by Zeus Kerravala

CIOs pay attention: VR and AR are about to disrupt your industry

Nov 10, 2017
Collaboration SoftwareEmerging TechnologySmall and Medium Business

Nvidiau2019s Holodeck shows how virtual and augmented reality can improve collaboration and speed up business decisions. Companies must get on board or be left behind.

nvidia holodeck with koenisegg car
Credit: Nvidia

Earlier this year, Nvidia unveiled its Holodeck. The product is a virtual world in which all of the laws of physics apply, so images cast shadows, objects experience gravity and objects act as they should.

If you’re a Trekkie like me, you’re likely familiar with the Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is one significant difference between the Star Trek Holodeck and Nvidia’s. In the TV show, the crew often used the virtual world to get away from their jobs, whereas Nvidia created its Holodeck to help people do their jobs better.

Last week, Nvidia held its GTC event in Washington, D.C., and I had the opportunity to experience Holodeck in person. As an analyst, I get to try lots of cool technology, and this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. So, I thought I would share the experience. 

The Nvidia Holodeck experience

To enter the Holodeck, I put on a pair of virtual reality glasses and was handed two joysticks. When I entered the “room,” I was joined by two other people and a very high-end Koenigsegg car. One of the first things I noticed was how detailed the environment was. For example, the light cast shadows, so if the manufacturer wanted to see how the paint job looked in direct sunlight versus low light, that’s possible. 

In addition to being able to look around at the virtual environment, I could interact with people and the car in the following ways: 

  • Teleportation capabilities. Using one of the joysticks, I was able to point anywhere in the room and instantly teleport there. I could walk to any point, as well, but teleportation is faster and more space efficient. The virtual car was full size, so without teleportation capabilities the physical area would have to be large enough to house the car and have enough room for people to walk around. This isn’t hard to do with a car, but it would be a problem for larger items. The teleportation capabilities extended into the car, as well, so I could stand in the middle of it and look at the layout of the instrument panel, seat design, or anything else down to the color of the floor mats.
  • Interact with items. One of the most amazing things about the virtual Koenisegg is that it isn’t one solid object. It’s actually “built” using virtual instances of the real car parts. In the Holodeck, I was able to manipulate an item, such as grab the hood of the car “lift” it off to look at it. I could also rotate it, flip it over and look at it from any angle. This can be useful in the product design process or for troubleshooting problems. I could also use the controls on the joysticks to change the colors of certain items, so if I wanted to change the hood from orange to red, I could do that and then replace it. There’s also a magnification tool that let me zoom in on anything in the Holodeck for a closer look.
  • “Exploding” the car. With one click of the button on the joystick, I could explode the car, which is VR speak for separate it into its individual components. I could then walk into the middle of the parts and inspect each one. I didn’t try this, but I’m guessing I could replace parts with alternative ones and then rebuild the car and see what impact the change had.
  • Air writing. One of the tools in the Holodeck toolkit was a pencil that lets you write in the air in any color. I could do fun things like write “hello” to the other participants in the Holodeck, but that’s not too useful. A better use case I found was to use it to highlight things. For example, I could draw an arrow and point to the door if I wanted someone to look at something on it. In theory, I could have left a note like “door handle needs to be moved.” The different colors could be used to indicate levels of severity. For example, items circled red could indicate “look at now,” and yellow could be “check later.” We did have the ability to talk to each other in the Holodeck, but we could use drawing tools to leave notes for the next team that comes in.
  • Virtual white board. All collaborative teams need the ability to roll up their sleeves and do some white boarding — whether they are in the physical or virtual world. This is no problem in the Holodeck because a virtual white board can be brought up and written on. This might be useful in brainstorming or if re-designing something. One possible use case is for a home designer to white board a layout and then change the layout on a white board before it is created in Holodeck.

VR helps you work faster, spend less money

We are in the era of digital transformation, and businesses need to move fast. This means bringing the right people together to collaborate and make a decision faster than the competition. Working with physical items, such as furniture, a car, jet engine or anything else can be a long, expensive process.

For example, if Koenisegg wanted to see how the car responds in a crash, it would have had to build a test lab and actually crash the car. Because all the rules of physics apply in the Holodeck, this can be done virtually and the tests repeated quickly. This has the downside of putting crash test dummies out of work, but it is faster and far less expensive.

If you’re wondering when the Holodeck might be available for commercial use, it just went into early access in October, so it’s likely a few years away from being something all businesses can purchase. But you can sign up for the beta.

My first experience with it was more than positive. It highlights how collaboration will change as we blend the physical and virtual worlds together.

I know many CIOs have struggled to understand how VR fits into the workplace. They need to get past that because virtual, augmented and mixed reality are quickly becoming something that can change how we work and interact with “things,” particularly connected ones. If you’re investigating it now, push forward. If you aren’t, get going or your company will quickly fall behind its competitors.