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A whole new world: 5 ways virtual reality can transform business

updated 9:43 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Skydiving in South Africa, part of a virtual tour created by UK studio Visualise Skydiving in South Africa, part of a virtual tour created by UK studio Visualise
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Virtual reality is about to be unleashed in business
  • Brands are using it to offer test drives and virtual showrooms
  • The headsets allow risk free virtual design and training
  • Virtual offers face-to-face as the next level of social networking

Editor's note: Smart Business explores the ways companies are thinking smart to thrive in our digitized world.

(CNN) -- A winter commute can seem far easier when the office is a Caribbean beach complete with lapping waves, a lilting calypso soundtrack, and no boss to bother you.

The ability of virtual reality to transform worlds is not limited to gaming, and as excitement builds ahead of the launch of Oculus Rift, creative applications are emerging that promise to transform the workplace. These are just a few of the ideas that will turn 'business as usual' upside down.

Try before you buy

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If a sports car catches your eye online, rather than admiring a picture or video, you could take it for a spin then and there and instantly discover if it's right for you.

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Businesses are certainly keen to grasp the chance of selling their wares in such immersive style.

"Companies want to give customers unique experiences," says Henry Stuart, co-founder of UK virtual studio Visualise. "For Audi we captured a lap around Silverstone with (former F1 driver) Alan Macneish in the car talking to them...It takes PR a level further."

The same concept allows for virtual tours; an estate agent can guide a potential buyer through a new home, pointing out its best features in real time, or tour companies could offer a taster of a holiday complete with sharks and skydiving.


Design prototypes

When BAE systems are putting together a state-of-the-art submarine, they no longer develop it through scale models, they use virtual headsets to play with 3D models. Any design flaws are picked up early in the process and avoid becoming expensive to correct later.

It's much safer, and saves you time and materials
Jason Collins, Zerolight

"People can walk around a scale model and interact with it," says Sarah Cockburn-Price, spokesperson of virtual veterans Virtalis. "It breaks down barriers because the team can share and work on it from different locations, and work out how to best manufacture it."

Increased processing power has allowed for real time rendering that allows for constant, low-cost refinement. While just a handful of elite firms currently utilize the process, growth is anticipated among smaller businesses as the technology becomes more widely available.

Training

From surgery to building sites, virtual reality allows employers to test their workers in a range of detailed and realistic environments, without unnecessary risk.

"If you're training to work on an oil rig, it's much safer to have that experience in the virtual world rather than the North Sea, as well as saving you time and materials" says Jason Collins, marketing director of visualization specialists ZeroLight.

The concept can also be used to train whole groups, and can also be applied to the classroom to bridge physical distance between teacher and student.


Super teleconference

The great promise of Facebook's multi-billion acquisition of Oculus was that a whole new dimension of social networking could be built on face time, meeting and interacting on a virtual plain, which could be adapted to the most convivial of settings -- taking a boardroom to the beach.

The potential is being explored through virtual conferences in which the participants dial in with their physical forms.

This can allow people to be far closer connected, says Maria Korolov, editor of Hypergrid Business magazine.

"In attending a virtual conference, it's a shared experience with the other people that feels as though you are in the same place, far more so than in audio call."

But Korolov adds that conferences with too many people are still afflicted with a lag that can induce nausea, and further technology is required to make the experience seamless.

Stock market surfing

For the wolves of Wall Street, an Oculus visualization allows traders to explore their stock portfolio as a 3D city, complete with colored indicators of performance and skyscrapers that go up and down with market fluctuations.

An experiment, say creators Fidelity Labs, but an intoxicating one backed by the Harvard Innovation Lab, and certain to inspire imitators.


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