At last year’s WEFTEC, one of the most talked about technical exhibits asked visitors to don a virtual reality (VR) headset and gloves and be instantly transported off the conference center’s floor to a lift station thousands of miles away, performing a virtual pump inspection. Although that was an early-stage prototype, the potential benefits span several industries. Below, Joseph Zulick of MRO Electric and Supply states that VR is already a game changer, and the future holds immense promise for almost every business vertical. For more information on MRO Electric and Supply, visit www.mroelectric.com.
MPT: Why do you think virtual reality (VR) technologies are expanding into more industries?
Joseph Zulick: VR might utilize complex technologies, but its innovation is easy to grasp. Simply put, VR is a logical, next-step evolution in our ability to communicate, with each other and with groups. Five thousand years ago, literacy made our thoughts portable. Almost a century ago, the first talking movie made experiences portable. Thanks to technological progress, VR now lets us create and easily distribute new, richer experiences that go beyond the time and space limitations of today’s media. Every organization that needs to convey something—to a customer, a trainee, an audience—will benefit from the VR paradigm shift.
MPT: What are some of the advantages VR presents that might be lacking in traditional communication methods?
Joseph Zulick: No promotional video will ever match the enticement of a virtual helicopter ride over a rainforest or metropolis, or the sensation of walking along that quiet beach. VR also moves us beyond the limitations of the two senses used in today’s communications: sight and sound. By way of hardware peripherals, VR experiences will include tactile and other sensory information to further emulate physical reality.
If seeing is believing, what is touching worth? Wearables will produce and extract additional sensations for and from the user. This, in turn, will generate valuable, real-time feedback to the content provider.
MPT: Most people are familiar with a limited version of VR through gaming platforms. Can the logic and interaction of video games be applied to industrial needs?
Joseph Zulick: More than any existing media, VR can provide an experience that’s genuinely interactive, and able to switch the narrative flow in real time. The user, the author, the publisher, and even the audience can all influence activity to a directed outcome, whether it’s an informed trainee, a successful sale or a storybook happy ending. The gaming industry has long been pioneering these open-narrative experiences through “quests” where the user determines the action, and also through networked games, where multiple participants can affect actions and outcome.
Transposing gaming into the business world, a quest is similar to any transaction or negotiation. The action involves the presentation of persuasive information (such as a proposition or product demo) by one party, while the other decides whether the choice is compelling. If so, deeper interest is expressed and deeper content invoked. If not, alternative content is delivered or selected. While this is happening, a third-party distributor of the content might be deciding, through AI and selective data, which content to serve to which user in real time. An outside audience, such as a focus group or other customers, could steer the details and outcome. VR does away with the one-sidedness of linear experiences like video.