A previous post asserts that visualization cannot be a commodity, because visualization leads to visual analytics that improve, simplify, and speed data-driven decision making. Virtual reality is poised to move visual analytics, and many other aspects of how we work, beyond commodity and to the edges of science fiction.
Virtual reality is a computer generated, three-dimensional environment that people can interact with and explore. Oculus is one virtual reality company you may recognize. (In March 2014, Facebook announced that it would acquire Oculus for $2 billion, before the company had even shipped a consumer product.)
With virtual reality, nearly any environment, factual or fantastic, can be generated—including the familiar environs of our workaday world. This means virtual reality has the promise of helping workers resolve issues faster and more safely with less expense.
For example, one environment that can be modeled in virtual reality is an electrical substation. That model can display IT, operational, and external data related to the substation. When an operator receives notice of a malfunction at the substation, he or she could perform a practical walk-through of the substation using virtual reality correlated, analyzed and visualized (situational intelligence) with actual data read from the real-world environment. This allows easy, contextual inspection of the problem without the expense of rolling a service truck to the site just to identify the problem.
SpaceTime Insight offered a glimpse into how virtual reality combined with visual analytics might look at the 2015 DistribuTECH event. Using the virtual walkthrough, operators can either identify how to remedy the malfunction without sending a crew, or fully diagnosis the problem so that crews can repair the malfunction with a single trip. (This applies as well to mobile assets, such as planes, trains, and ships–a virtual environment allows an operator or technician to virtually board the vehicle while it is moving, to diagnosis issues during operation.)
In dangerous environments, such as hazardous waste disposal and sites rendered unstable by natural disasters, virtual reality provides unprecedented safe access to inspect conditions systems. By combining virtual reality with advanced data analytics and robotics, remote operators can inspect and repair locations and equipment without jeopardizing workers.
Until now, virtual reality has been the province of research labs, video gamers, and sci-fi writers. Industrial applications, such as visual analytics, will quickly move virtual reality into the mainstream.