Can virtual reality transform the data visualization market?

Virtual reality is the future of data visualization market

Is virtual reality the future of data visualization?

Undoubtedly, data visualization tools are a boon for the big data community. But somewhere, we all realize that these tools are restrained in the thought process by the pre-set visualization types. A significant step would be achieved the day when the user will be able to interact visually with the data, real-time, in ways not imagined before. And that is where the concept of virtual reality (VR) in big data visualization seems intriguing. Not only that, virtual reality can lend the fully immersive experience to data visualization, in ways we’ve been exposed to in fictional works only.

While the market faces several challenges…
Interestingly, a number of startups disrupting the big data virtual reality markets are gaming studios. And that is because gaming studios have had the extensive experience and the unique ability to analyze and visualize tonnes of data. It is high time the remainder of the scientific community and other industries leverage that expertise. But there is doubt if these startups are best placed to lead any mass adoption movement for virtual reality. An important factor to consider is that virtual reality startups are mostly project driven based and lack the mind-set to create products with industry wide applications. Another challenge highlighted by the skeptics is that there isn’t great content for virtual reality yet. Maybe true, maybe not. Undoubtedly, creating and telling a data story in an immersive environment is a mammoth challenge.

Head Mounted Devices (HMD) are receiving patronage from industry bigwigs
But with companies like Facebook (Oculus Rift head-mounted display), Google (Magic Leap), Sony (Project Morpheus) and HTC (Vive) entering the fray, the future of virtual reality integration in our lives seems imminent. Numbers suggest that more than 175,000 development kits for Oculus Rift are already in the market. Research firm Gartner has estimated that more than 25 million headsets will be sold by 2018. Consequently, an expectation is that virtual reality could become the next hotbed for marketers. Business, particularly brands, could test products with customers in the virtual reality world and make informed decisions. Though I doubt rapid growth in the consumer segment. Its growth will be slow, esp. relative to the gaming, smartphone or the mobile app market. Moreover, with the lack of receptiveness for the google glass product, it is yet to be seen how much acceptance the head mounting devices receive from the customers. But if does succeeds, it would lend strong boost to the visual big data market.

…And Startups are leading the way with virtual reality applications
Perhaps one of the most well know startups in the segment is the California based zSpace, which focuses on STEM education and healthcare industry. Indeed, come to think of it and we can safely say that the medical industry can leverage the power of virtual data visualization in unparalleled ways.

The financial industry too is witnessing virtual reality influx. Take the example of New York based QuantVR, a company that builds virtual reality applications to convert stock market data into virtual reality. The company has already developed few live applications such as Ticker Tube, Visual Order Book, Stockscape and Alpha Canvas. Ticker Tube shows real-time stock price plots of 300-400 stocks. Visual Order Book visualizes split second movement of stock prices. Stockscape presents a township like 3D imagery of the stock market portfolios. Alpha Canvas allows users to enter a trading strategy in the form of a graphical element. One must admit these sound promising ideas.

Another example is that of Konstrukt3. The German startup has built a platform to allow for architects to build virtual reality examples of their work and share it with other architects or clients, for real-time feedback and suggestions.

Other includes the likes of Space-Time Insight that are building big data virtual reality solutions for its clients in the energy and infrastructure segment. In fact, any asset intensive industry should find definite utility in virtual reality data solutions. After all, the premise of the virtual world being able to transport you to a remote location, analyzing the physical objects present, is the most appealing.

3D Web might be the future of visualization
Aside this, a lot of research in the segment is being driven by the academia. Researchers at Caltech, working along with Microsoft Research, coined the term 3D-Web for the series of innovations that will result in 3D and immersive visualization technology being aggressively employed everywhere on the internet. Similar research work has also been going on in other academic institutions such as CEEDS (Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems) at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and University of Washington Human Interface Technologies Lab. Academic research in this arena also focuses on the challenges faced by the human mind in absolving the vast amount of data and its analytics visualized in potential virtual reality systems, which could turn out to be a major inhibitor to its adoption for the big data market. A research paper from scientists at the Tampere University of Technology, Finland also highlights the technical challenges. The paper highlights the significance of leveraging cognitive psychological principles and human-visual objects interaction learning, emphasis on deploying mixed reality technology.

Anubhav is a data scientist who works and writes on new big data decision sciences models and their application in key business areas across industries. Anubhav also tracks the industry developments. He can be reached at anubhav@thinkbigdata.in

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