, there were early adopters and there were the naysayers. The same can be said in any industry, with any innovative solution (take the electric vehicle, for example).
Yet, virtual reality extends far beyond the decade of the 2000’s. Early examples of virtual reality date back to the 1950s, where 360 degree murals were found in the work of French playwright, Antonin Artaud. This work had the intention of providing illusion and a new sense of reality to play-goers. It was certainly innovative in nature, and one of the first steps and early examples in creating a new form of immersive reality.
The inclusion of a ‘simulation’ device (now known as the headset) was not used until the 1920s, where the world’s first flight simulator was created by Edwin Link. Created as a training device for pilots, this simulator had practical applications that were as much engaging and interesting to users, as it was beneficial to such a practical use.
While these two inventions or works of art paved the way to the simulation device as we know it, the truest form of virtual reality was invented in 1957 – The Sensorama.
The Sensorama was patented in 1962, and was a massive box that users would insert their head and shoulders into. The device played a 3D film with stereo sound, aromas and machine-created wind to immerse users into a nearly-360 sensory environment. This stimuli, which is not entirely used in the present day virtual reality as we know it, was truly the first of its kind.
This correlation between The Sensorama and today’s virtual reality is not lost on users. Just a few short years later, in 1968, the Ultimate Display was created. The Ultimate Display was a head mounted display, attached to a computer, that allowed users to see a virtual world. It was very similar to that of The Sensorama, yet smaller and without the scents and feel of the device that preceded it.
Over the next thirty years, virtual reality would expand beyond such early devices. Multimedia with practical applications, human-computer interaction (HCI) and innovative work done within NASA, and virtual reality gear that was created in the 1990s all expanded upon the work and knowledge that came before it; however, it was not without critics. Devices were expensive, quality and resolution had a long way to go, and many consumers experienced adverse effects, like nausea and sickness. This innovative technology needed a reboot, a revision and a worldwide adoption that extended beyond simple games and multimedia.
Where virtual reality fits in our current landscape.
With other 50 years under the belt of virtual reality, with plenty of successes and challenges, we are now in a time of a true virtual reality revolution.
Why? Because brands are paying attention. Brands are focusing on virtual reality. Companies of all industries, of all sizes are integrating virtual reality into their marketing strategies, communications outreach and application development.
Here are three use cases from companies in three very different industries that are fuelling the current landscape of virtual reality.
Industry: Non-governmental environmental organization
48% of people who view charity content through virtual reality are likely to donate to the cause they experience. Similarly, 87% of virtual reality viewers demonstrated brand recall, versus 53% who watch standard video. These statistics are important to Greenpeace, who have a strategic marketing strategy oriented around virtual reality.
Greenpeace has created a Greenpeace VR Explorer app, which takes users into locations like the Arctic to view polar bears and the Amazon rainforest to view birds and animals on the extinction list. Supporters of Greenpeace are unlikely to visit such locations, though they are supporters from afar. This app for Greenpeace takes users into such remote areas without the need for travel, which brings supporters closer than they ever could before.
Industry: Education and Technology
Company: Google Expeditions
Google Expeditions is a new addition to Google, the global tech giant. The company is currently testing this service offering with education organizations, including universities, grade schools and online education.
Google Expeditions is targeting teachers who wish to test this technology with their students. Expeditions offers teachers with the ability to choose an ‘Expedition Kit’, which comes complete with an immersive education app that contains over 800 virtual reality tours. These tours enable users to swim with sharks, visit space and more with the use of this simple application. It’s a truly new wave of technology integrating with education.
When we said that any industry can benefit from virtual reality, we meant it – even retail, a traditional brick and mortar industry segment.
Lowes is a great example of a company embracing virtual reality, as the brand has beta tested this technology with select stores in the United States last year. The test, ‘Holoroom How To’ provides customers with training they need to feel confident in home projects. Example projects include tiling a wall and putting up shelving. It’s a great way to empower customers to create their own DIY home projects, while showcasing a revenue opportunity for Lowes.
Not only are brands getting on board with virtual reality integration into their own marketing and campaign strategies, there are new hardware solutions coming to the market. The olden, golden days of HTC, Oculus and the PlayStation VR cornering the market are no-more. Solutions like VIVE are entering the scene at a fairly significant low price point, along with existing tech companies like Google who created the Google Cardboard, a literal cardboard virtual reality solution that can be yours for under $20 (and yes, that includes shipping).
In addition to the hardware market, new and existing companies are entering the video creation and software creation market in bold ways. Companies like Tsunami XR create software applications using augmented and virtual reality for global businesses. Tsunami VR and similar companies are literally at the forefront of virtual reality innovation, as they hold the keys to content creation and the roadmap of success. While the advent of smartphones gave users the ability to create their own video content and post on a plethora of networks, virtual reality is still in its infant stage when it comes to the actual, literal creation of content. It takes expertise, a precise knowledge in this space and a deep understanding of how to deliver this content to users.
Tsunami XR and CEO Alex Hern are at this forefront. Hern has been an entrepreneur for over 25 years, with a long history in early stage and incubation of technologies, working with companies like Goldman Sachs-led IPO (INKT), which powered and was the search technology for MSN, Yahoo and AOL, co-founder of Military Commercial Technologies, a technology commercialization incubator, and serving as Director of Arcsight (ARST), a cyber security company, which also went public and was sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.5 billion. His deep history and experience in technology and early start-ups has given him, along with Tsunami XR, an edge in this content creation space.
Content creation and filmmaking is very different when compared to traditional television. There are new techniques, psychological queues to lead users, and the deep integration of sound that is much more valuable in virtual reality compared to traditional television. This requires the aforementioned expertise that is not found in all content creators and partners.
So – what’s the future of virtual reality?
Believe it or not, we’re still in the infancy phase of virtual reality. Although there certainly is a long, deep rooted history in the past leading to the present of such technology and opportunity, we have yet really explore the vast potential that this new frontier has.
It will take time for virtual reality to find traction, though the steps already made are more than promising. The predicted revenue opportunity over the next five years really goes to show such potential.
Virtual reality certainly has its critics, though every innovator, every new piece of technology and every industry faces this. Yet, with such a long, deep history in this technology, a technology that has been growing and adapting to consumer feedback and change for a long period of time, the path will only continue to grow.
With that said, we do offer predictions for the growth of this industry and the path that virtual reality is set to embark on.
Here are three predictions about the future of virtual reality in the next five years.
- Virtual reality will become much more ingrained in training procedures and programs.
This is a relatively easy win for companies of all sizes when it comes to training. Whether you work for a large, global company or a small to medium company with a staff of a few hundred, there is training wherever you look – from position-based training to HR resources.
Training materials and programs often come with a trainer – a human – who builds and/or delivers the program. Such programs are often regulated to space and time, whether location based or technology based. Scaling these programs is unlikely, and often impossible. Trainers get sick. Trainers are unable to manage additional attendees. Or, trainers need to re-educate themselves.
Virtual reality can remove barriers of space and time. With recorded programs and a headset, attendees or staff can go through such programs at their own pace. The impact of such training methods, through video are also staggering – one single minute of video is worth about 1.8 million words, with 90% of information transmitted to the brain being visual. Retention itself is also real. Viewers of video retain 95% of a message when they watch it in this form compared to 10% when reading in text.
Support for training methods such as virtual reality are expected to increase as these use cases become more and more relevant to training procedures and programs.
- Virtual reality will become the norm for video content.
Facebook took one of the first steps toward encouraging users to consume virtual reality instead of ‘regular’ video. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is focused on building virtual reality because, according to the tech innovator, he isn’t “satisfied” with reality.
One of the first steps to do so was to acquire Oculus VR, one of the major players in the virtual reality space. Facebook acquire Oculus VR in 2014, and Zuckerberg was off to the races. He has since stated that virtual reality will become the next major technology we use to interact with one another, both through Facebook and otherwise. There’s no doubt that his passion has fueled the industry to pay closer attention, as Zuckerberg and his team work to shape the text decade in both technology and in virtual reality.
- We could go back to the basics – and have virtual reality impact all of our senses.
The highlight of the early beginnings of virtual reality as this article opened, covering the past of this space, was no coincidence. While the early stages of virtual reality had plenty to work through in terms of challenges, there was one great highlight – early efforts of virtual reality had the ability to impact all of our senses, creating a sensory reaction that was previously unheard of – and experts predict that this could return.
In its present state, virtual reality is limited to visual and audio. Videos are immersive in nature, though don’t go beyond the visual and sound senses. In the future, this type of content will become more immersive and go beyond what we could imagine.
Imagine an integrated solution that caters to feeling – how your body feels while watching video, or smell – what your senses are smelling while watching video. Perhaps, even, you could feel different temperatures as you enter Greenpeace’s Arctic experience or take a safari adventure into Africa.
Breaking these barriers of the real and virtual world with such sensors would make the virtual reality experience so much more interactive. Space and time would truly disappear, and interaction would know no boundaries. While this wishlist item is certainly on the roadmap for innovators like Zuckerberg, physical reality of this step is not expected to be here anytime soon.
Virtual reality as we know it is different for every user. While some use the power of virtual reality for training experience, others use this technology for gaming and entertainment. Reviewing the past, present and expected future of this innovative technology shows us that virtual reality has been a long time coming, a lengthy path to get to where we are today – and as we can see, the iceberg has only just come into view. This innovative technology has so many more practical applications for video content across industries and verticals, some that have not yet been unveiled, or perhaps have not yet even been dreamed of. One thing we do know for certain – virtual reality is here to stay, and the industry is only just getting started.