Is Virtual Reality more than just a bit of fun?

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Paolo Tosolini thinks the answer is definitely yes! I joined him last week at smilelondon 2016 and at the hands-on workshop the next day to find out whether the virtual hype about VR is actually real.

By Alison Boothby

Paolo Tosolini thinks the answer is definitely yes! I joined him last week at smilelondon 2016 and at the hands-on workshop the next day to find out what the hype is all about.

Marc Wright, publisher of simply first met Paolo (right) when he was New Business Manager at Microsoft in the US, where he was regarded as a subject matter expert and led new media initiatives. With several awards under his belt he is now running his own company Tosolini Productions, a Seattle based digital agency specialising in business storytelling through emerging technologies, including interactive touch displays, VR, 3D Virtual Tours and 360 media with Microsoft as his largest client. If anyone can persuade us to get involved with VR for business, Paolo can…

“It is still fairly experimental and it is difficult to make money out of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality even in the US where there is loads of hype” says Paolo. “But we are seeing more and more business usages and as the technology continues to improve I feel confident that it will become increasingly common place.” v Let’s start with some simple definitions:

Virtual Reality is a realistic and immersive simulation of a three-dimensional environment and Augmented Reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time – think Pokemon Go!

Pros and Cons

There is no doubt that VR is a hot topic at the moment and it is becoming increasingly affordable too. Done well, the immersive experience feels authentic and truly transports the viewer whether that’s walking the Great Wall of China, deep sea diving, visiting a factory or understanding health & safety requirements at work. On the downside, to enjoy the experiences you do need some kit – and that’s a mine field in itself! – and for many of us it is still hard to get away from the fact that we associate VR with games and entertainment. Another common observation is that the experience feels weird and can make users feel giddy – a sort of motion sickness even.

Creating VR content

At a basic level, virtual reality content starts with 360 degree photos – what the techies call creating photospheres. There are two popular cameras for this purpose namely the Ricoh Theta S and the Samsung Gear 360 currently retailing at around the £400 mark. OK, a bit steep for the Christmas stocking but probably not going to break a departmental budget if you are inclined to get up and running with VR. And of course you’ll need the associated apps and you can take your pick from several for android and ios such as Cardboard Camera, Google Streetview, Photo360 by Sfera and 360 Panorama. Once you have a photosphere image you can download a free viewer and enjoy your experience with Google Cardboard – the most affordable way to get into VR. Creating VR in this way does give the illusion of ‘being there’ but for a more thrilling adventure create 360 video for a totally immersive experience from the off.

 

Business Case

The key question in all of this is whether or not we can see a business case for introducing VR at work. Paolo shared many examples of industries using VR and it is quite straightforward to see how it appeals to the property/real estate market for virtual viewings, and then develop that for design and interiors for example. For tourism it can absolutely transport you to a desert island or an animal safari, and I can quite easily see its application in leisure too with castle and museum tours for example. Flight simulators, journalism, product design and prototyping in the car industry, training on technical equipment – even surgery simulation; VR is already widespread in its use. But what about internal comms?

Earlier this year a simply communicate poll revealed that 30% of internal communicators thought that VR would be a key trend this year. It’s true that it is definitely affordable now and there are plenty of apps that make it accessible so how might we use this technology to talk to employees when we quite literally have a whole new (virtual) world in which to do it?

Internal Comms use

Orientation and education programmes for employees are an obvious win, but for me that merely scratches the surface. As internal communicators we need to be thinking about how to develop multi-user VR experiences so that we can put the ‘social’ into a channel that to date is inherently solitary.

As with any communications channel – and VR is essentially another channel – it’s all about delivering the right content to the audience in a way that they will be able and keen to digest it. Whilst there is still a little of the novelty left in VR it seems like a great time to get yourself some Google Cardboard and create your next internal comms campaign with an interactive video element. It’s surely going to be more memorable than a newsletter or powerpoint and however engaging, more traditional channels are not immersive and have an ounce of the emotional impact of a VR experience.

Hands-on

Paolo did have a backpack full of tech and toys and it was great fun to dive in and have a go. And that is certainly the place to start. Even if your organisation is not ready to embrace VF wholeheartedly, don’t get left behind. VR is coming mainstream and from a comms point of view it is the ultimate channel because it is totally immersive and virtually uninterruptible.

Virtual reality gives us the opportunity to put information across and tell stories in an amazing way – as a profession it’s our job to open our eyes and minds to the endless possibilities.

If you are already using VR for employee communications and have a story to share, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with Marc Wright