Each year, virtual reality has become a bigger story. The last few years have brought more questions than answers to the VR category, but I believe the story around virtual realities value is starting to become clear.
At CES this years, I saw positive momentum for VR in both technology and use cases. HTC Vive showed off their Vive Pro headset that includes a wired an wireless solution as well as a dramatic increase in resolution for VR experiences. We have known for quite some time gaming was going to be a driver for virtual reality and that has certianly been the case today. Including Gear VR, most estimates peg the installed base of VR headsets (not including cheap solutions like cardboard) at ~10 million units. Forecasts for 2018 are ~13m units growing to 27m sold in 2020. Definitely a slow burn, however, the next few years adoption of VR headsets will be large enough to be taken seriously by developers and applications/solutions providers.
That being said, we still expect gaming to be a big part of VR but the technology is now mature enough for industrial applications. At the show HTC was showing off a few interesting use cases that I think are perfect for virtual reality. One was for training of dangerous or complicated equipment. One of the demonstrations was from a company who was using VR to train drivers and operators of heavy machinery before letting them operate the machinery in person. The experience is so real it counts as actual hours logged to gain valuable experience in the virtual world before operating potentially dangerous machinery in the real world.
It is also widely reported many professional sports teams have been using VR for similar mental preparation techniques where athletes simulate on field experiences and it counts as their repetitions for the mental part of the drill without taxing their bodies. Along these lines, I tried an actual Indy 500 training rig which is used to train professional race car drivers on actual race tracks to prepare them to race and compete. What was particularly interesting about this was how the seat I was in was built to move, slide, lean, and even put pressure on the seat belt to simulate as close as possible the actual driving experience of racing an Indy car.
I know in military use cases, and even aviation, simulators have been used for years to train pilots for a range of situations. That was before VR and integrating VR into that experience will only enhance and better prepare the individual for whatever they are training.
Another interesting use case I was shown was for therapy. People with mental illness or even those who suffer from traumatic experiences were using virtual reality to help them better deal with their trauma and in many ways help rehabilitate the mental parts of their struggle.
The key takeaway from many of these new use cases emerging is how they are now possible, in ways they were not before, because the experience of VR is now getting remarkably close to the real world. And that is just with the technology in 2017. Over the next few years, the overall experience will get even more realistic which will open the doors to many more applications.