By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Virtual Reality has the ability to transform education, executive education, skill transfer especially for India. Here’s why …
Virtual Reality is real
When I stepped into the Virtual Reality lab with my colleagues, I was skeptical about why it was such a big deal. I had seen 3D movies before and how different would this possibly be? Someone handed me what seemed like an oversized version of welder’s goggles which also had earphones that sealed off all external sound. I looked at the world I had entered. It was a roller coaster ride. Truth be told, I always avoid these rides in any theme park because it makes my stomach churn.
I could move my head and look around my virtual world. I could see that I was sitting in a trolley that was to go on a railway track that ran through the mountains. Then the trolley started to move and the virtual ride started. As the cable car gathered speed I found myself unwittingly clench my fists as the cable car swerved to avoid obstacles as it turned the sharp corners. The cable car was passing through a valley. I looked down and notice there was a sheer drop. I felt my fear of heights kicking in. I forgot that it was only a game and I could remove my headset whenever I pleased. But I was grabbing my chair (in reality) to avoid falling off into the valley. I was paralyzed with fear until someone seemed to yank me back to reality. The headset was off and my connection with Virtual Reality (VR) was snapped shut. I was back in the familiar world and smiling sheepishly at my colleagues who were amused to see me still sweating. I had experienced what geeks describe as “presence”. <click here>
You experience “presence”
How does VR work? You wear a head-mounted-device (HMD) that we will call a VR headset. Think of it as a set of binoculars with headphones strapped to your face so completely that you only see the 3D images and hear the accompanying sounds that are fed to your eyes and ears. This tricks the brain into believing that you are present in the virtual world. The result is that the user experiences “presence” ie the threshold where the user’s brain cannot differentiate between the physical world and the virtual.
Hardware and software
Facebook has just made Oculus Rift available to consumers. And the shelves are flooded with headsets from HTC, Sony, Samsung, LG, and Google Cardboard viewer to name a few. No doubt others will follow. There are currently two issues with the VR sets. The headsets, actually called head-mounted-devices (HMD), look too bulky. Remember the clunky and gigantic mobile phones of the early years? That’s where the hardware is. Over the next 2-3 years, the hardware will get sleeker and start to look like the shades you can buy at the opticians. Eyewear will get miniaturized and fashion designers will make all of it look extremely cool and desirable.
The second challenge is there is not enough VR content to go with it. It is like having access to YouTube and only a couple of short clips to watch. So why should we care? That is because VR experience is more than just a video. VR allows people to step inside the virtual world of stories and the experience of it can be transformative.
Not surprisingly Deloitte Global predicts that virtual reality will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales and the remainder from games and other VR “experiences.” It estimates headset sales of 2.5 million units this year.
“The ultimate empathy machine”
VR allows people to step into another person’s shoes and be a character in that world. So you could experience the fear that someone experiences in a bad neighborhood. Or what it feels like to ride a giant wave as an Olympic surfer. You do not need to travel anywhere to experience someone’s world. It may be possible to teach people how to have empathy – a major leadership skill of the digital world. VR when combined with great storytelling, can change how charities can raise funds for natural calamities.
It has the power to change the interaction of consumers with their brands. Imagine being able to try out different pieces of furniture and decide which one looks best in your home or office. Imagine being able to take a VR holiday to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania only to be startled by a crouching cheetah on the tree above your head. Maybe we will have two kinds of holidays – a VR holiday and a physical holiday. Imagine being able to take your bedridden loved one to experience a world they can experience without having to get off the wheelchair.
Education, Exposure & Experience
The biggest disruption will be in the Learning & Development space from schools to the workplace. History and Geography taught through VR will allow the student to experience what it feels like to be inside the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and in the rainforests of Amazon in one afternoon. Imagine the transformative power of bringing this education to a child in a remote village or the slums. How dramatically it could be what education is not.
In the corporate world it could be used to simulate the negotiation scenario and teach the team ahead of time what challenges to avoid. If you dread speaking in public, wear the VR headset and practice giving your speech in front of your CEO or even an auditorium full of hecklers (if you are an unpopular politician). VR could help people get over their fears by building their immunity with progressive increases in levels of difficulty.
The celeb professor can be brought into every B-School to teach the subject he or she is known for. Coaching and mentoring when done with VR can become exponentially more effective and in a much shorter time. The company onboarding experience can be made unforgettable when powerful storytelling is combined with VR technology. Stepping into a story is truly an unforgettable experience. Imagine what a master storyteller like Gulzar could do with this technology. Or if you could experience what it feels like to compose a piece of music with AR Rahman in his studio.
A demonstration of the product to the customers is possible. The maintenance crew can be taught how to fix the broken machine by letting them peer under the hood. Medical students could practice their surgery in an Operation Theater recreated in the virtual world. The soldiers can be mentally prepared for fighting in alien conditions through VR training. The trauma of war and conflict can be healed through the VR experience.
Right now the hardware is clunky and the software is inadequate. But that is how the medium will evolve. This is good time to get used to the possibilities of the next big thing after mobile phones. When you see the arrows on a film <like this one> you can click on the arrows to get a 360 degree view of that world. Better still get hold of a Google Cardboard viewer and strap an Android phone to it and experience the power of Virtual Reality. Then let your imagination take over.