Seldom has the road to fame and fortune been so well paved as it is for those who will drive the VR revolution. The signs are all there. The direction is clear. A prosperous journey is nearly assured. All that is needed is a new generation of innovators to chart the course. A wealth of virtual reality business opportunities lie just ahead for those willing to do so.
Also rare is the opportunity to disrupt existing markets while creating new ones. Immersive virtual reality provides forward thinking companies the power to do both. Just as smartphones created the mobile app market, VR provides innovative companies with ideas to create markets yet unfathomed.
So what makes virtual reality businesses suddenly hot? Advancement in technology is the answer, but it goes beyond improved performance and capabilities. While high-end gamers were busy keeping VR on life support, other technologies were maturing that would be crucial to the advancement of 3D virtual reality. The advent of smartphones, powerful processing hardware, and innovations in 3D graphics software all make VR both powerful and — depending on your platform of choice — affordable. From gaming to healthcare to business meetings, virtual reality stands poised to touch every area of our lives.
At stake for companies getting into the VR business is a projected $30 billion by 2020. Nope, this certainly is not your daddy's VR.
2016, it seems, is a fine time to transform challenging ideas into very real profits. Early adopters will find the field wide open and competition light, which can help even small VR businesses to shape the market. Since VR gear and the software that drives it are still in their infancy, development cost in the VR space can be higher, but the potential ROI could be unprecedented.
Let us take a look the platforms that power today's VR gear, and then we will look at 10 sectors offering VR companies opportunities for greatness.
As we indicated, the future of VR is heavily dependent on recent advances in both hardware and software. Here's what's hot:
Arguably the most impressive VR headset is the Oculus Rift. Launched through a Kickstarter campaign, the company was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. This, alone, should inspire VR startups, because as we all know, Facebook and Google are always looking for new buyouts.
The Rift sells for $599 USD, putting it outside the reach of all but the most serious VR aficionados.
Oculus requires powerful graphics processing power not common on most PCs. This was a problem early on, as not everyone who wanted the Oculus Rift had a machine to run it on. Problem no more, Oculus has partnered with top PC makers to create a line of Oculus-ready PCs. Dell, Alienware, and Asus have all released PCs optimized for powering the Rift. Price points are only slightly higher than you would expect for a beefy home system — under $1K USD, but the prices are good for purchasers of the Rift.
The HTC Vive is a similar to the Oculus Rift in it's price point strategy. At $799 USD, clearly the average consumer is not the target market. Also like the Rift, the HTC Vive requires a PC with high-end graphics capability to work well. Unlike the Rift, the HTC Vive is wireless and allows users to roam about freely as it tracks their motion in 3D using wireless laser stations. Hand controllers are included for maximum versatility.
Forward-facing cameras, an array of 32 sensors, and 2160x1200 graphics combine to create an immersive experience limited only by the developer's imagination.
Samsung Gear VR
Priced right for the consumer market at $99 USD, the Samsung Gear VR utilizes the user's smartphone, rather than providing its own display. Even so, they make an excellent choice for car showrooms and virtual shopping malls, where applications do not need the horsepower of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
VR startups wanting to tap the low-to mid-budget VR market have an excellent platform in the Samsung Gear VR. Or, of course, they can just create their own.
A little late to the party, the Sony PlayStation VR is slated for release in October 2016 and pre-orders are already flowing in.
Customers can buy the PlayStation Core for $399 USD and includes the PSVR headset, PSVR cables, stereo headphones, a PlayStation VR demo disc, a PlayStation Camera, 2 PlayStation Move motion controllers, and a PlayStation VR Worlds disc. For $499, they can order the PlayStation Bundle. Which also includes the PlayStation Worlds game bundle.
More than 230 developers, great and small, are creating content for the PlayStation. Sony anticipates that more than 50 games will be available when the product is released.
Just because the PlayStation is, well, the PlayStation does not limit its use to gaming. With the PlayStation Camera and head-position sensors, the opportunistic VR developer could find it worth exploring.
