The Virtual Reality Onslaught and What it Means For You

Arthur Nazarian (MBA '16)

     Some of your classmates may have touted an exciting first term course titled, “Disruptive Technologies”

taught by the venerable Professor “Uncle Don” Greenberg, Cornell’s internationally recognized pioneer in computer

graphics. Besides being a leading proponent of interdisciplinary learning bringing together students across

Cornell’s many colleges, Professor Greenberg spent a semester teaching students about the technological, economic

and behavioral forces that bring about technological disruptions throughout history (hint: they’ll come sooner than

you expect and faster than your bosses believe). The last module focused on Virtual Reality, and with Samsung

launching its Gear VR this November at a low $100 price-point, powered by Facebook-acquired Oculus Rift, it

would be wise to pay some due attention to this emerging disruptive technology to think about how it may affect

your personal lives, your careers and the many industries it will surely affect.

 

     So what is Virtual Reality? Virtual Reality is an immersive form of multimedia that combines many different

technologies touching many senses in order to simulate physical presence in a digital setting. Many technology

firms are investing heavily in Virtual Reality guaranteeing this as-of-yet unfelt impact, from semiconductors to

hardware makers to core VR software and integration firms, with firms like Microsoft working on Minecraft

and Hololens, Sony on PlayStation VR, HTC and Valve on their Vive-Lighthouse combo, and Google on

StreetView, Cardboard, and Magic Leap, in conjunction with many of the VC houses (see Augmented Reality). The

race to the front of the pack is on, and with the market size estimated around $150 billion, competition is strong

with these firms and the many startups hoping to carve out a piece of the pie. Besides the obvious application to

the gaming industry, which is the leading source of early adopters, the potential applications are enormous with

possibilities extending to big impacts upon education, medicine, business services, sports and entertainment, and

tourism.

 

     Looking within Cornell, just imagine: students from Beijing, Mexico City, and NYTech taking Ithaca-based

Johnson classes from their homes or local facilities. Or, imagine a world class surgeon operating on a patient in

Iraq with the help of robotic technology; or, imagine every American being able to ‘sit’ on the sidelines of the

SuperBowl or Worldcup simulating the realistic experience being there on the 50-yard line, or touring the Great

Sphinx of Giza. Let’s take the real estate industry as a more in-depth example. While VR may affect different

industries in unique ways, in the real estate industry, we can identify two broad forms of impact Virtual Reality will

have: 1) shortening product development cycles, and 2) increasing power of online marketplaces by extending the

ability for digital marketers to guide consumers through the sales and marketing funnel through to the point of

sale. For a first case example, we can see applications for architects and developers through VR simulations of

architectural plan renderings while buildings are still in design and planning, which facilitates the design process,

reduces development errors and quickens feedback loops. For a second case example, consider the real estate

search experience: VR will undeniably alter the sales cycle time and relationship between sellers, buyers, and

the brokerages or marketplaces that facilitate the housing market. As a buyer, renter, or seller, imagine being able

to virtually ‘visit’ all the homes on your filtered search within a single day and only having to visit one or two

in person before making your decision to place your bid or deposit. For the VR powered marketplaces or

brokerages, the impact on conversion rates will be dramatic, raising rates through increased bargaining power for

sales and leads and accelerating the traditional brokerage model’s transformation online.

 

     To really feel the immediacy and urgency of Virtual Reality, just download one of the rudimentary 3D gaming apps on

your iPhone and buy or borrow a friend’s Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR headset. You will immediately begin to

see and feel how the world around you is already changing. As Larry Page once said, “People tend to overestimate the impact

of technology in the short-term, yet underestimate the scale of change longer term.” So, become prepared and take a moment

to consider how Virtual Reality may affect you and the industries you may be considering entering, as well as the

wider ramifications on society, the economy, and the environment.