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Virtual reality and the innovation potential of the organisation

Principal Researcher

Professor Peter Swann
Manchester Business School
University of Manchester
Booth Street West
Manchester M15 6PB
+44 (0)161 275 6532
p.swann@fs2.mbs.ac.uk

Co-Workers

Mr Jeff Butler
University of Manchester
j.butler@fs2.mbs.ac.uk

Professor Alan Pearson
University of Manchester
a.pearson@fs2.mbs.ac.uk

Mr Tim Watts
University of Manchester
t.watts@fs2.mbs.ac.uk

Research Period
1 October 1997 to
31 March 2000
Background/Context
Aims and Objectives
Project Design
Implications

Background/Context

Many people consider that the main applications of Virtual Reality (VR) technology are in entertainment. The ways in which VR can be used for the wider benefit of society, in scientific enquiry, the arts, and in environmental and economic planning are not generally appreciated. This project explores the wide variety of ways in which this relatively new technology is being creatively applied. VR technologies enable the user to explore, evaluate, experience and design possible future products, technologies and environments. They create models which offer greater realism, clarity and enable closer involvement than is possible using existing 2D and 3D CAD systems. They also facilitate animation, allow users to take different perspectives, and to create 'exploded' views of complex products, processes and systems. While the market for VR technology is still in its infancy, its potential has been recognised by many of the Foresight Panels.

Aims and Objectives

The main aims and objects of the project are to:

  • explore the implications of VR for the innovation potential of the organisation. The features and applications of VR described above can all in principle help to make an organisation more innovative, but a key question for our project is whether this promise can be realised

  • explore and analyse the application of virtual reality technologies as a facilitator in the innovation process

  • explore and analyse the application of virtual reality technologies in virtual organisations.

Project Design

The first part of the research classifies the various applications as process, product or service innovations. This taxonomy of virtual reality applications is an important step in understanding how VR impacts on innovative potential and performance. The second part of the research assesses the technical and commercial significance of these applications in conjunction with application developers and other users. The third part explores the capacity of VR technologies to act as a facilitator for enhancing the innovation potential of the organisation, and hence improve business performance. The methodology for the study is based on a combination of case studies, workshops and internet communications. It is guided by a theoretical framework for assessing the applications and potential of new technologies.

Implications

Powerful visualisation technologies have the potential dramatically to change how designers and innovators work, and influence the lives of ordinary citizens. They can do this by means of better quality solutions to environmental problems, safety and security problems, new product introductions, improvements in working conditions, ergonomics, medical training, and entertainment. VR is one such visualisation technique. It will complement existing CAD systems, but its impact could be more pervasive. Business will need to learn how to respond constructively to its opportunities and limitations, but many businesses will not recognise the range of benefits that VR can impart. The project has a clear role in raising awareness of useful ways in which VR can be applied, thereby enabling companies and other organisations to evaluate the economic viability of VR as a tool for the future.

 

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Contents current at 15th October 1998