Released in 2014, the Google Cardboard makes virtual reality a reality for the masses. Consisting of only folded cardboard and plastic lenses, the Google Cardboard viewer allows anyone with a smartphone to share in the 3D experience. By downloading VR apps, users can drive a Mercedes, take a 3D tour of the cosmos, or experience 3D horror from outer space.
Google Cardboard is not likely to interest serious Playtation VR developers. However, we mention it because it offers a low-cost platform that could be useful for innovative startups wishing to enter the VR space on a small budget. But Cardboard isn’t the final goal for Google, and sources claim that the company develops its own VR headset.
The diversity and power of the latest virtual reality hardware empowers developers to create applications never before possible. The industries that will be affected are too numerous to count. The following 10, however, make a good start.
It doesn't take a futurist to understand how virtual reality could transform education. From K-12 to university level and right on to continued education, there is no sector of education that cannot benefit from VR technology.
In fact, it is already happening.
zSpace For Education is a California based company that has targeted the STEM education sector. STEM is an acronym for a curriculum grouping consisting of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and is recognized worldwide.
zSpace brings certified virtual lessons to the classroom using its proprietary zSpace STEM Lab workstation. The workstation consists of a 24” display, zSpace eyeware, stylus, mouse, keyboard, and software. Using the stylus to manipulate 3D objects on the screen, students learn through interacting with the subject material in ways not possible in a 2D environment. For example, students can manually strip away parts of the human anatomy to discover what lies beneath. Complex mathematical functions are integrated to facilitate experiments such as analyzing the trajectory of objects falling to earth.
zSpace includes over 1,000 3D models of subject matter including animals, spacecraft, mathematics, anatomy, astronomy, plants, and landmarks, to name a few.
zSpace is typical of what developers can achieve when targeting needs rather than markets. It also demonstrates how seamlessly VR can be integrated into the educational environment when done well.
The reason educational institutions will ultimately adopt VR solutions is because they will improve learning. Evidence suggests that VR-aided education increases attention by 92% and test scores by 35%. This translates into a higher quality education for students, a higher attraction rate for schools, and higher profits for VR developers who make it happen.
No one takes virtual reality more seriously than the military forces of European and Western nation states. As military budgets shrink and global threats intensify, the need to train fighting personnel as effectively as possible has never been greater. In a sector where decisions can have life or death consequences for millions of people, VR isn't just cool, it's crucial.
From boot camp to the battlefield, military operations represent huge markets for VR technology. Admittedly, pondering your virtual wares to military organizations is not for everybody. The process of qualifying to even bid is a daunting task and competition for government dollars is fierce. A few giant military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing dominate the field and will continue to do so.
However, by no means should VR innovators consider military a closed market. Restricted? Yes. Closed, no. In his article, The World’s First Mass Produced Full Body Wearable virtual reality System, John Baker noted the opportunities lost by private industry because of their reluctance to pursue military contracts. As Baker points out, the U.S. Army spends $5 billion a year on training solutions, and companies who can break through will enjoy long-term revenue. He should know; he is the former Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army’s Dismounted Soldier Training System (DSTS).
Baker suggest that the greatest hurdle to vendors securing military interest in their products is their lack of understanding of the requirements. And we are not talking about the long list of administrative requirements, but the requirements of systems to perform well in numbers and in harsh environments, and to be maintainable in those environments.
The takeaway from Baker's authoritative article is that would-be military vendors would do well to make sure their VR products will meet the three criteria given before worrying about the rest.
Now for the good news. The gap between high-end enterprise military VR technology and consumer VR technology is closing fast and, as a result, militaries are already looking to private industry for the next generation of VR solutions.
Case in point: The British Army has begun using the Oculus Rift to give potential recruits a taste of what it's like on the battlefield. The VR content was produced by the immersive video production company Visualise. Second case in point: not one but TWO private industry VR companies were tapped for the recruiting solution.
Another avenue onto the battlefield for commercial VR companies is through the back door. When the gargantuan military contractor Raytheon built a VR training simulator for its Patriot air defense system, they used the Oculus Rift as the headset for the system.
