Last Updated on September 9, 2023
Virtual Reality was wildly popular in the early 2020s with Mark Zuckerberg and others desperate to sell us the “metaverse”. The concept seemed to be we would all live inside a bubble of digital space with a phone strapped to our eyeballs, dancing and waving at each other. They hype was intense and many invested in VR to try it out. The results have been mixed.
In real reality (that’s RR), wearing goggles is not a lot of fun and not very natural. We, as human mammals, actually really liking interacting with each other in real reality, and very much like looking at each other in the eyeballs.
One simple test is to try to get a senior executive, politician, CEO or similar to don a VR headset. It won’t last long. Board meetings have zero risk of converting to VR in my opinion.
Some of the limitations with VR is that they are another object to maintain. You need to be in the same place as the thing, and you need to learn a new set of skills to use the thing. You need to use paddles and push various buttons that you can’t see as you have goggles one. It is all a bit unnatural.
If you are a digital native or hard-core nerd, then this may be OK. But when you are dealing with the industrial workforce, anyone over 50 years old or really 90% of humanity – you might be struggling.
The licensing rules around VR goggles are also weird. A supplier like us can’t buy them and transfer them to you including the support for when they break. As VR does break more than they want you to think.
Another limit is the cost versus quality ratio. VR requires an extra level of management to run. It is hard enough to get technology and simulations to work, then to add another layer of complexity – to ‘dumb it down’ to a lower grade interface and computer (depending if it is tethered or not), takes extra work. You also lose a lot of the visual quality.
Modern graphics or physics cards are accelerating in leaps and bounds and the quality of physics engines is mind-bogglingly incredible – and visible on a screen. To dumb all this down seems not so productive use of resources unless the business case is compelling.
Very simple and practical limitations exist for the training – such as deployment. If you are training 1000 people, they need to go to the device, which needs to be working, and be inducted into using the device, which someone needs to do. That’s all resources, which are not free.
The element of “procedural learning” has been a main inherent benefit in VR training. But with some smart thinking and UX design, you can do procedural learning on a web-based application. So your team can learn and experience on any computer and screen – so much easier!
Virtual Reality Insights Summary
- Access: VR Goggles are low cost – a few hundred dollars each – and thus accessible and available. But VR Goggles still require the user to travel to a site. There is typically a guided station with someone to set up the process, guide the user on how to use and control the VR simulator; and keep the technology working and stop people from falling over when they are blinded.
- Inputs controls: VR Goggle experiences can be ‘watch and learn’ experiences, where there is no feedback, presumably for the ‘immersive’ value or ‘entertainment’ value. Even then you need to use the controllers to get going. Otherwise, they can have controllers for interaction. Sometimes these controllers, for most other than the younger users, can be a little awkward.
- Tethered VR. VR Goggles can be tethered or untethered. Tethered means connected via a cable to a computer and gives greater rendering and computational capability. However, you have the connection of the cables – which limits the freedom.
- Untethered VR has significantly less computational power. This means environments and scenarios for rendering, data and computational requirements need to be heavily optimised. Optimisation costs significantly more. The bigger the scene, the more complex the behaviours the more costly and/or longer the optimisation. And the lower the resolution. It has to be worth it.
Urban CGI has delivered multiple projects through Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality across engagement and training use cases. We know what works and what doesn’t. We can provide advice on when to use which technology to maximise the outcomes and the business case you are seeking to implement.
Ben is a Civil Planner and has been in the planning industry for over 25 years. He’s passionate about bringing together modern technologies and agile methodologies to make urban planning smarter. Holding a PhD in Design-based Planning Systems, Ben’s thesis explored form-based urban design and planning. In it he compared post-war reconstructive city building to places like Oxford Circus, London, and developed and confirmed a method for city planning based on space over use. Connect with Ben at LinkedIn.