Marriott, Wells Fargo Test Oculus Rift for Virtual Brand Experiences

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The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, by one account, “is the closest thing yet to a consumer-bound product that can deliver what virtual reality experts call presence.”

As Oculus VR chief scientist Michael Abrash told Engadget, “Presence is an incredibly powerful sensation, and it’s unique to VR; there’s no way to create it in any other medium. Most people find it to be kind of magical.”

How it works: The headset straps onto your face and plugs into a computer while an OLED display and twin lenses project images that trick your brain into perceiving a flat image as reality.

As a simulator experience, the technology offers a virtual bonanza to marketers looking to create immersive brand experiences, though it’s still in its nascent stage. Still, that’s not stopping some brands from testing the technology to create what might be the ultimate digital brand experience.[more]

Marriott Hotels, for example, is “teleporting travelers” to the beaches of Hawaii and downtown London in a 4D virtual travel experience that’s traveling brilliantly through November. 

Paramount Pictures has partnered with IMAX to create a cinema experience now touring the US to promote director Christopher Nolan’s upcoming movie, Interstellar. Vanity Fair‘s review: “Was it cool? Yes, it was cool. Did I learn much about the film? No, only a little.”

Lexus developed a motion-controlled virtual experience—also a first in the automotive industry—at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, CA.

Wells Fargo is testing the tech at its digital innovation lab as it seeks to reinvent the banking experience according to the Wall Street Journal: “Imagine walking into a bank, and a teller wearing Google Glass scans your face to pull up your banking information and discovers your plans to make a deposit.” Other potential ideas: an app to scan products in-store to see if they fit into their monthly budget, chat with bankers remotely and send a “pre-check-in” to say you are on you way, a connected-car app for voice-command check deposits and toll-paying.

The bank’s FinTech innovation unit is also partnering with innovative voice, retina and data technology companies as part of its Startup Accelerator program.

Media brands are also testing the Oculus Rift VR platform. Harvest of Change, a journalism experiment produced by The Des Moines Register and Gannett Digital, gives a select group of readers Oculus Rift headsets to follow ongoing news reports about daily life on a working farm. 

The possibilities for VR in online news can’t be far from top-of-mind at Facebook since buying Oculus VR in March for $400 million in cash, $1.6 billion in Facebook stock and an additional $300 million (subject to Oculus VR meeting certain financial targets). 

Indeed, Reuters reports that Facebook “is exploring creating online “support communities” that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments. A small team is also considering new “preventative care” applications that would help people improve their lifestyles.” 

Facebook is “considering rolling out its first health application quietly and under a different name.” For media watchdogs and private citizens, it’s another virtual red flag and provisions for anonymity and privacy will be tantamount. Facebook is also reportedly talking to Hollywood studios about VR film projects.

Ultimately, until the Oculus Rift experience in and of itself outweighs the basic inconvenience and cost of using it, or yields enough value-add, as with any new tech innovation, only time will tell if it survives reality.

Meanwhile, two contenders loom on the horizon: Twitch, recently acquired by Amazon for about $ billion, whose focus is helping people watch other people play video games real-time; and Google Cardboard, described as “the bridge between mass audiences and VR technology.”

“Released in June, Google Cardboard is a design so simple you’ll kick yourself. A piece of cardboard houses two cheap lenses allowing users to insert an android smartphone and create their own VR experience in their own home… Is cardboard as powerful as an Oculus Rift? Not quite yet, but as smartphone processors continue to evolve it won’t be long before it is.”

And just as Google is expanding on its Ingress augmented reality game today with Endgame to promote author James Frey’s novel of the same name, Microsoft is also developing RoomAlive, which turns an entire room into an augmented gaming environment.

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