Clearly, if a commercial product will fill a military need, the doors will open.
3. Video Games
Video gamers have always loved VR. In fact, were it not for the game industry, VR technology would be years behind where it is now. And when Goldman Sachs forecasts that the virtual reality and augmented reality game market will reach $11.6B by 2025, its a sector VR developers cannot afford to ignore.
Just as the pseudo-3D game Doom had a tremendous wow factor in the 90s, immersive VR has the potential to wow players even more so. The next generation of games will move beyond zapping cartoon aliens in 3D and will immerse the player in scenes of near movie-quality. VR game developers who can contribute to the new level of game realism can only win big in terms of ROI.
But, then, there there is the matter of cost. As we have seen, the best VR gaming gear, and the PCs that power it, are beyond the grasp of many. Of course, price points will naturally drop in time, but developers who can improve the quality of low-end systems will profit from an expanded low-end market.
The future of VR gaming may not include hand controllers, or mere head-position sensors, but full-body involvement. Once company, Virtuix Omni, has introduced the first of its kind virtual reality motion platform. Using the platform, players are totally engaged, totally immersed in game play. Walking, running, sitting, jumping, and gunning now becomes as natural in the game as out of it.
Eventually, VR technology will add brain-interfacing capability to gaming. Though such wonders probably lie beyond the current horizon, the first company to make it work will probably be able to buyout Google.
4. Live Events
Virtual reality is writing its own ticket as the new way to enjoy live events. Sports, musical performances, news events, and even theater productions are being added to the list of content now available through VR streaming. Fortune magazine projects this market to reach $4B in the next few years. This represents a huge market for VR innovators.
Two factors will drive growth in this market: the willingness of content providers to take a chance on VR streaming technology, and the rate at which fans can increasingly afford the gear to tune in.
Not only is the market diverse — any live event can be streamed in 3D VR, but so is the technology. Developers can chose to work in VR content generation, delivery, viewing, and other areas.
One company that owns its own ecosystem is NextVR. Through partnerships with Fox Sports, Turner Sports, and others, NextVR is aggressively linking venues with viewers and owning nearly everything in between. To date, the company has more than 23 patents granted or pending for technologies related to delivery, transmission, playback, and content generation for 3D content. The only element NextVR doesn't hold claim to is the headset. NextVR's platform currently runs on the Samsung Gear VR and Open Oculus Home headsets.
NextVR is also an example of how tech startups are now born. Formed in 2009, NextVR raised more than $30.5 million crowdfunding dollars by the end of 2015.
5. Real Estate
The real estate market provides VR developers with a nearly infinite number of clients. While panoramic real estate tours have been around for a few years, they do not represent the true immersive power of modern VR technology. Today's technology provides developers the power to create virtual reality business applications never before possible, and we don't mean Virtual Tours 2.0.
Innovative VR developers will regard the virtual tour as a platform, not the end product.
Once you bring interested parties into a virtual real estate environment, there is so much more you can do there than to walk around.
One company that demonstrates such forward-thinking is California-based Matterport, Founded in 2011, Matterport has taken the virtual tour and put it on steroids. Using its six-camera 3D imaging device and the Samsung Gear VR viewer, anyone can now create highly immersive and highly interactive 3D models of real estate properties. In addition to providing a cutting edge 3D walk through, Matterport's viewing app, Matterport 3D Showcase, brings some toys. Users can take accurate measurements of any element within the image, create an instant floor plan, and virtually remodel the room in an instant.
Perhaps a buyer is sold on the property but hates the flooring. No problem. The 3D Showcase app allows them to replace the flooring, change the color of the walls, add lighting fixtures, and even swap out the furniture. And, of course, it works well on desktop or mobile devices.
One look at Matterport's online demo should start the wheels turning in any developer's brain. It is easy to see how platforms like Matterport can serve real estate developers, brokers, sales agents, interior designers, and architects, as well as buyers and sellers.
Like all great innovators, Matterport plays well with others. The company's website invites OEMs and developers to use their platform as the launching pad for even greater things.
