Is Training The Most Useful Application of Virtual Reality?

VR was built for gamers, but the best uses are outside of entertainment

Virtual Reality is a powerful communication tool. In business to business (B2B) negotiations, data visualisation via VR could transform how companies interact. As well as B2B, Virtual Reality has a place in business to consumer (B2C) relationships. By now, you might have come across the term vcommerce. As consumers demand more from brands, retail companies are building immersive experiences to entice and retain customers. Virtual Reality content has been used by Topshop, Stella Artois and Thomas Cook to bring their products to life in a whole new way. But there’s another application of VR that could be even more disruptive – and it’s not for consumers.

A new perspective

It’s daunting enough to be a shopper on Black Friday, let alone a retail employee. It’s almost impossible to prepare for the surge of bargain hunters that spill in through the doors, sifting through sales. That is, of course, unless you’ve got a strong will, years of experience, – or a VR headset.

To help ready their employees for the Black Friday hysteria, Walmart enlisted the help of Strivr, a Virtual Reality content creation company. The company was founded in 2015 with the aim of creating a simulator for any and all jobs. Companies that subscribe to Strivr receive 360 degree cameras for filming, the software needed to create an experience and an Oculus Rift headset to share it on. Walmart plans to use Strivr’s technology in all 200 of its training centres, and they aren’t the only ones. Strivr also works with NFL teams and was initially set up with sports in mind. Players can’t be on the pitch all of the time, and consequently rely on training videos. As you can imagine, immersive experiences are undoubtedly more gripping.

VR training isn’t exactly a new concept. It is already used to train employees who work in high risk environments, such as the military and healthcare. The wearer can get as close as possible to performing real operations (both surgical and strategic), but in a virtual environment they can afford to make mistakes. Not only this, but it’s now possible to train robots using Virtual Reality. Despite this, VR training hasn’t experienced the same rapid adoption as its cousin Augmented Reality. Thanks to young companies like Strivr, though, this is changing.  The next step is to attract clients from a wider range of industries. Of course, the San Franciscan startup has competition. Lloyd’s Register, for example, has developed a VR Safety Simulator to support training and enhance risk management in the energy industry.

Transforming training

In light of improving latency, precision, sensory perception and hardware, it’s worth considering VR training applications. The benefits include lower costs, reduced resource expenditure for the company and lower risk to human life. As trainees don’t have to be in specific environments so long as they have a compatible headset, it’s possible to teach people across the globe which further lowers training costs. This also enables companies to cast a wider net when searching for talent. If they can train anyone, anywhere, then there’s nothing stopping them from scouting out potential employees on a global scale. In many ways, VR training will make jobs more accessible. Equally, it can only be used by those who own or are sent a headset, and can be offputting for those who struggle to use the technology. Motion sickness, for example, is still an issue that content creators and software developers are working to fix. As well as this, the ability to make mistakes and not face repercussions could influence the person’s perception of risk in the real world. Certain training scenarios that contain sensitive or important information could even fall foul of hackers. For these reasons, VR training experiences might be the next best thing to real world scenarios, but it should be seen as a supplement rather than a replacement for physical training.

It’s difficult to say whether virtual training is the most useful application of VR. Even so, virtual training programmes have shown that it’s possible to train almost anyone, anywhere, and prepare them for situations that can’t be reconstructed in the real world. There are numerous obstacles to address, including the quality and accessibility of the technology and attitudes towards it. However, by working with content creation companies, businesses that need to train employees for difficult real life scenarios can do so without needing to build their own VR development team from scratch. In other words, VR training is transitioning into an as a service model that could be applicable to essentially any job role.

Could your industry use VR training services? Might VR experiences damage a trainee’s perception of risk? Are you using VR for training? Can VR keep up with AR when it comes to training applications? Share your thoughts and opinions.