More than just fun and games

27 July 2016

This article originally appeared here.

Most of the buzz around virtual reality has centered on entertainment, specifically the quest for a more immersive gaming experience. But the opportunities, both commercial and social, go much further, as these snapshots from across Asia reveal.

Around the city in 3 minutes

SINGAPORE "It's very realistic. I almost wanted to reach out my hands and touch," Joey Toh said after returning from a lunchtime "trip" to Tokyo.

The 31-year-old had dropped by a Flight Centre outlet in Singapore with her colleagues to try out its virtual reality travel experience. The Australian travel agency introduced the technology at all three of its outlets in Singapore last November. Using a VR headset, customers can take a tour of Tokyo, Cairns or Hoi An, Vietnam.

In her three-minute virtual visit to Tokyo, Toh hopped between the huge zebra crossing in Shibuya, the famous Tsukiji fish market, a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony and the Tokyo Skytree, among other sightseeing spots.

"We have identified VR as a tool to take customer experience to the next level," said Liat Peled, marketing manager at Flight Centre Singapore. "Our customers can virtually travel to anywhere they dream and get inspired by places they might have not considered traveling to."


Dangerous jobs, safe training

SINGAPORE The dilemma of training someone for a dangerous job is that as the training becomes more realistic, the danger becomes more real. To solve this conundrum, some government bodies are turning to virtual reality.

Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research teamed up with media company FXMedia to produce VR training programs for firefighters, soldiers and other personnel who may face dangerous situations in the line of duty. The programs are set up much like a video game and help trainees learn how to handle a variety of emergencies.

Their latest project involves creating a VR training program for the Civil Defense Force that replicates emergency situations on a ship at sea. FXMedia worked with training personnel to learn about existing procedures and then incorporated them into interactive modules. "For situations that have space constraints or that can put lives in danger, it is critical to conduct safe training that is close to the actual environment," said Mark Wong, who leads the VR production team at FXMedia.

By Tomomi Kikuchi, Nikkei Staff Writer


Reducing radiation risks

TOKYO The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is hoping to use virtual reality to train and prepare workers for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was severely damaged by the 2011 earthquake that devastated northeastern Japan. "Reducing workers' exposure to radiation is a key issue when working in a high radiation environment," said Hiroyuki Daido, director at the agency's Naraha Remote Technology Development Center.

The VR training system is housed at the center, which is located not far from the crippled plant. "The VR system allows planning of routes that have the lowest exposure to radiation, or routes that allow passage of whatever equipment they want to take," Daido explained.

The VR image was created using laser-scanned data collected after the accident and is an almost carbon copy of the plant, with a margin of error of just a few centimeters. JAEA also hopes to use the system to train workers on how to operate robots that will be used in the plant.

By Shotaro Tani, Nikkei staff writer


A new way to house-hunt

MANILA One company that has come up with a more "domestic" use for virtual reality is Philippine online real estate portal ZipMatch. By donning a VR headset provided by the company, potential homebuyers can take a virtual tour of available properties from the comfort of their own homes.

"Property viewing or 'tripping' is an important mid-step towards buying a home in the Philippines," said Chow Paredes, co-founder of ZipMatch. "[The VR service] allows them to quickly and efficiently select which homes they would really consider scheduling an actual viewing for or choose for their next home." The portal claims to be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia to use VR for showcasing property.

Paredes also said the service is convenient for Filipinos working overseas, whom she said often do not have the time to visit properties when returning to the Philippines for a brief visit. By using a VR headset, they can "make the next homebuying decision ... without sacrificing the time that he or she could have spent with the family."

By Cliff Venzon, Nikkei staff writer