Put the goggles on and you’ll see a future where businesses use VR in UC

Unified communications users already enjoy videoconferencing and chat, but the companies may one day want virtual reality to be part of the experience

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I’ve been hearing about the promise of virtual reality for years, but it’s now actually becoming, well, a reality. And recently I had a chance to test it out for myself.

I wasn’t at a tech trade show — I was at a restaurant in downtown Toronto, checking out vacation options in British Columbia. By slipping on a pair of virtual reality goggles and headphones, I was able to choose whether I wanted go boating and watch sea lions or go hiking through the mountains to a waterfall, where I would then board a helicopter and fly back to my splashy eco-resort.

It took me about 20 seconds or so to realize I could actually move my head around to see the mountains in 360 degrees, rather than watching everything unfold in front of me like a movie. The video was a prototype — meaning it hadn’t been shot in high-definition — and I was warned ahead of time that it was rather grainy. While the video wasn’t always clear, the potential of virtual reality became more so.

There’s a big difference between watching a video and immersing yourself in that video, making decisions on what you want to see (sea lions versus hiking) with a simple nod of the head. And it had the intended effect: As soon as I pulled off the goggles, I had an overwhelming desire to go hiking in B.C.

From gimmick to tool

I had always thought of virtual reality as a bit gimmicky, something that might be more useful in the gaming world. But this experience had me thinking about how it could be another tool in the UC toolbox. For one thing, you’d probably be far more excited about attending a meeting if you got to do it in a really cool virtual environment.

Telepresence and videoconferencing already offer ways to connect people across geographic locations. Virtual reality, however, opens up a whole new world of possibilities: It’s not just about holding meetings, but holding those meetings in a virtual environment. Imagine you’re part of a design team and you could examine and interact with new prototypes with your colleagues in a virtual environment — before anything is ever built?

It’s hard to predict how virtual environments will evolve (my first cell phone was the size of a shoebox; I would never have guessed how it would evolve into a super-thin, sleek device with far more power than my first-ever PC).

In some cases, virtual reality might compete with telepresence or videoconferencing, but more likely it will work alongside existing communication tools. After all, you don’t always need to chat with a co-worker in a totally immersive virtual environment — sometimes it would make more sense to just pick up the phone or have a quick video chat.

But there are scenarios where virtual reality makes sense, from virtual prototypes of new products to virtual models of buildings or factory floors. Ford, for example, is using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset as part of its Immersive Virtual Environment lab to help build prototypes and do simulations.

And according to a recent article published in Network World, various enterprise-ready platforms will soon be compatible with virtual reality devices such as Oculus Rift to offer a business-ready virtual experience.

The question isn’t if virtual reality will play a role in UC, but when — and how.

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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