You may have heard that Facebook recently acquired Oculus VR. If not, I’ll fill you in quickly. Oculus VR is best known as the creator of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality platform with the potential to revolutionize the world of 3D gaming and beyond. The platform, which is essentially a mounted headset, raised over $90 million through crowdsourcing site Kickstarter before attracting the attention of Facebook, who bought it for a cool $2 billion. As far as what Facebook will do with this purchase, that yet has to be determined exactly, but you have to think that the sky is “virtually” the limit.
A Lift on the Rift
Strapped into Oculus Rift, Mario Aguilar from Gizmodo entered the fantasy land of HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones. In experimenting with the prototype demo called “Ascend the Wall”, he was placed into a lift that allowed him to virtually scale an enormous wall of ice that led up to the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, a prominent fictional realm in the show. Fighting the violent swing of the lift, fierce winds, and the fear of being elevated to such great heights, Aguilar described this virtual scenario as an intense, immersive experience that had him happy to return to the real world. This is just one example of the Oculus Rift’s potential in the gaming world, but what about the business world?
Virtual Reality in the Meeting Room
By using simulation and visualization to create computer generated worlds that interface with most of the human senses in 3D, virtual reality has garnered the interest of numerous verticals. What these industries see is the potential to communicate while unlimited by physical boundaries. Imagine being able to use something like Oculus Rift to conduct meetings with business partners from around the world. With the click of a button, all participants can enter the conference room from their respective locations, represented on the headset display by their own life-like avatars. Ideas are exchanged, deals are made, and business is conducted like they’re all in the same room.
This concept of a digital conference room brings a plethora of benefits to the table. Right off the bat, it eliminates the need for face-to-face interactions. At the same time, it does away with the costs for transportation, hotel accommodations, and leasing the venue needed for a central meeting place. Cost savings, combined with convenience and the potential to boost productivity make this idea almost irresistible from a business perspective. Vendors like BlueScape are bridging the gap for internal teams, but globally accessible technology along these lines could be available in the very near future.
Some Cause for Concern
Virtual reality in the business space no doubt has plenty of upside. However, in the case of the digital meeting place, the lack of face-to-face interaction is probably the biggest downside of all. When you meet with prospective partners in person, you know you have their full attention. There is no question about whether attendees are trying to multitask with Facebook, YouTube, or other activities that might cause them to miss out on something important. You can also gauge their expressions and emotions, which, similar to poker, is often crucial in business dealings.
And what about those meetings with global entities? In these international scenarios, your awareness of cultural differences can make or break what you’re trying to accomplish at the negotiating table. Some foreign business people may expect to be greeted with a handshake and consistent eye contact. Other professionals may look for a hug and more touchy feely stuff. Each culture has its own etiquette, gestures, and expected behavior. A lot of that is instantly thrown out the window when virtual reality comes into play. With this in mind, the idea of a digital conference room could be offensive and problematic in some cases.
Beyond the lack of personalization, the biggest drawback of this advanced technology may be the fact that it’s not quite ready for primetime. In scouring the web for info on gaming applications, I ran across forums where complaints of the gear failing to stay in sync with the natural movement of the user’s head was a common issue. Syncing problems, connectivity woes, and other technical hiccups can be detrimental in the fast-paced, often unforgiving business environment.
Then there’s the potential for dependency. We get so caught up in the world of virtual meetings, gaming, and other stuff that we never want to return to reality. Look at how consumed we are with the technology we already have everyday access to. Call me crazy, but considering how people have their heads buried in their smartphone displays more often than not, failing to pay attention to what’s going on around them, morphing into VR junkies is not farfetched.
Virtual reality isn’t quite as advanced as Hollywood portrays it, but it’s getting pretty darn close. And while it still leaves a bit to be desired for business applications, if it can put an end to awkward conference calls like this, then I’m all for it!
Top Photo Credit: BagoGames via Flickr