Magazine article Marketing

Reality Bytes

Magazine article Marketing

Reality Bytes

Article excerpt

Virtual reality techniques could transform business presentations by bringing client and product closer than ever before.

If you're in the business of selling washing powder or chocolate bars, presenting your product to a sales prospect or retailer doesn't require a great deal of ingenuity, just a decent briefcase.

But when the product in question is a helicopter or an industrial unit, the task becomes a little more complicated. Now some organisations are turning to virtual reality for help.

Virtual reality (VR) has been threatening to become an overnight success for the past ten years, but so far at least it has not managed to live up to its own public relations. It has been used for years in leading-edge technology and design, but it has not yet found many mainstream business applications. Business presentations, which are becoming more and more high-tech and making more imaginative use of multimedia, may be an area where this technology could take hold.

Professor Bob Stone, who worked with NASA on the early development work for VR systems and is now a director of VR Solutions, a leading virtual reality consultancy and applications company, believes the technology is poorly understood. "People still don't know what VR is," he says. "Some people look at it as a competitor to computer-aided design (CAD), others see it as a games system. But very few people actually sell VR on what it can do."

Stone believes that VR is still looking for the so-called 'killer application' which will make it indispensable. Blair Parkin, head of the visualisation group at SEOS Displays, thinks he might have found it.

The visualisation group specialises in creating 1:1 scale visualisations of products which don't yet exist. The images are viewed on an immersive, 'wrap-around' screen, three metres wide by two metres high, in what SEOS calls a "wrap-around reality theatre".

In the automotive industry, SEOS uses a 1:1 visualisation to show potential sponsors how a racing car might look on the track, complete with their company's livery, before the car has been built. The potential sponsor can even have a virtual spin at the wheel.

A SEOS visualisation was produced for the Project Engineering Research Association, for the interior design of Barclay-card's headquarters in Northampton, to determine the most appropriate colours for carpets and chairs and the affects of sunlight on the position of computer monitors.

The photo-realistic graphic-rendered images which are needed to produce a convincing 1:1 visualisation require a lot of expensive computer processing power, but in most SEOS installations this is already in place as part of the client company's CAD system.

Among SEOS's other projects is a virtual exhibition stand for a client in the form of a portable 40-seat wrap-around reality theatre which can be packed away into flight cases and moved to the next location.

"VR is very fraught at the moment," says Parkin. "It is used in everything from headsets driven by PCs worn by spotty kids looking at things they shouldn't be looking at on the Internet, to the design of cars and aeroplanes. But it has become apparent that somebody needs to systemise these applications, understand the benefits and create systems that are tools for customers, rather than just exotic pieces of computer technology."

Parkin's optimism is reflected in the fact that the visualisation group is to be floated off as a separate company, Trimension Systems, in June. …

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