Virtual Reality Unleashes New Opportunities in Research, Training, and Retail

When COVID-19 shuttered VR arcades, the businesses put their vast computing resources and problem-solving skills to work on finding clues to a cure. VR is proving its value beyond gaming and stepping confidently into commercial environments in healthcare, retail, and business.


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Image credit: InContext Solutions

In Franklin, TN, The Rabbit Hole VR is slowly and carefully opening its doors to gamers who want immersive VR experiences. The safety-first players remain the required 6 feet apart, even if they are side-by-side in the virtual world, and the staff deep cleans the equipment and saturates it in UV light between every session. Like many organizations in states that are slowly re-opening, Rabbit Hole VR is eager to get its four-year-old business back on a track to profitability.

Since the pandemic broke, co-owners Mitchell and Jennifer Poythress have pivoted tirelessly to try to keep the young business afloat. First, they switched the business model to reservations-only, then they were shut down with other nonessential businesses. Rather than sit idle, they joined the collaborative simulations developer community for VR arcade owners on Facebook. As part of the group, they could put the massive processing power of their gaming computers to work in Folding@home, a distributed computing project run by a consortium of 14 research labs.

Folding@home leans on the computing resources of organizations like The Rabbit Hole to crowdsource computing power to perform large-scale calculations that can help research and develop therapies for diseases. The consortium has been focused on COVID-19 since February.   

The VR arcades’ powerful computers and graphic cards make them well suited for the project, and while the business was sitting idle, it helped make the owners feel useful. “We may not be able to bring in cash right now, but at least we can help find a treatment,” said Jennifer Poythress, in an interview with Inc. earlier this month when The Rabbit Hole was closed to business.

VR Training Delivers Five-Year ROI of 300 Percent

While VR is hugely popular with gamers, the technology is moving away from niche and stepping confidently into the business world. The technology has already been put to work keeping the virtual doors open in many stores and museums during the shutdown. And in healthcare alone, MarketWatch predicts that the VR market will reach $2.4 billion by 2026.

VR is becoming a powerful business tool, and professionals are turning to Intel® Xeon® processors to develop commercial VR applications for retail, healthcare, and businesses. In VR environments, the Intel® Core™ i7 processor manages many tasks, such as positional tracking. The CPU also controls spatial audio and governs complex physics. Intel also offers Intel® Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) and Intel® Optane™ Technology for better memory and storage to make for a complete VR experience.

Intel not only makes VR solutions; it uses them to train employees. Using VIVE and VIVE Enterprise, Intel introduced a VR training program for its Electrical Safety Recertification course. Previously, the trainees took the course in a Web-based training format. In moving to VR, the trainees took the course with relevant, high-quality VR content, what-if scenarios, and feedback loops in a controlled room-scale environment managed by VIVE and VIVE Enterprise Advantage.

After completing the course training project and reviewing the findings, Intel estimated a potential five-year ROI of 300 percent. Intel moved the virtual course into production and has replicated it with other deployments and has a plan to roll out to additional sites around the world.

VR Models Help Stores Realize 90 Percent Savings

In retail, merchandising software maker InContext Solutions has developed VR software that allows retailers to optimize shelf space and store layouts. The company’s ShopperMX uses LiDAR surveying technology to help retail chains including Walgreens build 3D models of retail spaces inside a computer simulation. Retailers can experience the new store design in VR before rolling it out across many stores. Looking across its customers, InContext has helped them realize 90 percent savings, 10x faster results, and 3x more data using VR vs. in-store testing.

These examples are helping VR prove that it is more than a gaming paradise. VR has a place in research, healthcare, business, and beyond. For IT solution providers, VR has a rich ecosystem and multiple play points where solution providers can step in and help businesses create a solution for their unique VR needs.