Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Selling presence (part 2) – objects, content and products

January 25, 2017

In my last blog post, I introduced some of the advantages and drawbacks of Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality, which will ultimately affect the adoption of these exciting new technologies. I introduced ‘6 Differentiators’ that give immersive technologies the edge over existing 2D solutions. Please take a moment to read the original post to refresh your memory.


In this post I will examine the blue quadrant; “Objects, content and products“.

Spend any time working with immersive technologies and you will soon hear reference to the word ‘presence’, indeed many aficionados look on ‘achieving presence’ as the Holy Grail of VR. Wikipedia defines it as “a person’s subjective sensation of being there in a scene depicted by a medium, usually virtual in nature”.

In a seminal presentation entitled “What VR could, should, and almost certainly will be within two years” VR pioneer Michael Abrash examines this concept in much greater detail, stating that

“[presence is] one of the most powerful experiences you can have outside reality, precisely because it operates by engaging you along many of the same channels as reality. For some people, presence is simply magic”

Interestingly, Abrash’s session was filmed over three years ago and many of the predictions he made have now come true. That said, immersive experiences indistinguishable from reality are many, many years away (and he makes this clear). Each advancement in the enabling technologies makes the Holy Grail of ‘strong presence’ one step nearer and scientists such as Abrash are dedicated to ultimately achieving this goal.

This doesn’t mean that current immersive technologies are poor, in fact they excel in many applications.

If your mind can be tricked into believing something is there when it’s not, how can this be used? In which industries is this useful? Where are the opportunities?

We’ve broken the benefits into 4 (overlapping) categories; form, function, scale and creation.

  1. Form

Automotive companies exploit immersive technologies at several points in their value chains. Cars and machinery are particularly good subjects for VR, as modern 3D engines allow designs to be scrutinised with near photo-realistic levels of detail.

Take McLaren for example. In the video below, Operations Manager Mark Roberts describes how VR is now part of his team’s design review process

We can be walking around the virtual car and making very confident design decisions because we’ve got something that’s very, very believable

Chief Designer Robert Melville continues,

“[VR enables] a very interactive, more fluid, dynamic process, buying us more time and making the design process leaner, within the same amount of time we currently use. That clearly opens up more opportunity for innovation, more discussions with suppliers, better products and more advanced products to the market.”

Sales and marketing functions are making good use of the benefits of VR too. Audi, for example, plan to deploy VR-based car configurators across their showrooms.

If you can configure and walk around a believable virtual model of a car, scrutinizing and inspecting it from multiple angles, even sitting inside it, it follows that your customer experience will improve. You will get to see the exact product you want before delivery, allowing you to experiment with various trims and colour combinations, experiencing the car as a ‘real’ object, something that is lacking with even the best online configurators.

One final example from the automotive industry is Jaguar’s I-Pace Concept VR launch, which broke new ground in November 2016. Again, the benefits of immersion (and social presence) are very apparent.


  1. Function

Understanding and communicating how things work; whether digital, mechanical or organic has many benefits in a variety of industries. You can train staff, you can test, simulate and preview everything digitally in 3D, which in turn will improve the speed and quality of learning and experimentation.

To use healthcare as an example, human bodies are infinitely complex three-dimensional things and immersive technologies can help to show the physical form and interconnections which make us all function. Dale Park, co-founder of Biolucid explains,

I can walk around [the heart], I can see all the arteries in 3D. I can interact with it directly and cause changes in it. We can show when a valve becomes stenotic it doesn’t close completely, you can watch blood leaking through that valve as it’s pumping.

You could argue that this level of detail is possible with a traditional 2D videos, however the added interactivity and immersion can help patients and medical staff understand their ailments better and ultimately improve their health.

Another medical use case, from IRCAD, a French Cancer Research institute, demonstrates real-time scanning of a patient’s internal organs, overlaid over their physical body as a hologram. This ability to give users ‘X-Ray eyes’ is another capability which is hard to achieve using traditional 2D technologies.

It’s worth highlighting that healthcare applications for VR/AR are mostly early prototypes at the moment, however the market for these types of products, is expected to be huge, rising to over $5bn by 2025.

  1. Scale

If someone’s mind can be tricked into thinking something is there when it is not, it is possible to convey a sense of scale, to a high degree of accuracy. A good example of this property was recently demonstrated by NASA. They utilized Mixed Reality to design and test a new version of the Mars Rover.

In the video, the narrator shows that engineers can use an augmented model as a replacement for a physical object. Mixed Reality allows engineers to determine whether particular parts are accessible with their hands, or whether real components will actually fit on the machine. These kind of benefits would be very hard to achieve using traditional 2D technologies. NASA has gone on record as saying that Mixed Reality helps them “solve problems before they’re real” and if your problems occur in outer space then this is clearly preferable!

Other functions where scale can bring added value are warehousing, logistics, supply chain and packaging.

On the subject of scale, an anti-pattern has also emerged; tiny objects don’t work well in VR and neither does reading large amounts of text! VR headsets usually have a focal depth of around 1 metre, so focusing on anything closer to this can lead to significant eyestrain.

  1. Creation

There is a widespread misconception that VR is a solitary, passive experience. However the introduction of Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) for creating objects and content mean that the opposite is true. Building ‘stuff’ inside virtual environments is a relatively new experience, bringing with it huge opportunities for creativity and innovation.

Oculus and Google both have 3D content creation applications in Medium and Tiltbrush and there are a variety of games and tools which allow users to create content and media easily inside virtual environments.

In the following video you can clearly see how HTC Vive controllers are used just like a brush and palette. Although Tiltbrush is essentially a consumer product, similar tools are now being deployed in areas such as automotive, aerospace and industrial design.

This kind of creation capability also lends itself to real estate and interior design. In the video below, a room designer very quickly takes a floorplan and builds a 3D model of the environment, experimenting with furniture placement, colours and textures in real-time.

There’s a lot more to come on Natural User Interfaces in this series, so stay tuned!

Well that’s all for now. Hope it was an informative read. Next installment, we’ll be looking at immersive environments and simulations.

Leave a comment