On the second day of #smilelondon 2016, icandi CQ attended an introduction to virtual reality for business, hosted by Paulo Tosolini.

Paulo previously led new media initiatives at Microsoft and is now the founder of a Seattle-based digital agency, Tosolini Productions, specialising in business storytelling through emerging technologies. He also works extensively with Microsoft supporting them in using virtual reality in their marketing and internal communication mix.

We kicked the workshop off with an introduction to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In a nutshell, VR is a realistic and immersive simulation of a 3D environment – perfect for training and marketing in the real estate, tourism, healthcare and manufacturing environments. AR is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real-time (think Pokemon Go) – perfect for B2B marketing and for industries like banking where there is a need to enhance financial trading and data visualisation.

Following the theory, we got to play.

First, we explored 360 photos with the Ricoh Theta. We were impressed. (Tip: why not consider a 360 photo booth at your next staff event?)

We then looked at some great examples of 360 video and got to explore the various head-mounted displays currently available. Including the Oculus Rift and Hololens – had lots of fun experiencing the technology hands on.

Paulo then shared various case studies with us. Most interesting was looking at how he used 3D scans to capture environments and then showcasing how 3D virtual tours change how audiences explore environments. From engaging with new recruits, taking users into dangerous environments they couldn’t easily be exposed to, to exploring tourist attractions and real estate.

Other interesting learnings included how VR is providing the healthcare industry with surgery simulation, 360 video training, guided meditation and treatment for PTSD; and how in manufacturing, training, product development and product testing is being enhanced through VR.

Finally, in less than 30 minutes, we all got the opportunity to create an interactive VR experience featuring photo spheres, images and text captions. It was amazing how simple and easy it is for anyone to dabble in VR. To view our ‘masterpieces’, we each received our own set of virtual reality glasses – Homido Mini VR Glasses (the sexier version of Google cardboard!)

So, lots of playing, learning and exploring, but, what were the key takeouts? Well the pros are that VR and AR is becoming more affordable and provides a platform for immersive and authentic storytelling in business. The cons are that it requires hardware, it’s still uncomfortable for some and the perception is that it’s most effective for gaming. In business, VR and AR certainly still has a long way to go. While companies like Microsoft are using VR and AR in their marketing and internal communication mix, our sense is that adoption – especially locally – will still take some time. The hurdle is for the decision-makers to see the power that lies within VR, AR and mixed reality – and more importantly how it can impact the bottom line. Certainly a space communicators and marketers need to be exploring and understanding, in order to build the case to get leadership support and in order to be relevant in the future.