Virtual reality in the workplace

Imagine walking into your new home before it has been built, or watching a heap of your money roll over the floor as it grows with time.

Virtual reality (VR) can make this fantasy appear real.

VR is a computer-generated simulation that is experienced through wearing a head-mounted device, called a VR headset. It allows users to participate in a different world, both visually and auditory, and to interact with the virtual surroundings.

Carl van Rooyen, application engineer for Micrographics explained, “VR is a tool that enables a person to view media in a way that fools the brain into thinking that you are completely surrounded by the media being viewed. Effectively it replaces the view of your surroundings with what is being displayed on the headset’s screens.”

Application to engineering, architecture, and manufacturing 

This technology is still being developed globally, and many professions are looking for ways to implement it in their work, training, and customer relations.

“One use of VR is to view 3D designs, which has the advantage of allowing the user to move around an object (machine, car, building etc.) by either teleporting freely or between predefined views,” said van Rooyen.

“This gives the user the freedom to explore and does not limit them to a set of predefined printed 2D drawings, which are typically difficult to understand. This will also limit, if not eliminate, the use of physical prototypes,” he added.

Van Rooyen outlined the following applications of VR:

  • In Engineering the designers would be able to review their model within VR to get a feeling of how the model is progressing, clashes within the model become easier to see and viewing the model in 1:1 scale gives you a better understanding of the model.
  • For Manufacturing, VR will allow the manufacturer the opportunity to show clients their products before they are made. This can help avoid having to make changes to a product that has already been manufactured. It can also be used as a marketing and sales tool to be able to show a client a proposed design with an easy to understand and immersive environment.
  • Architects would be able to do virtual tours of projects with clients to receive approval or input, these virtual tours would get the clients “into” the project (house, public space or office block), allowing them to explore the space.

And banking overseas?  

Jason Haddock, creative director and chief technical officer at Sea Monster, believes the majority of South Africans are not yet using VR, but that it will be incorporated in the future when people want to speak to their banks. Instead of going in to a banking hall, they will log into a virtual hall.

Haddock points out two ways VR has been used in banking overseas:

  • International banking group BNP Paribas has developed a ‘teleportation’ capsule called the POD, which enables prospective purchasers to port themselves inside a new apartment or building under construction or for sale and view it in 3D and 360°.
  • French Retail Banking has also launched a VR-based app which gives its customers a taste of tomorrow’s banking, including consulting bank transaction records and following through the various steps of a real estate purchase in Virtual Reality mode.

“As cameras are now an everyday thing for South Africans to carry around in their phones, so it will be some day with VR. And because of that, service providers need to make sure that they’re on top of this tech because it will be in demand,” said Haddock.

VR used for training

According to Sergio Barbosa, CIO of Global Kinetic, the most important function of VR is in training.

“For example, the best and most cost effective method for training banks to set up an ATM in Africa would be to use a Virtual Reality ‘tool kit’ which explains and illustrates how to set it up without physically having to send a bunch of technicians to each destination.  From a customer perspective, a virtual teller has no place in his/her world – it’s really superfluous to requirement,” said Barbosa.

“I believe that Virtual Reality will continue to play a vital role in training and perhaps in new technology for banking as it rolls out, but it’s not there yet,” he added.

Augmented reality

Barbosa explained that augmented reality (AR) currently has more applications than VR, and that growth in AR will open the door for growth in VR.

AR can be described as a partial version of VR, where technology is used to superimpose fantasy onto reality and the user witnesses an augmented version of their reality, as opposed to a completely different version as with VR.

“AR can be used in a back office situation – a teller could see a customer’s account information come up on the glass screen between them and this could be brought up through facial recognition,” said Barbosa.

“AR could also be used when shopping for a car, for example, so that when you look at that car, you could have all the relevant interest rates and hire purchase information come up so that the customer can make his/her comparisons,” he maintained.

Haddock believes that AR is becoming increasingly popular, as evidenced from the number of clients who have approached them to create apps with AR elements:

  • Those clients include Metropolitan, for whom we created an educational app on insurance so users could learn more about life insurance in a less traditional, more fun way.
  • For Investec, Sea Monster created a sudoku-like AR game for actuaries.
  • For Old Mutual we created Moneyversity, a website that makes learning about finances and saving fun and easy.

“Financial institutions are increasingly looking for ways to engage customers in a more accessible and fun way,” said Haddock.