Dell workstation virtualization director Gary Radburn demonstrates one of the company's VR workstations during Adobe Max in November.

Published: December 20th, 2016

Ask the average person how they imagine experiencing VR and they’ll typically give one of two answers: 360 degree video, or games. Dell workstation virtualization director Gary Radburn wants to change that.

“Everybody hears the phrase ‘VR’ and immediately goes, ‘what game is that?’ but VR is more than just games,” he says. “If we look at the market studies that have been done, the VR hardware market is going to be worth about $45 billion [U.S.] dollars by 2025, and the commercial space is going to shadow the media and entertainment space.”

At the moment, he admits, media and entertainment remains the dominant market for VR, and so Dell hasn’t ignored it, but in five years the company expects entertainment to represent only 11 per cent of the VR market, versus 35 per cent for industrial and 18 per cent for healthcare.

“We already have two major verticals which are starting to overshadow media and entertainment,” he says.

For example, commercial real estate and construction firms have begun using VR to lead prospective clients through prototype buildings without going through the hassle of actually erecting them, while industrial firms and emergency service training companies have used the technology to prepare firefighters and oil rig workers in hazardous situations.

“We can help them develop muscle memory without putting them in harm’s way,” Radburn says.

The technology has also been used to train surgeons, and can even help doctors treat patients with PTSD.

“Its value for health care is phenomenal,” Radburn says. “We’ve powered a 360 video broadcast of an operation in London that allowed people to look around the theatre while the operation was taking place – so it was great training for the students.”

However, the VR needs of commercial, industrial, and service companies are very different from gaming companies, where the only goal is hitting 90 frames per second so that players don’t lose their lunch.

“In a game, you can say ‘I’m going to reduce down the number of textures or objects so I can hit that 90 frames,'” Radburn says. “If we look at the commercial space – like, say, building fabrication – it’s not really acceptable to say, ‘Okay sir, put on this headset and I’m going to give you a walkthrough of this building. Now imagine that red square over there is a staircase, and I’ve only rendered three walls because my PC doesn’t actually have the power to do all four’ – you’re going to lose your advantage of that immersive experience.”

This, then, is the crux of Dell’s VR strategy: Creating systems that commercial businesses can use to gain a competitive advantage, by building hardware that can render the elaborate objects, textures, and structural foundations their own customers expect.

How Dell helps customers make sure they have the right system

To help its commercial partners, Dell has created what Radburn calls “VR centres of excellence” – facilities across the world, including its Austin headquarters; Santa Clara, Calif.; and Limerick, Ireland; that develop solutions for a variety of industries, including construction, healthcare, and oil and gas, but also tourism, mining, education, and even clothing retailers.

(Though he avoids names, Radburn says that Dell has been working with “a well-known women’s undergarment company” that will scan customers’ bodies during their initial visit and allow them to virtually try on clothes afterward.)

“We want to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve,” he explains.

To help prospective commercial customers make informed decisions about which hardware to buy, Dell invites companies to test their content and applications on multiple systems, so they can see for themselves precisely which system is powerful enough to run their VR platform.

The analogy Radburn uses is digital video: it’s shot at the best fidelity possible first, so that it can be rendered down to the target market.

It’s the same with Dell’s VR equipment – the company wants to start by helping partners create the best content they can, at the highest fidelity they can, before rendering it down from the most advanced systems available to their own clients’ destination platforms.

Not for everyone

Though Radburn is the biggest VR booster around, he’s the first to acknowledge that VR integration can’t be forced, and to make sure that companies know what they’re getting into when attempting to incorporate it into their operations.

“80 per cent of your workflow is going to be the same as it was before VR,” he says. “Many of the companies that benefit are still using the same workflow they were before with 2D assets – their destination just happens to be a VR platform.”

“VR isn’t compulsory,” he continues. “If a company wants to use VR, we can absolutely help them through their choices… but nobody is forcing anybody to go down the VR route.”

That said, he adds with a smile, the technology is supporting many more verticals than it used to – and in his opinion, that stage of the journey has only begun.

You can learn more about Dell’s virtual reality solutions here.

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