Virtual reality hasn't exactly revolutionized the video game industry, like many predicted it would. The chicken-and-egg problem of a small user base and few compelling software titles, along with the fact that the physical weight of top-tier headsets discourages users from multi-hour sessions, has cooled some of the excitement.
But as that momentum has slowed, VR has found a new growth area, one that's expanding faster than anyone imagined: corporate training facilities.
"We find that [drivers] are ... learning the verbiage much faster, and its the same verbiage they have to use when out on the road with their supervisor," said Laura Collings, training manager at UPS. "Virtual reality has unlimited possibilities. We're looking at every opportunity we can right now."
UPS uses HTC Vive VR headsets to help drivers spot potential hazards when 'driving' down a virtual road. It's a training exercise that previously involved a touchscreen, but the company realized that in using that tool, it was sending the message that it was OK for drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel.
The training takes place in the company's 11 Integrad driver-training facilities around the world. Over a five-day period, new drivers are taught in a classroom setting, given demonstrations, then put in a VR environment. Since adding the VR component, the retention rate has climbed to 75 percent.
"You can train people faster, and people learn faster in a VR environment," said Collings.
Canada's Queens University and SimforHealth are counting on that as well. The two recently paired with HTC to open a VR training facility for medical students, letting them get experience in an environment where mistakes won't be fatal to patients. The facility will open in January 2019.
"Virtual reality offers exciting ... opportunities for us to realistically simulate a wide range of clinical situations," said Dr. Dan Howes, director of the Queen's Faculty of Health Sciences Clinical Simulation Center. "We want learners to make all their beginner mistakes in the virtual environment, not on real patients."
The facility's first scenario has students taking care of a virtual patient suffering from chest pains. To save him, they have to follow the right steps and order the right tests. The 8,000-sq.-ft. facility will eventually be used for other scenarios, including postgraduate training.