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Updated: September 9, 2010 11:15 IST

Reaping business benefits from virtual reality

D. Murali
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After having put together research essays on agent-based virtual environments, augmented reality, collision detection, machining operation simulation, modelling of dynamics surfaces, neuro-imaging technologies, virtual prototyping and virtual reality communities – from authors in China, Germany, Australia, Greece, Spain and the US – the Editor of ‘Virtual Technologies for Business and Industrial Applications: Innovative and Synergistic Approaches’ ( Mr N. Raghavendra Rao is not too happy that there have not been any contributions from India.

“When I wrote to some prospective contributors in our country, they replied that the concept is not related to their area of work,” he rues, during the course of a recent interaction with Business Line ( The book provides a comprehensive view of virtual reality concepts being used with collaborative technologies across multiple sectors such as manufacturing, health care, marketing and business organisations, introduces Mr Rao.

He explains the concept with an anecdote from his days in the development of business applications software. “I had been to a textile mill in Coimbatore where our team was developing an ERP package. Selection of cotton and mix of cotton is a very important activity in a textile mill. I had an opportunity to observe the managing director’s way of selection,” begins Mr Rao.

Read on: “The various varieties of cotton were kept on the table. The managing director mentally worked the mix of cotton and the type of yarn to be produced and the yarn to be used in a particular type of cloth with colour combination. Besides these he was mentally thinking about aspects related to production and marketing. I was amazed at his mental capabilities and I felt he must be having a knowledge database in his mind. What he actually was doing was applying the concept of virtual reality…” And my conversation with Mr Rao continues over the email.

Excerpts from the interview.

What are the potential virtual reality applications for industry?

Models and simulation are generally being used in forecasting, making sales estimates, planning production operations and applying financial controls. Prediction and anticipation are not always feasible in these applications.

The concept of virtual reality in business is not immune to the noisy pattern of input data stream. Some complex noisy patterns that appear random can be predicted accurately once it is known what is causing them. Using advanced powerful tools in collaborative technology with virtual reality concept would result in a good business model.

Many complex business processes can be analysed and better process improvements can be invented. In the technology domain, where processes are now very different from the kind of information-handling systems and procedures used in the past, virtual reality concept helps one to visualise one’s idea and also the user-activated visual programming process.

Do you see manufacturing enterprises eagerly testing out newer developments in information technology? What are the challenges?

Many manufacturing enterprises are hesitant to test out newer developments in information technology. This is because, in most of the manufacturing enterprises, the process of product development has traditionally occurred sequentially. Products are passed from one nearly-autonomous design group to the next one in the development cycle.

Earlier, this type of specialisation might have had its advantages, but interdisciplinary generalisation has changed this perspective. Organisational barriers counteract the ability to communicate relevant information among design groups. Design errors occur because relevant information is withheld from groups further down the development cycle.

Yet, successful projects today depend to a very large degree on interdisciplinary cooperation. Change of approach of the executives in manufacturing is required. It would be better if they followed the example of the teams of lawyers, chartered accountants, and investment bankers that execute a specific deal for an enterprise.

Can you briefly describe some of the key developments in virtual reality as being applied by the cutting-edge industrial users?

Virtual reality applications strive to simulate real or imaginary scenarios with which users can interact and perceive the effects of their actions in real time. Adding haptic information such as vibration, tactile array and force feedback enhances the sense of presence of virtual environment.

For instance, a virtual reality model can simulate the operation of a three-axis milling machine and it can be integrated with a graphical model for the calculation of quantitative data effecting the machined surface roughness.

Collision detection is one of the enabling technologies in many areas such as virtual assembly simulation, physically-based simulation, serious games, and virtual reality based medical training.

Neuro-marketing techniques help marketers to ascertain how consumers evaluate products, objects, or marketing messages. Neuro-marketing is relatively a new field of marketing that utilises computer-simulated environments.

Is there an opportunity for academia and industry to collaborate in industrial innovation using information technology?

Academia and industry can collaborate to create an innovative spirit between them, but the important question is about the type of innovation industry wants to pursue, because there are generally conflicting views among the executives in enterprises.

Many times, ideas suggested by the employees are not encouraged for fear of the unknown once they are presented. Enterprises generally support very small impact, and efficiency innovation. Sometimes it is a tough proposition for enterprises to drop their emotional attachment to the products designed and developed by them.

So it would be better that enterprises fund the universities to innovate a product or enhance the features of the existing products. This, however, demands that professors at the universities keep updating themselves on the new technology; also, they need to be in touch with their counterparts across the globe. Students who are associated with such professors in development and research activities would be employable from day one when they join the industry.

Additionally, employees with a research bent of mind can be sent to the university where their enterprise is associated in the development/ research activities related to their products. In this process, the enterprise gains in strength as more and more employees adopt an innovative attitude and succeed in finding distinctly new and better ideas.

Any other points of interest.

Established industries and renowned brands are facing tough competition due to information technology. Information technology is forcing enterprises to rethink their business models and organisational policies to increase their share in the market. Enterprises that are fast and flexible in using technology will be able to deliver products and services to their customers at a quicker pace.

The harsh reality of technology is that machine can replace people. Web sites have replaced sales personnel. Technology allows the DIY (do-it-yourself) facility to customers. Enterprises must, therefore, keep pace with new concepts in order to remain competitive.


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