Despite the benefits, the real estate industry has been slow to embrace VR. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the budding VR/real estate app developer. Adoption will come, and companies that spearhead the charge will see handsome ROIs.
Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing markets for VR technology. Global Industry Analytics projects the global market to reach $3.8B by 2020, with the greatest growth forecasted to occur in the U.S. Advances in healthcare IT technology, especially imaging, makes healthcare a receptive, and lucrative, market for VR innovators.
The potential to penetrate the healthcare market is broadened by companies that already have a foothold in other emerging technologies. For example, 34 million wearable healthcare devices were in use in 2015, combining healthcare IT with the Internet of Things, or IoT. VR developers who can likewise leverage existing technologies such as IoT, medical imaging, or medical robotics will do so at substantial gain.
This highlights an important point: the healthcare industry constitutes not just one market, but several. Key medical fields that are already benefiting from virtual reality technology include surgery, dentistry, nursing, medical imaging, psychotherapy, clinical procedures, and neuroscience, to name a few. Essentially, every field of medical specialty is a market for VR innovation.
Early players have already penetrated several markets. VR technology has improved the realism of surgery simulators, aided clinicians in treating PTSD and strokes, and allowed med students to perform realistic dissections despite the lack of medical cadavers.
Not only is VR technology improving surgery simulation, but it is also transforming live surgery. Robotic surgery has moved from concept to reality, in part because VR technology provides surgeons the force feedback, also known as haptic technology necessary for delicate procedures. Forced feedback allows surgeons to have tactile feedback similar to what they experience if performing surgery by hand. The benefit of VR-guided robotic surgery is that the surgery is performed with the precision of a robot, but with the skill of an experienced surgeon. Oh, yeah... and the surgeon can perform the surgery from halfway around the world. Again, we see a merging of technologies — robotics, haptic technology, and gigabyte communications — that VR developers leveraged to disrupt a market.
Medical education and ongoing training represent a market in themselves. Replacing existing training simulators with virtual simulators offers leapfrog improvements in terms of the training experience, and VR systems can be more cost effective to maintain and update.
Overall, VR technology has the potential to disrupt existing markets while quickly lowering the price point for their products. Such opportunity should attract the brightest minds, and the deepest pockets, to the burgeoning healthcare field.
7. Interactive Desktop Applications
The two-dimensional desktop lends itself to incredible possibilities, which are yet untapped. For example, both RoadtoVR and Valve have their own virtual desktop applications. RoadtoVR's Virtual Desktop runs Oculus Rift, and Valve's Virtual Reality Desktop runs on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both applications allow users to view their desktops in a virtual environment, but innovative developers should and will go beyond that.
It is not merely the ability to view one's desktop in a virtual environment that will make a name for VR in business. It will be the ability to add 3D functionality to applications within the desktop that will a place at the table. Imagine, if you will, 3D spreadsheets, physical object replication by sending 3D scans and print files through email, and mechanisms for experiencing graphics through touch. The company that can accomplish such feats will have, as clients, leading Fortune 500 companies and profits galore.
8. Social VR
Stop and think for a moment. What is one product that has earned manifold billions of dollars for a few companies in recent years? The answer: connectivity. Companies such as Facebook, Google/YouTube, Apple, LinkedIn, and Twitter have capitalized on the basic human need to connect with other people. Whether through social media pages, Facetime, or tweets, people are busy hooking up with one another — and spending money while doing it.
Not that these companies make all their profits directly from the use of their applications, but they have been unabashed in their efforts to monetize them. By providing an experience that a lot of people want to share in, they provide platforms for advertisers to get their messages before millions of people daily.
The lesson for VR developers is this: find ways to merge VR with social media and you may well be party to the next billion dollar buyout.
Some companies are already making their move.
AltspaceVR has developed what may be the first virtual social platform of its type. Users chat and interact with each other's avatars within a cartoonish setting which all can see. Utilizing the Oculus Rift, DK2, HTC Vive, or Samsung Gear VR, users engage in a variety of activities.
