HTC believes VR is the next big tech opportunity for education

But VR will only truly flourish when 5G does, HTC said.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

HTC has gone all-in on virtual reality (VR) as it believes the technology's applications will change the way education is conducted, said Thomas Dexmier, HTC country manager of Australia and New Zealand. 

Despite HTC's belief in VR technology, Dexmier conceded that there is still a long way to go before VR reaches its full potential. One of the major hurdles that tech companies face in developing VR technology is achieving low latency. 

According to Dexmier, this cannot be achieved until 5G becomes widely available as 4G connectivity speeds are not sufficient enough to support immersive VR experiences. This is where 5G becomes a critical component for making VR commercially viable, and vice versa, he added.

"5G will allow us to render [VR] content from the cloud. So if you think about this, the Vive Cosmos requires a PC that sits next to it to do all [work]. Take that away from your living room, put that on the cloud … this is where 5G becomes critical, because prior technologies will not give you the latency that allows the headset to talk with its GPU on the cloud in virtually no time," Dexmier said.

"That becomes meaningful innovation that one of the telcos might be able to monetise because at the moment, the big question mark around 5G is: Do you need 5G in your life? Is there business now? Unless they've got a need to have real-time tracking cattle, how do you go mainstream?"

Deployment of 5G mobile networks are still in their early stages and face significant obstacles to practical use

At the end of 2019, only a few countries, such as South Koreathe United States, and Switzerland, have made their 5G networks commercially available nationwide. Due to 5G being neither here nor there in terms of its commercial availability, HTC told ZDNet that as a result, VR is "still very much a proof-of-concept trial for most of these guys".

Where Dexmier said there is optimism in the VR space however, is that more developers are creating VR use cases beyond gaming; in particular, developers are increasingly working on VR use cases for the education sector. 

"There's massive potential, if we were to narrow it down, where I think the next big opportunity is for HTC, it's education," Dexmier said.

One example of how HTC has used VR in the education sector is its Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass project that was unveiled in October. The project is a VR gallery that provides seven-minute virtual tours and leads users through a gallery of paintings, including the portrait itself. The project was created for people who are unable to visit the Louvre, or those that want to skip the large crowds, so they can also experience and learn about the Mona Lisa.

"At the moment, people are trying to figure out 'how do you give the world access to culture, right?' And VR is a really good vehicle for that," Dexmier said.

"It's complementary [to the real-life painting]; one does not replace the other."

See also: How 5G can save lives by aiding first responders (CNET)  

Dexmier added that there are also a few other "really good business models" that show the "potential" of VR for education, such as a firefighting simulation created by Deakin University that uses HTC's Vive headsets, Dexmier said.

"It's pretty sad what's happening at the moment [with the New South Wales bushfires], but with solutions like that, they give everyone the ability to get trained on an emergency situation."

He pointed to Australia flying 1,000 firefighters from Canada to help battle the fires.

"They're not used to the equipment … that's really the next big step forward to us. You know, training people in real situations in VR," he added.

While HTC's Vive headsets are not at a capability where it can provide fully integrated simulations with firefight suits, the future of VR that HTC envisions is a bushfire simulation that is beyond using only VR headsets, heat suits, and trackers.

"If we get to a point where we entice [people] to come back on a frequent basis, not only do they find it really fun to engage, because you know, that's what they want, right? But they learn quicker; they learn quicker because they enjoy what they see as it activates all the senses," Dexmier said.

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