One of the major driving forces for the development of new products is the needs of business. Business is constantly striving for new and improved ways of saving money and time. Using virtual reality, hundreds of small businesses, many large corporations, and private individuals see a way of improving their organization. They can reduce their costs, increase their decision making capabilities, and become more directly involved with communicating data with others.
Virtual reality offers many improvements and inexpensive alternatives to present systems which are being used in the industry. Just some of the areas in which virtual reality is having an effect are in spreadsheets, the stock market, information management, virtual designs, and virtual prototyping. Businesses can customize the way it represents and communicates real and abstract data in order to allow employees to utilize their human talent to their maximum potential.
Companies and industries have traditionally made it a high priority to manage their finances. They strive for better ways to understand how information relates to other information. Spreadsheets are a tool that allow business people to simulate the behavior of their markets, products, and competitive companies. They can model and monitor the accumulation, distribution, and investments of their properties.
The creation of a large scale virtual spreadsheet, where information encompassing many variables can be interactively modified and examined, might be the justification for many businesses to purchase a virtual system. The company users would have the ability to "experience" several days or weeks of a company's activities in just a matter of minutes. (Pimentel, 1993)
Bradford Smith, Director of Research for the Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management, has been working on such a system that would graphically represent how various tasks and activities contributed to the creation of wealth. He presently has developed a 2D non-virtual environment where the graphics displays the organization's resources, personnel, physical plant, inventories, assets, expenditures, and more. These can be displayed at different rates, stopped, executed in reverse, or shifted to evaluate performance over particular time periods. This has much attention for its use with VR. When the data can be represented in 3D, there will be easier cross referencing and analyzing of patterns. (Pimentel, 1993)
The stock market deals highly in vast amounts of abstract data. Money managers are constantly looking for more effective ways to condense and streamline the way abstract information reaches them. Virtual reality offers the ability to creatively express the many variables of this information in real time. The users can then organize the information in ways such that relationships between variables can be visualized in 3D, like never before.
Paul Marshall, President of Maxus Systems International got involved in 3D representation of information by developing surface maps for his business. He felt that by using these tools he was able to beat his competitors by having software that informs him of changes in the market. He has created a virtual system using Sense8's WorldToolKit to monitor the many different variables such as the attributes of stocks, abnormal volumes or occurrences, fundamental inefficiencies, etc. In the system, he can interactively choose certain industries comparing them across certain markets of choice. The viewer of the system can "fly" down into the specified subregions and move among the stocks and bonds which can rise and fall. Dependent on the market, the polygons of the stock will change their shape, position, behavior, and color. (Pimentel, 1993).
Virtual prototyping may be thought of as creating "soft designs." These virtual designs can save money and time in the development of new products. Using a CAD system for a design has the advantages of saving money, but the engineer or user cannot actually experience the product as in the real world. Virtual reality brings CAD designs one step closer to this ability.
There are many advantages to creating virtual designs and prototyping those designs for the users. A major advantage is that many ideas and possibilities can be tried in a short period of time. Large changes that could be costly may only take a few minutes for a user to evaluate. The immediate effects that can be seen can allow a design to have shorter overall development stages. Not only can money be saved by doing immediate changes, but virtual simulation of a production and manufacturing process may reveal problems early in its design phase.
Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of earth-moving and construction equipment, uses virtual reality in their prototype designs. Typically, Caterpillar will have a small number of actual products that are run on the manufacturing line. Therefore, money cannot be wasted on generations of iron prototypes since each may cost millions to make. When evaluating the virtual prototype, safety and efficiency are very important aspects since the operators may control huge hydraulic shovels or release large crushing devices on their surroundings. Although their visibility of the outside environment does not have the high detail of the real world, they do use real time simulation. (Adam, 1993)
Besides flight simulators, Boeing, Inc. is using virtual reality to design its new 777 aircraft. This is their first aircraft to be designed without the use of a full scale physical mock-up. With the system, they can view passenger compartment interiors and some of the engine hydraulics. The ability to visualize a part installed among other parts enables them to determine if the part can be maneuvered around easily during maintenance. (Adam, 1993)
Although businesses and industries are very excited about the advances of virtual reality, the systems need more work before they can become a common tool. The Big Three auto makers have much interest in VR and hope that virtual reality improves such that they can integrate engine design, manufacturing, and servicing in a single virtual environment. Industries have highly detailed CAD drawings which use an excessive number of polygons. However, given the current technological limitations, CAD simulation generally involves too many polygons and related detail to provide rendering rates of practical use. (Adam, 1993)
Future VR enhancements to the business environment can potentially go in many directions, but one interesting notion is of the virtual meeting. Corporate meetings between individuals who are long distances apart have typically taken place in person, where individuals travel to a common location, or through crude forms of telepresence like teleconferencing. Videoconferencing is a newer technology in which video is sent along with audio, however at typically low resolution and slow rendering rates. The result is that corporations are realizing that some meetings which in prior times had to be conducted in person could now be conducted much more economically through telepresence.
The evolution to virtual meetings is likely to continue through high resolution, high update rate videoconferencing and/or video phones, and finally to the head mounted display and 3D sound. The HMD would enable a participant to feel as if they were actually present with the other individuals. Advantages over videoconferencing include the ability to look at whatever is desired whenever it is desired, and the ability to zoom in on particularly interesting items independently of others. In addition, the virtual meeting might also have some advantages over in-person meetings, such as being able to mute out others on an individual basis, and to carry on side conversations in the meeting without disturbing others.
There are many exciting events and new technologies which businesses all around the world are paying attention to. Many future corporate jobs will be in the areas of applying existing applications to customized uses among their business. As well as studying areas of graphics, user interfaces, and the technical interworkings of a virtual system, students may also wish to pursue areas of study involving the particular applications. General business classes and courses in human factors can compliment a technical background such that an individual with good background knowledge will know how to apply it in the business environment.
(Adam, 1993) John A. Adam, "Virtual Reality is for Real," IEEE Spectrum Magazine, Vol 30, No 10, October 1993, pp 22-29.