At the current level of development, users can play disc golf, participate in a comedy show, draw simple sketches, watch YouTube videos or movies, or even display their artwork in personal art galleries. Users can see each other's avatars talking, moving, and gesturing. Detail is limited, but the app does simulate a level of intimacy not possible with telephones alone.
VRChat is yet another VR development company that is dipping their toe into social media. Similar to AltspaceVR in many ways, users have somewhat greater freedom to move about within the virtual scene. While users interact with one another in a CGI environment, as with AltspaceVR, the level of detail and complexity is greater.
Head gaze direction, 3D positional audio, and various gestures allow VRChat users a fully-immersed experience in a world of their own making, or in their choice of over 200 pre-made worlds.
Despite the importance of these and similar platforms, VR innovators should look beyond CGI if VR social media is to mature. One could envision a merging of Facetime-type apps with VR technology, with VR space occupied by real faces rather than avatars. Or, perhaps, users from around the world could come together in VR space and party under the Eiffel Tower. However it's done, finding ways to let people connect more intimately through immersive virtual environments will be a very lucrative pursuit.
9. Project Collaboration VR
The tech and business worlds, today, are all about buzzwords. One buzzword that is still buzzing is “collaboration”. It's the new thing. People working together toward common goals, sharing information and resources, and being empowered along the way — that's collaboration. It used to be called teamwork, but that term lost its buzz years ago.
VR developers who can provide platforms for workers to collaborate in an immersive setting will tap a growing market.
Virtual teleconferencing and cloud-based platforms create greater engagement and flexibility. No longer does everyone have to be in the same room or office to collaborate on a project. Virtual Reality offers participants the ability to be anywhere in the world, and still as nearly present through the shared VR environment as if they were in the room.
Virtual reality in business meetings will soon be as natural as the PC. That is, if VR innovators exploit the opportunities that lie at their very fingertips.
To realize the opportunities engineering provides for VR technology vendors, think about what engineers do. In the simplest terms, they analyze, they design, and they test. Virtual reality technology is ideally suited to improving nearly every phase of the engineering process.
Now, CAD and other 3D simulation technologies have been around for decades. Hardly a product on the market or process in the lab has escaped being modeled or simulated. But there are two major distinctions between the current VR technology and conventional simulation platforms.
First, most current CAD systems provide little or no immersive experience for the user. Despite tremendous advancements in image processing and 3D modeling, most systems do not let the designer insert themselves into the design. They can manipulate it in a 3D environment, they can change it on the fly, they can simulate its operation and measure the results, but they can't merge with it. Depending on the nature of the engineering domain, immersion may not be beneficial or possible, but for many it can elevate the design process to a whole new level.
It is only fair to note that VR technology is already being used by such companies as Lockheed Martin and BMW, but these high-end systems are far beyond the reach of even medium-size companies. Which brings us to the second distinction: cost.
Most current simulation systems are lacking in immersive capability, and those that have it are highly proprietary and expensive. What's needed are reasonably-priced systems that are flexible enough to be mass marketed to small or mid-size companies. In fact, most engineering firms are small businesses and could benefit tremendously from affordable simulation solutions.
The opportunities for immersive VR applications in engineering are almost too numerous to count, which makes engineering a very rich market for immersive VR innovators.
How AppReal-VR Can Help?
Is there really a VR revolution underway, or are we just buying into so much hype? All the signs point to immersive virtual reality transforming society one industry at a time.
There will be skeptics, of course. No revolution is without them. Then there are those who delay action until victory is nearly at hand. But heroes are not made that way and neither are fortunes.
When you are ready to move, you will need a partner to do the heavy lifting. AppReal-VR is a virtual reality company specializing in VR development, programming, production, and mobile app development. We'll listen to your plan, then we will put our world-class custom development team to work and make it happen.
Developing virtual reality for business is no trivial task. We're experts at implementing VR in business environments in order to grow sales, increase income, and to help the client better serve their customers.
Navigating the complex web of new technologies can be a problem. Let AppReal-VR be your solution.