There’s been a huge array of entertaining virtual reality experiences since the first prototype of Oculus Rift was developed in 2010, from creeping around a haunted house to walking in space. However, while the technology’s potential for storytelling has always been clear, it has recently emerged as an effective tool in research and development.
Companies can save millions by testing new products virtually before they are made. Architects have already begun to use VR to showcase designs to clients, while aerospace manufacturers Boeing and Airbus are exploring “virtual mock-ups” of entire aircraft that save weeks of time otherwise spent on more traditional prototyping processes.
But VR hasn’t just proven useful for testing costly, large-scale products. Beauty giant L’Oreal is using the technology to enable its employees to make faster decisions about issues ranging from the packaging to merchandising and the branding of its cosmetics.
Businesses are also creating virtual showrooms, inviting customers to don a headset in order to try out products before they buy. Auto brands like Volvo have created virtual test drive experiences, while Ikea’s virtual showroom lets customers explore its products within a digital kitchen. While these experiences are a bonus for the consumer, they also enable companies to gather data about how people interact with prototype products, ultimately helping them improve the designs.
Tech companies are already developing ways for users to navigate and control virtual worlds using their eye movements and thoughts. As the technology becomes more intuitive to use, it could equip market research companies with even more sophisticated data during product testing.
This sweet spot between user experience and R&D is a win for both consumer and business, and it’s undoubtedly a crossover that will continue to be explored and expanded upon. Perhaps VR is finally about to hit the big time that was always expected of it, and step out of the long shadow cast by unsuccessful attempts made during the late 90s video game virtual reality surge and Google Daydream.