Virtual reality and 360-video have the power to fulfill dreams.

Case in point: Vital Zinger is an accomplished lawyer, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a member of the Israeli national Wheelchair DanceSport team – a form of competitive dancing where one of the participants is in a wheelchair.  Yet despite her many achievements, one ambition has so far eluded her: deep-sea diving.

Last month, I showed her a virtual reality experience that simulates diving in the waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and it blew her mind.

“It was unreal,” she said, a little teary-eyed, after taking off the Google Daydream VR device. “I felt like I was actually there.” 

Vital was one of many participants who took part in the ROI Summit earlier this month, a gathering of young leaders and professionals from around the world organized by the Schusterman Foundation.

Over the past two years, I’ve created virtual reality experiences for a range of companies around the world as part of my production company. My goal at the conference was twofold: to evangelize the potential of VR 360 to showcase a place or a product; and to show participants themselves how easy it is for them to create such themselves.

To promote Vital’s DanceSport career, I suggested she start with an inexpensive camera. A simple Ricoh Theta or Samsung 360 would do. With that, she could do a VR 360 shoot that put viewers in her seat at a performance. If posted on social media like Facebook and YouTube, that video would reach a far greater audience and leave a deeper impression than regular video.  

Where is VR 360 Going to Be Used?

There were many other use cases at the conference where a small investment of time and money in VR 360 could make a big difference. Here are a few examples:

Tourism: Borsca Lemberger-Lakos, who works as a tour guide in Budapest, Hungary, was excited to learn how 360-video might help advertise her services over social media. Travel is one of the most common use cases for 360-video today. Tourism boards across the globe are creating video experiences aimed at drawing visitors. So are many hotel chains and online booking agencies. While relatively well-established, there’s a lot of room for growth in the travel industry. Over the next couple years, we’re likely to see this medium start to influence how and where people travel.

Theatre: Eric Gershman of Disney On Broadway is already well versed with VR 360. In 2015, his company  , the biggest grossing Broadway production of all-time. So far, the experience has attracted 1.6 million views on YouTube. Without a doubt, theatre represents a huge opportunity for this technology. It delivers the spectacle of sitting in a theatre much better than watching a TV screen. One can easily envision how a VR app showing, say, the opening numbers of musicals, might engage thespians in new ways, help reach audiences far beyond the theatre centers of the world and create opportunities for selling tickets, merchandise or VOD viewing. Broadway has clearly taken note of this medium.

Advocacy: If you’re an advocacy group or relief agency working in a far away or dangerous places, one of the biggest difficulties is communicating the urgency of your message to decision makers and donors. That’s why since VR 360 emerged, many of the first significant experiences created were for human rights groups. At the ROI conference, several human rights representatives discussed their interest in creating 360-degree video experiences. One was keen to live stream events in 360 to help bring audiences on separate continents together. Another wanted to highlight her NGO’s work in Africa. In the near future, every advocacy group working in an inaccessible part of the world will have a presence in this medium. Those who act fast can still reap some of the benefits of being early adopters.

Healthcare: Psychologist Lior Bitton – co-founder of Headspace, a youth-at-risk engagement organization — was interested in hearing about potential applications for VR in the mental health industry. Having read around the subject, I was able to share that Professor Daniel Freeman from the University of Oxford, together with the writer Jason Freeman, had recently completed an overview of how VR is being used to treat mental illness. I’ve spoken to many hospitals and medical professionals who are exploring ways of using VR 360 to train doctors, raise donations and attract patients. While still early, VR can really be a game changer in the medical industry.

Museums: Many cultural institutions around the world are experimenting with VR 360. Tamar Berliner, the Deputy Director at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum, for instance, is involved in promoting augmented, virtual and mixed realities (AR, VR, and MR). Speaking at the ROI conference, she said such audio-visual experiences could help reconstruct destroyed or partially destroyed exhibits, and tell their story in new and innovative ways that will bring history to life, engage visitors both young and old, and thrill museum goers. The Tower of David Museum is even opening an innovation lab where developers will come up with ways of utilizing AR, VR and MR in museum spaces. With many other venerable museums like the British Museum and Franklin Institute also investing heavily in this technology, it’s likely to become an integral part of any museum-going experience in the near future.

The Future of VR 360

Trends in VR 360 platforms

Clearly these are still early days for VR 360. What some technologists might consider old hat is still a revelation for many. As numbers published by The Economist last month show, sales of VR devices are steadily growing. Over the next couple of years, bottlenecks for creating, hosting, delivering and consuming VR content will clear, and usage is likely to grow exponentially. As I tried to demonstrate to participants at the ROI Summit, early adopters will be in an excellent position to leverage this exciting new medium. Now is the time to embrace this medium.

Interested in learning more about VR? Watch the webinar “VR and the Future of Video.”

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