VR is struggling to explain itself to consumers and the price for the most immersive experience is still relatively high for many consumers. One of the ways to get around these challenges is to push for more adoption of VR in commercial B2B (business to business) or B2B2C (business to business to consumer) applications. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of different vertical applications of commercial VR that are enabling real improvements to businesses bottom lines. Ultimately, businesses are always going to be the first to adopt a promising new technology, regardless of cost if it improves business functions like shortening development time, reducing costs or generating new business.
At SIGGRAPH 2017 just a few weeks ago, the show was all about enabling enterprise and commercial VR applications, from hardware to software and even the middleware in-between. There were plenty of consumer VR and AR plays, but from what I saw at the show all the major developments were coming from the commercial VR space. Sure, consumer VR technologies are plentiful and available now, but many of those technologies simply don’t always cut it for deployable commercial applications. HTC has a Vive Business edition for a reason, and it’s because there was enough demand from commercial and enterprise initially that it was one of the first things HTC did after initially launching the Vive over a year ago.
Commercial VR is going to elevate the quality and lower the price of VR to a point where consumer mainstream can become a reality. This dynamic is much like the PC and the spreadsheet and the Smartphone and the app. The first users to embrace and enable both smartphones and PCs were business users that saw a business benefit to adopt these new technologies. This same trend is occurring again with VR and AR, business have been buying consumer VR solutions for testing and are now starting to ask for enterprise and commercial solutions that meet their needs for deployment. That’s why we have companies like StarVR (a joint venture between Acer and Starbreeze) that are launching their headset for commercial or enterprise uses only. Meta also showed off the latest version of its Meta 2 AR headset which is also squarely aimed at the enterprise and commercial markets. Even Microsoft’s current and upcoming VR headsets are enabling enterprise and commercial VR solutions at a lower cost.
Right now, the clearest applications for VR exist in the B2B space as well as the B2B2C space. Lots of VR applications today are focused on enabling business to business transactions while others are about enabling businesses to sell VR-based services to consumers. A number of businesses are also deploying VR for internal purposes with training being among one of the most common use cases, with visualization following closely behind. Just recently, UPS announced that it would be using the HTC Vive in nine facilities to train drivers, and with virtual reality, UPS can easily have drivers log many hours of training in a UPS truck without ever hitting the road. Simulators in VR for people operating heavy equipment like cranes, planes, bulldozers and many other types of expensive large equipment can reduce the cost of training, increase the speed of learning and, above all, elevate safety. There’s an impending major shortage of pilots in commercial aviation coming and you can bet that the airlines are already looking at ways of deploying VR to speed up pilot training even though the FAA still mandates a certain amount of logged flight hours.
The other area where commercial VR has lots of growth right now is the B2B2C space, where businesses are buying VR setups and software and reselling them as services to consumers. Many of these are known as VR arcades or immersive experience centers (IECs) and are designed to offer a top-of-the-line VR experience to consumers for a nominal fee. These IECs offer an opportunity for people to easily experience VR without having to invest the hundreds of dollars to buy it outright. Right now, the current threshold is still about $700 for a PlayStation 4 and PSVR. IMAX VR in Los Angeles (and soon Toronto) charges $10 per experience while VR World NYC Charges $39 for the whole day. As a child of LAN centers and not being able to afford my own gaming PC until I was 14, I explicitly remember it being a very popular place for kids to kill time during the summer and weekends.
Both VRWorld NYC and IMAX VR are great opportunities for the younger generation to get excited about VR and to drive demand for it in the next 5-10 years. These IECs also allow for people to try out experiences that aren’t publicly available and are an opportunity for artists to exhibit their art in controlled professional environments. A traveling exhibit called Wonderspaces that just wrapped up two months in San Diego utilizes Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for three different artistic VR experiences. This millennial-focused art exhibit was a display of what galleries of the future might look like when accounting for social media and the new immersive mediums like VR and AR. Even casinos are getting into the IEC business with MGM using Zero Latency to help offer arena-based VR gaming experiences and there is also the Ghostbusters VR experience at Madame Tussaud’s in New York City by the VOID. Some companies such as TrinityVR offer technically hyper-realistic baseball training and scouting tools with a focus on data generation for professional uses while also enabling location-based experiences for consumers who just want a realistic baseball experience.
In addition to IECs and training, VR is also being utilized as a sales and engineering tool to enable faster product iteration and lower engineering costs. At this point, every major automaker in the world is using commercial VR in their design process either in a production environment or in an experimental phase. Many of them are also simultaneously working to deploy VR in their showrooms and beyond to allow consumers to customize a car in the showroom and then sit down in their customized vehicle in VR. IKEA has an application in VR that allows you to build your own kitchen and then walk around it to see how it might look before you ever build it. Car sales company Vroom is using VR to help sell cars online to customers who may never see the car in-person before buying it. The company currently does $100 million in sales a month and is on pace to break $1 billion this year and stands to benefit greatly from VR sales.
VR is growing rapidly in the commercial space while consumer still struggles to find the ‘killer app.’ We are seeing more and more commercial applications every day. Microsoft’s announcement of Halo for Windows may prove to be a boon to VR sales for the company, but we are still months if not years away from finding that ‘killer’ consumer app that turns VR mainstream. Until then, VR is doing quite a good job of helping to solve many different companies’ engineering, marketing, training and sales problems. VR is also creating new business opportunities for some retail businesses and is creating new potential revenue streams for artists, local businesses and entertainment venues. Even more importantly than all of those things, commercial and enterprise VR are exposing more people to VR every day which improves the long term future for VR.