Why VR is still in its infancy in the Middle East

Glesni Holland by Glesni Holland - March 27th, 2017

Some believed that last year was set to be virtual reality’s time to shine, yet its adoption with consumers and enterprises alike only took tentative steps. CNME looks beyond the hype, and explores how this technology could create business value for enterprises in the Middle East.

The term ‘virtual reality’ may seem an oxymoron to some; a phenomenon with promise that has yet to materialise into its full potential. While the technology has been making waves in the gaming and science fiction space, it hasn’t yet found its place in the enterprise just yet, at least not in the Middle East.

In the region, this could be down to the fact that VR applications require a strong 5G infrastructure, which is not set to debut in the UAE until 2020. “In the long term, virtual reality will be the biggest game-changer, but it is still in its infancy in the Middle East,” says Hichem Maya, head of industries, SAP MENA. “This is due in part to the 5G infrastructure needed, combined with the levels of staff and customer training. Still, we are already seeing a growing number of organisations using virtual reality to train employees in complex environments, such as warehouses and logistics, which will be essential as the UAE continues to be a global ports and logistics hub.”

Although it is far from ubiquitous, VR has still impacted a variety of industries in numerous ways.

“In the short term, augmented reality will provide the real business value, especially in retail.”  Hichem Maya, head of industries, SAP MENA

Healthcare

A recent study by the Medical Research Council at the University of Oxford tested the effectiveness of using VR technology to combat schizophrenia. Patients were encouraged to drop their defences and try to fully learn that they were safe by approaching the computer characters shown in the VR, and holding long stares or standing toe-to-toe with the avatars. The patients who fully lowered their defences showed substantial reductions in their paranoid delusions, with over 50 percent of the group no longer having severe paranoia at the end of the testing day. This positive response has planted the seed for VR technology to be used to treat a variety of anxiety issues, including post-traumatic stress.

In addition to treating mental illnesses, VR has also been adopted for training purposes to tackle physical ailments. ‘The Virtual Surgeon’ by UK-based company Medical Realities, combines a 360-degree video with 3D and interactive content, and puts you inside the operating theatre, overseeing an operation through the eyes of the surgeon. The learning programme was developed for head mounted displays, such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR.

Similarly, a team of researchers in the Human Interface Technology (HIT) department of the UK’s University of Birmingham have created an augmented reality scenario which recreates the experience of a military medic carrying out a resuscitation aboard a helicopter — complete with background machine gun fire and turbulence for the trainee to battle with.

Banking

With advancements in mobile technology and mobile payments continuing to evolve at a rapid pace, banks and fintech companies looking to drive efficiency are letting go of the branch model to deliver a focused and effective virtual bank.

While there are certain financial issues that many would prefer to discuss with a face-to-face in a branch scenario, rather than via a chatbot on a virtual banking app, research by the Collinson Group suggests that views are changing.

The 2016 study found that affluent middle class customers in the UAE are more likely to interact with their bank using digital channels than ever before. 83 percent of the surveyed customers use banking and finance apps – up from 36 percent in 2014, and just 26 percent prefer to go into a branch.

As demonstrated by the latest Emirates NBD release of a millennial focused digital banking app (see page 24) – with no branch attached to it – the younger generation are pushing companies to innovate faster, and are redefining traditional customer expectations.

Pokémon gone

While it may have used augmented reality (AR) as opposed to VR, there was no hype quite like that of the global phenomenon, Pokémon Go. But since launching in July and soaring in popularity, it had lost at least a third of its daily users by mid-August. By mid-September, daily revenues had fallen from $16m per day to $2m, and daily downloads had declined from a peak of 27 million to 700,000.

In a nutshell, the reason for this was because developers did not introduce new elements quickly enough to prevent players from getting bored. The launch version of the app contained simplistic mechanisms that made the battle feature between Pokémons seem basic, and it did not contain strong enough mechanisms to enable players to interact with others in real-time.

However, while this form of AR may have witnessed a worldwide craze quickly followed by a steep slump in appeal, Maya believes that AR over VR adoption may in fact be the way forward for businesses at this stage. “In the short term, augmented reality will provide the real business value, especially in retail,” he says. “For example, customers can use augmented reality apps or glasses to try out new furniture in their own homes. Demonstrating the retail potential, one recent industry report predicts that 100 million customers will shop in augmented reality by 2020.”

Both VR and AR fiddle with our reality; AR enhances it, but VR diverts us from it, by completely immersing the consumer in an alternative world inside their headset. As demonstrated by the examples of its uses in healthcare, it can be particularly useful for training purposes when the employee needs complete focus. However, sometimes this ability to fully switch off from the outside world can also act as VR’s main weakness, as that is not a real life situation, and being unaware of your surroundings in a workplace on a day-to-day basis would simply not allow you to succeed. VR is undoubtedly a powerful way to experience content, but is not yet practical for interacting in the real world.




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