VR Superstar?

03/17/2016

Blog post by SimGHOSTS UK Officer Chris Gay.

Anyone who's attended a SimGhosts Event in the last couple of years would have had opportunity to try the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset- and I’m sure they would have been impressed at how we (finally?) appear to have reached the point where the technology meets our expectations of what it should be able to do. This ‘reawakening’ of VR over the last few years gives us great opportunity to look at theories of technology use, how they apply to VR and how we as SimTech’s can play a pivotal role in successful technology use.

The Technology Life Cycle

The traditional technology life cycle can be split into four areas:

  1. Research and development
  2. Ascent 
  3. Maturity
  4. Decline

This closely aligns with the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle 

It could be said that VR has had several attempts at the life cycle, ending prematurely in the ascent stage where multiple products made it to market but never became successes, or perhaps taking the last 25 years as a whole, its ascent has been slow and the right conditions to reach maturity are possibly upon us. An interesting augmentation to this cycle is the identification of ‘the chasm’ where, according to Moore(ref) the most difficult period of product uptake happens when the transition from early adopters to early majority in the ascent phase. A great example of this challenge in relation to Google Glass can be found at here.  If VR is going to cross its chasm, product creators will to heed other products that have fallen into the chasm and learn from their mistakes.

Technology Acceptance Model (TAM)

This theory models how a user perceives a technology in two ways- their expectation of how useful it will be (Perceived Usefulness), and how easy it will be to use (Perceived Ease of Use), with the aim of shedding light on the decision process behind successful uptake of said technology.  In VR terms, the perceived usefulness could be said to have remained fairly constant - as this video shows there’s always been visionary thinkers with no short supply of applications of the technology. Healthcare, Warfare, Gaming and Environmental Design are all common ideas still leading  the pack today.

However, the perceived ease of use has repeatedly needed reviewing. In the early 1990’s, Virtual Reality was physically restricted to niche facilities, hugely expensive and required advanced tools to create. These are all obvious barriers to uptake and accessibility, which have significantly changed over the last 25 years, perhaps now enough to make it to mainstream. So what are some of the factors that will need to be considered in making VR be perceived as easier to use?

Hardware type- Do you need a pc with a super spec? A headset not available on general sale? Are these things prohibitively expensive? Or could you use an entry level piece of hardware for a few pounds combined with a smartphone and downloadable app?

Software- Does the software needed to run VR need years of 3D training? Is the smartphone app limited to certain operating systems?

Adaptability -Will you be able to offer users a customized experience or be limited to what developers are making?  I’m sure these are all versions of challenges SimTech’s have been trying to overcome for years.

A Sim Tech, given the chance, must anticipate and elucidate the ways a technology may be used by faculty, then extrapolate the potential barriers to ease of use and prepare to overcome them. You may not realize it, but you likely are using the Technology Acceptance Model subconsciously everyday when working with faculty, dynamically adjusting the variables to be in your favor. Consider the latest piece of simulation technology in your facility, and where on the innovation curve it lies - are you engaged in pre-market testing with your supplier, or are you using a tried and tested product? Perhaps you may even consider yourself as the product marketer, and think yourself responsible for visualizing each piece of technology’s place on the curve within your organization? That, I think, is a blog post for another day...