Why Your Business Needs to Bet on Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and hype have a long-standing relationship. After more than two decades, the long-promised future of VR is finally here. Oculus – Facebook’s $2 billion bet on VR – started shipping its Rift headset last month, marking a major milestone in the reach and reality of mainstream VR. For companies in all sectors, the mad dash to catch up to and capitalize on VR’s potential is on. Everyone’s suddenly interested and looking for that killer-use case, says Jeremy Bailenson, renowned VR guru and founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

But while he’s excited by the attention VR is now getting, he’s also quick to manage expectations. “If you show me 20 ideas, I’ll say 19 of them would be better in another medium,” says Bailenson in a feature article in Fortune’s May issue, “The Race to Make Virtual Reality an Actual (Business) Reality.” “VR is best for special, intense experiences… things that are expensive, dangerous, counterproductive or impossible.”

Bailenson, who has exposed VR to such influencers as Silicon Valley titans (Mark Zuckerberg), commissioners (NFL’s Roger Goodell) and heads of state (President Obama), is convinced VR could touch and transform every industry – and in some forms, already has. U.S. military soldiers train through VR; NASA engineers are learning how to fix satellites; car companies are taking virtual test drives; surgeons test-run highly technical and sensitive surgeries before they operate.

But right now, one of the only true B2B successes where VR has migrated from the living room to businesses at a meaningful scale is in the sports-training world, says Bailenson, co-founder of STRIVR (Sports Training in Virtual Reality), which works with more than a dozen professional and college athletic teams to enhance players’ decision making, increase practice plays and immerse fans in the experience.

Goldman Sachs projects that VR could be an $80 billion industry by 2025. Bailenson predicts it will forever change how we work and communicate. The applications are seemingly limitless: diversity training in corporations; educational tools in classrooms; product experiences for retailers. It could also redefine telecommuting and virtual meetings. He believes “we can actually make VR better than face-to-face.”

Indeed, the opportunities for VR are far ranging and emerging at a furious pace. For those daring enough to dream big, education, social experiences and healthcare, in particular, are areas ripe for VR disruption. The time to get in the game is now.

For more of Bailenson’s views about the power and potential of VR, you might be interested in his recent broadcast interview with CBS News.

Stern Strategy Group: