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VR Applications: Key Industries already using Virtual Reality

March 21, 2024 - Sophie Thompson

Often the news around VR focuses heavily on gaming but VR and XR are going to shape our future in so many more ways than purely entertainment. From healthcare to real estate, recruitment, and education, this article covers 23 industries already using VR – and this is just the start.

For anyone who isn’t quite up to speed with VR, here’s a very brief definition: VR is the term used to describe a computer-generated environment that someone can explore and interact with. A user is immersed in the environment and the brain is basically tricked into thinking what someone is seeing in the virtual world is real.

1. Automotive industry

VR allows engineers and designers to experiment easily with the look and build of a vehicle before commissioning expensive prototypes. Companies such as Honda, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) been using VR for years to hold design and engineering reviews, prompted by the pandemic to find new alternatives to traditional clay models.

VR is saving the automotive industry millions in man hours and material, by reducing the number of prototypes built per vehicle line and opening up the design process to a global workforce.

JLR are using VR to hold engineering reviews earlier in the vehicle development process.

JLR are using VR to hold engineering reviews earlier in the vehicle development process.

2. Healthcare

VR is making a significant impact in healthcare. In November 2021, the FDA approved prescription-use EaseVRx for the treatment of pain reduction in adults. The system uses cognitive behavioral therapy and other behavioral principles such as deep relaxation, attention-shifting, interoceptive awareness, and others, to aid in the reduction of chronic pain. VR has even been used as pain relief for burn injuries.

Healthcare professionals can use VR to better prepare themselves for being in the operating theater – whether as a junior doctor explaining diagnoses and treatment plans, or an orthopedic surgeon performing surgery. Companies like Osso VR enable surgeons to interact with medical devices in VR and practice surgery on virtual bodies, helping to increase familiarity with new devices and proficiency in implanting them. Moreover, companies like Altoida are trying to leverage XR and machine learning to develop digital biomarkers for neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. This technology platform offers earlier diagnosis, facilitates clinical trial participation, and enables precise monitoring of disease progression and treatment responses.

VR can also be used as a treatment for mental health issues, with Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy thought to be particularly effective in the treatment of PTSD and anxiety. There are many other ways spending time in VR can have therapeutic benefits.

Osso VR provide a surgical training and assessment tool

Osso VR provide a surgical training and assessment tool.

3. Retail

The way we shop online is set to drastically change with ‘the metaverse’. With VR retail experiences and body-scanning technology, we will be able to try on clothes in the virtual world to see what they’d look like in person. Not only is this a time-effective experience for shoppers, but it’s also more sustainable because customers will know before they order whether the item fits their shape and size, reducing the environmental cost of production and shipping fast fashion.

Various companies are attempting to bring us the VR shopping experience, including the European retailer ASOS, who invested in software development company Trillenium. Fashion houses like Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY were also amongst the brands that took part in the second annual Metaverse Fashion Week in March 2023.

Brands like Ralph Lauren and Gucci have also worked with VR Studio Emperia to make bespoke, virtual store environments for high end customers to browse their collection.

Ralph Lauren virtual store, designed by Emperia

Ralph Lauren virtual store, designed by Emperia.

4. Tourism

The global pandemic and lockdowns accelerated a lot of developments in virtual travel, with many missing the freedom to travel to different countries, visit world-famous landmarks, and experience a glimpse into another culture.

Imagine being able to experience a guided tour of Barcelona or Budapest from your home in California or Singapore. With VR, you can do just that. You can even take a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh from anywhere in the world!

In the post-Covid era, the developments in VR for tourism enable you to try a holiday before you buy it. Thomas Cook launched their ‘Try Before You Fly‘ VR experience all the way back in 2015, where potential holidaymakers could visit stores in various countries to experience the holiday in VR before booking it. As a result, there was a 190% uplift in New York excursions bookings after people tried the 5-minute version of the holiday in VR.

VR Expeditions 2.0 is another way tourism can become more accessible, with hundreds of virtual field trips available. From Rome’s Colosseum to coral reefs, and the surface of Mars, users can travel the world from the comfort of their own home.

Google Expeditions - great wall of China

5. Real estate

If you’d prefer to stay closer to home, you can look around properties from the comfort of your [existing] home – no estate agent appointments or sacrificing your weekend needed.

Companies like Matterport are leading the way for people to explore houses online and get a ‘feel’ for the space, saving time looking rounds places that might be smaller, darked, or otherwise not what you expected. This way, you can focus your time viewing only the properties you’re most likely to love in person.

Besides, some companies like Stucco are using VR for home staging. This doesn’t only save costs but also allows real state agents to use different interior design styles depending on the client’s preferences.

Matterport 3D camera produces realistic scanning of buildings which you can then visit in VR

Matterport 3D camera produces realistic scanning of buildings which you can then visit in VR.

6. Architecture

VR is gradually changing the way that architects design and experiment with their work. VR makes it possible to see not just what a building or space will look like but how it will feel.

For example, if someone was looking to add an extension to their property, they can experience the space and what it will look like before it’s physically built and then make real-time changes. This saves the customer and architect time and money, as well as increasing satisfaction on completion of the project.

Architects have been using 3D models for years but using immersive tools allows them to understand and explore the space at the deepest level possible. The BBC even have a TV show in the UK, Your Home Made Perfect, built on two rival architects showcasing designs to homeowners in VR, before they’re built in reality.

7. Interior design

It’s not just the structure of your home that’s getting a makeover in VR. You can now use immersive experiences to mimic the interior design too. Companies like Flipspaces are capitalizing on this, providing users with 3D visualizations of the interior of their home or workspace – from lighting to ventilation, color schemes, and products themselves.

Platforms like this don’t just help designers and homeowners visualize the look and feel of a property- they also have the potential to drive direct sales for furniture companies like Ikea.

8. Gambling

Fancy yourself as a poker pro? You can play multiplayer poker in VR with Vegas Infinite, formerly Pokerstars VR. It’s just like being in a real casino where you can talk to other players and read their body language. You can plan poker, blackjack, roulette, and slots against real opponents and be in with the chance of winning money prizes.

9. Learning and development

The training industry has started to embrace the opportunities VR learning brings, with companies like Bank of America sourcing 10,000 headsets, and Walmart offering VR training to its 1mn employees.

With VR, people can learn through experience in a risk-free space; it’s consistent, affordable, and scales. VirtualSpeech, for example, provides VR training for soft skills such as public speaking, active listening, and sales. They blend e-learning with practice in VR and online simulations, enabling learners to build their confidence and skills in VR environments, from meeting rooms to auditoriums.

With the experiential learning VR brings, VR training significantly increases learning retention levels PwC infamously did a study on the effectiveness of VR learning for soft skills, and found people learnt up to 4 times faster in VR.

Practice communication skills with Virtualspeech

Learn and practice communication skills with VirtualSpeech.

10. Recruitment

Lloyds Banking Group became the first organization in the UK to introduce VR exercises to assess graduates for its 2017 intake. In the future, VR could be used to assess key skills required for a job such as decision making, for job interviews, and could even replace assessment days altogether by bringing candidates together in the metaverse.

This would save both the employer and potential employee time and cost in the interview process, and even attract higher quality candidates, as Deutsche Bahn has found.

11. Entertainment

VR is being used in the entertainment industry to heighten experiences with 360 films (Examples on YouTube) and increase emotional connection with the characters or film itself. Disney Movies VR, for example, takes the user to red carpet events and to an interview with ‘The Jungle Book’ cast.

VR could also revolutionize the way that media content is made, as companies like Flipside XR have shown. Flipside provides real-time animation and motion capture, enabling creators to built interactive animated shows or live stream animated performances via VR or more traditional channels YouTube, Twitch or Facebook live.

12. Education

VR is revolutionizing education by enabling students to learn in an immersive, experiential way, from anywhere in the world. VR provides the opportunity to democratize education by opening up opportunities to students of all backgrounds, which may not have been possible before. For example, Victory XR has partnered with Engage to provide digital twin campuses to enable students to learn in live, interactive classes from the brightest minds in the world. Another example of VR in Education is the RTC Antwerpen project, the largest XR education initiative to date, which will equip 150K students across 690 schools with immersive learning opportunities.

Other companies like Tech Row enable students to go on a space mission to Pluto, explore Antarctica, and experience the wonders of Machu Picchu. Field trips to the Colosseum and Ancient Rome can be completed from the classroom, and you can even be taken on a journey of the human body as a white blood cell!

Morehouse College Campus in VictoryXR

Morehouse College Campus in VictoryXR.

13. Sports

The way that we watch sports is already changing, with several VR companies specializing in watching live sports events. You can now watch the NBA, NFL, and other events in VR. BT Sport broadcasted the UEFA Champions League final in 360 degree VR via YouTube and the BT VR app, all for free. You could watch the game from several viewpoints in the stadium, as if you were actually there.

Companies such as Big Screen VR enable people to watch the Superbowl together in VR, and NBC announced it will live stream the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in VR, as well as provide highlights for some of the events in VR. You can even host a ‘virtual Olympics watch party‘ if that’s your kind of thing.

This is a great way of opening up live sports events to people who can’t travel to the venue or can’t afford tickets to watch the sports in person. Instead, they can get a sense of atmosphere and presence from VR.

14. Art and design

With VR, you don’t just create life-size artwork – you can be in it. You can actually step into your image and come out the other side. The most well-known application for creating art in VR is Tiltbrush and it’s amazing what some people have managed to paint in it. You can also draw, sculpt, create and animate virtual 3D models and sculptures with Masterpiece Studio.

One of VR artist Anna Zhilyaeva's incredible pieces of art, created with Tiltbrush

One of VR artist Anna Zhilyaeva’s incredible pieces of art, created with Tiltbrush.

15. Events, conferences and meetings

Since VR enables individuals to meet in places virtually, it’s no surprise that the pandemic brought a rise in VR events, conferences, and meetings. Platforms such as  Remio VR, Rec Room, and Horizon Workrooms can be used to hold collaborative, interactive meetings with colleagues from anywhere in the world.

You can put on your headset in London, and meet virtually with your colleagues in New York and Madrid, and connect and work with them as if you were all in the same room. With collaboration tools such as whiteboards and freehand 3D drawings, they help remote or hybrid meetings become as good as face-to-face meetings, without the time and cost needed to travel.

Some people are using VR for networking and events. Educators in VR regularly host events in VR on topics including cyberbullying, storytelling, and language learning, which are available to attend in VR or desktop. By bringing people together in VR, attendees can immerse themselves in the topic and virtual space, and build stronger connections with each other compared to events via traditional video conferencing tools.

16. Fitness

When we first wrote this article in 2017, VR fitness wasn’t a thing – we originally had 21 industries using VR and fitness wasn’t one of them. Now, VR fitness apps are some of the most downloaded and used VR apps available, allowing you to upgrade and socialize your home workout.

Two of the most popular VR fitness apps are Supernatural and Fit XR. With FitXR, for example, you join an immersive fitness club with new classes added each day, including boxing, dance, and HIIT. You can even take part in the classes live with your friends to make your workout even more fun, and mimic the social interaction of traditional gym classes. Another use case of VR in fitness is wearing the headset while being on a static bike. Apps like Vzfit and Holofit allow you to bike through real locations or virtual worlds from the comfort of your own home.

17. Wellbeing

With the rise in popularity for wellness and meditation, it’s not surprising that, yes you guessed it, you can now meditate in VR too. TRIPP are paving the way for calmer minds in VR with over 40 meditations, breath visualization, and visual landscapes.

Available for VR, and coming soon for AR as well, they claim to be a ‘fitness solution for your inner self’, and what’s more calming then escaping reality and immersing yourself into a calmer physical space?

Wellbeing in VR

18. Social

VR enables people to meet in the same virtual space from anywhere in the world. Once in VR, or ‘the metaverse’, people can visit virtual cinemas, restaurants, beaches, concerts, and more together.

There are several big players already building social communities in the VR space, including Meta’s Horizon Worlds and AltspaceVR. Horizon Worlds not only enables people to explore virtual worlds together, but they can create immersive content too, including VR spaces specifically for their friends and colleagues.

Horizon Worlds, Meta's social VR app

Horizon Worlds, Meta’s social VR app

19. Charity

One of the best things about the rise of VR is its ability to evoke empathy. This makes it extremely valuable to charities as it can be used to increase understanding of an issue by experiencing it either in the first person or as a bystander to specific situations.

People are more likely to be moved to action when they are immersed in a situation, they would otherwise not be able to relate to, or come close to experiencing. For example, in 2015, Unicef used the video ‘Clouds Over Sidra‘ to double their donations towards their work with the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Another example of this is the “A walk through dementia” VR experience. Created by Alzheimer Research UK, this experience walks users through the heartbreaking reality of what having Alzheimer’s is like.

20. Marketing

Marketing is becoming more and more about how companies make customers feel so utilizing the immersion of VR seems like a natural extension. From Topshop providing fashionistas with a front row at London Fashion Week with a VR headset, to Tom’s shoes taking customers on a trip through Peru to show where each pair of shoes they donate goes to, the heightened sense of connection through VR is sure to make you remember and connect with these brands.

VR marketing is also becoming popular for universities to create virtual campus tours of universities. Princeton, Yale, and Columbia have all tried this out as a way for more students to be able to see their campus.

21. Recreation

Many real-life hobbies are now available in VR, and the immersive, social experience makes them all the more enjoyable and accessible. If you’re a fan of cultural activities, you can visit museums such as the Natural History Museum in London or if you’re into sports, you can play golf or football in VR.

If you’re more of a thrill-seeker, you can head to Guizhou in China to VR Star Theme Park, where there are over 40 VR rides.

VR Star Park in Guizhou, China

VR Star Park in Guizhou, China.

22. Law enforcement

As with the military, police forces are using AR and VR tools from companies like VirTra to train personnel in simulated scenarios complete with visual, auditory, and physical stimuli (ranging from barking dogs and street noise to the recoil of discharging a weapon).

The technologies even enable police forces to escalate or de-escalate trainees’ simulated interactions with individuals inside the virtual training environments, helping learners practice making judgment calls and critical decisions under stress.

A group of University of Alabama researchers had collaborated with law enforcement officials to measure brain waves during VR police training. One of the lead researchers said the work may “improve training of officers and positively affect the hiring process.”

Law enforcement using VR to train

23. News and journalism

You can now watch news stories and documentaries in VR. The New York Times has already entered this space, and it’s only a matter of time before other media outlets join them. In the NYT VR app, you can experience stories rather than just listen to them, as if you were standing opposite the journalist where the story is happening.

VR is likely to influence your workplace, hobbies and social life in the future – and that’s sooner than you may think. The possibilities of VR are endless; the only things we can’t replace in VR are eating and sleeping… for now.