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A very real future for virtual reality

Friday, October 07, 2016

While we were let down by the empty promise of hoverboards that Back to the Future 2 sold us, the human race is still rapidly working to bring many of science-fiction's ideas to life. The latest to make the move from the silver screen to the real world is virtual reality.

From job training to company demonstrations, the world of virtual reality (VR) goes far beyond the realm of video games, despite the fact this is where much of the consumer excitement stems from. The diverse set of industries and array of potential consumers of the technology should foster an equally diverse range of IT jobs as well. Especially considering reports that the technology will continue to grow in the coming years.

What's driving VR excitement?

The new wave of excitement surrounding VR was the focus of a recent study from International Data Corporation (IDC). According to the organisation, spending on both VR and augmented reality is likely to skyrocket between now and 2020, driven in part by the fact that VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are now actually available to consumers. On top of this, recent mobile sensation Pokemon GO proves that it doesn't have to be an expensive endeavour. As noted by IDC Vice President Chris Chute, this will only help it spread further.

"Now with powerful smartphones powering inexpensive VR headsets, the consumer market is primed for new paid and user generated content-driven experiences," he explained.

"Recent developments in healthcare demonstrated the powerful impact augmented reality headsets can have at the industry level, and over the next five years we expect to see that promise become realised in other fields like education, logistics, and manufacturing."

IDC notes that because it's still so early in the technology's lifecycle, most regions are poised for growth as a second wave of consumers look to get their hands on various headsets. The organisation highlighted three in particular that will account for the vast majority of spending in this area: the US, Western Europe and Asia Pacific.

Expanding beyond the consumer market

Because the technology is so young yet on such a rapid growth trajectory, there's plenty of room for organisations and individuals to come up with unique ideas for its use. It's far from being limited to a consumer product people take home and engage with on their own.

From museum exhibits to brand showcases, organisations are finding ways to offer new experiences with the help of VR headsets. While much of the appeal at this stage of the technology's life may be due to a certain novelty value, there's no denying the fact it's an exciting drawcard.

For example, while the Olympic Games were on, official sponsor of the NZ team Samsung took the opportunity to show the public what it's like to compete on a world stage. Members of the public were given a Samsung Gear VR headset which then allowed to them to take in the experience of an Olympic yacht race.

A recent exhibit at the Auckland Museum also revealed how VR headsets can augment the individual experience, this time as an opportunity to interactively look at both the past and the future. At a display celebrating 75 years of Air New Zealand, attendees were able to don a VR headset and gain a first-hand view of what the company sees as the future of air travel.

These events are just two of many examples where VR headsets are able to expand the way people experience what organisations have to offer, opening up a unique and engaging communication channel.

What jobs are supported by these VR trends?

The fact that VR is being supported by a diverse range of companies and consumers is good news for people seeking IT jobs who are intrigued by the new technology. While in some sectors VR headsets are just a way to augment the video gaming experience – a source for job opportunities in and of itself – the fact that there is diversity to the market is encouraging.

Sticking with video games for a second, this a likely to be a source of software development roles for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Companies like Oculus and Sony need flagship games to entice consumers into buying the product
  • Headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR work with smartphones, demanding a whole set of apps and functionalities.
  • Many existing games are having VR support patched in, requiring new skills and support services.

Outside of this industry, a number of development, support and training roles exists to ensure the growth trajectories IDC predicted actually have a chance of becoming a reality. In some cases, these roles simply involve people recontextualising existing skills and technical abilities for VR projects.

The rise of VR is further proof of the IT industry's ability to offer unique job opportunities in revolutionary fields. Whether you want to turn your favourite video game into an immersive VR experience or help give museum-goers an even deeper insight into history, an IT role could offer that vital first step

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