VR is not just about gaming anymore. It's entering other facets of day to day life at a breakneck speed. From planning your next trip to purchasing your first house, immersive technology can lend a helping hand in optimizing experiences. And as the world is finally getting real about virtual reality, it's perhaps a good idea to get up to speed with what's going on in the world of immersive technologies and what exactly are they being used for.
VR-it. But make it fashion. There's no denying that the fashion industry isn't afraid of taking risks and embracing technologies that other sectors are typically slower to catch up to. That is why virtual reality tools have already been used for years by designers and fashion houses. Tommy Hilfiger became one of the first major fashion brands to introduce VR to the shopping experience back in 2015. It was soon followed by Coach, Dior and others.
Nowadays, fashion houses have focused their attention on augmented reality, but that isn't to say that VR still doesn't play a role in shaping campaigns and designing both real-life and virtual store environments. BrandLab Fashion has created the world's most advanced B2B digital wholesale platform, with over 15,000 global retailers signed up. Customers can 'walk' around its virtual stores and pop-up showrooms, and order from multiple brands with just one transaction. Big brands like Salvatore Ferragamo also allow customers to personalize their style and try on pieces in 3D.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced museums around the world to close doors and rethink how to reach audiences in novel ways. Many have turned to virtual reality to showcase their masterpieces. In fact, the world's first virtual museum was inaugurated just last year, kicking off a new era for museum-goers. VOMA, or the Virtual Online Museum of Art, features a vast collection of virtual art, ranging from classic to contemporary pieces from around the world. Thanks to partnerships with some of the world's most preeminent institutions, like the Hermitage Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Musée d'Orsay, the VOMA is able to showcase stunning art such as Édouard Manet’s "Olympia" and Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights".
More recently, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London opened a virtual reality experience exploring Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland". Curious Alice: The VR experience is, as the museum puts it, a mind-bending trip to Wonderland where audiences "are encouraged to reward their curiosity by navigating a fantastical landscape, interacting with the book's famous characters and completing a series of curious challenges. Race against the clock to capture the White Rabbit's missing glove; solve the Caterpillar's mind-bending riddles; defeat the Queen of Hearts in a curious game of croquet."
And for those who dream of seeing the Mona Lisa up and close but found it yet impossible to catch even a glimpse of the famed masterpiece, the Louvre launched last year the Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass, the museum's first VR experience. Visitors were able not only to admire the Mona Lisa down to its smallest details, but experience the passage of time through the painting and how it has been masterfully restored, with the aid of moving image, sound and interactive design. This virtual tour also dispels myths about the true identity of the Mona Lisa. Although the experience at the museum is no longer available, VR users can download it here.
Increasingly, schools around the world are adopting immersive technology as a tool for education and engagement of students. Teachers have long struggled to create curriculums that address the needs of every student, classrooms are frequently overcrowded and human attention span is (overall) rapidly declining. VR technology allows educators to craft more engaging lessons and to draw students in through visually and auditorily stimulating experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, including by organizing virtual field trips. It's also an incredible assistive education tool as teachers can dedicate time to students who require more help or attention, enabling a safe environment for the exploration and practice of key skills. This is of significant relevance when dealing with children with Autism. In addition, a VR-based setting also blocks typical classroom distractions like noise or conversations, making it an invaluable tool for students suffering from ADD/ADHD. And educators aren't short on choices, with a wide array of applications available like Storyspheres, HistoryView VR and Panoform.
VR and AR technologies have made their way into the medical services industry in full force. The applications are many fold, from diagnosis to treatment and training. Medical schools have fully embraced virtual reality as a tool to help students visualize complex procedures and anatomical concepts, along with traditional approaches. Future medical professionals and healthcare workers can also benefit from training within virtual simulations to help them prepare for encounters with real-life patients. VR, and in particular haptic feedback technology, are a particularly useful application in surgical simulation. This enables surgeons and trainees to train the feeling of touching body parts, holding surgical instruments and practicing operations without any risks. This is, of course, a major draw in a high-stakes environment such as an operating theater. In the field of mental health treatment, VR applications are already being used to effectively treat certain conditions. These include anxiety disorders, addictions and PTSD. Virtual reality technology has found yet another application in helping impaired people regain some of their skills. Take SightPlus, a wearable that helps patients suffering from sigh loss to radically improve their sight and regain it to near-normal levels.
Even before Covid-19, companies were already adopting VR tools to train employees. But there's no doubt that the pandemic only accelerated this trend. U.S. retailer Walmart was among the first to use VR as a corporate-training tool for its over a million associates, simulating uncommon scenarios and high-pressure situations all within a safe environment. A great number of Forbes 500 companies also use a raft of VR education programs, including UPS and Boeing. Health and safety training is a specific application sought by brands like Intel and Henkel, and they have proved to be an effective tool in reducing work-related accidents in recent years. Overall, companies embracing VR have experienced high retention rates and better productivity as a result. More recently, recruiters have started experimenting with VR as a complement to real-life and online interviews. This allows companies to better assess skills and, in turn, it also gives candidates a better idea of what the job might entail.
In-person house viewings might very soon be a thing of the past. Companies like Zillow and Sotheby’s Real Estate have already successfully integrated VR technology as part of its services, offering virtual reality tours to clients. While real estate powerhouse Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) has also pivoted toward building the world's largest 3D property portfolio. But the applications of VR in real estate go beyond regular viewings. For starters, prospective buyers can 'visit' multiple properties simultaneously and across global locations while saving time and money. They can access 3D architectural visualizations of properties under construction or planned constructions, and stage interior design options. For sellers, the use of the technology results in an optimized use of resources, better customer experience and quicker deal turnouts. Companies such as Matterport are leading the way in digitizing thousands of homes around the globe and making them ready for virtual viewing.
Sports are a natural playground for VR-based applications. As far back as 2017, F1 drivers were already incorporating virtual reality into their training. VR-assisted simulators have all but become a commonplace across car racing leagues. Elsewhere, athletes for major sports leagues like hockey, baseball and American football are also training with the aid of VR tools and initiatives like Strivr. The technology brings with it a number of cons that can give sportsmen significant competitive advantages like possibility for endless repetitions, visualization of game strategies, focus on patterns and all without wearing down the body.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting the doors on a whole industry, tour operators have turned to virtual reality applications. With the help of applications like Rizort VR, would-be tourists can take a virtual tour of exotic destinations around the world and check out hotels and experiences, and personalize their dream trips without ever leaving the comfort of their home. As the technology matures, virtual tourism is set to become a bigger trend in years to come, not only as an easy and practical way of visiting other places but also as the post-pandemic alternative and environmentally sustainable economic model that the tourism industry needs.