Virtual reality is one of those technologies that still feels like science fiction. The technology has now gone far beyond gaming and entertainment and in 2017 you can put on a virtual reality headset and immerse yourself in a 360 degree view of an interactive digital landscape. Virtual reality is being used by organisations all over the world. Organisations as diverse as Ford, NASA, Disney, the New York Times and the United Nations are all using virtual reality. This advanced technology may well appear out of reach when faced with the constraints of a not for profit budget, but as the technology improves in leaps and bounds and costs come down, virtual reality is finding its way into multiple uses for the NFP sector.
Bird’s eye view
Before we look at NFP examples, let’s zoom out for a look at how virtual reality is being used across sectors. In the world of design, Google’s Tilt Brush allows you to create three dimensional art.
Ford is using virtual reality to bring together design, engineering and manufacturing teams around the world to collaborate in real time on the development of new car models. Meanwhile, architects are using virtual reality 3D models of building plans to allow clients to explore their designs years before they are built
In the education space, flight simulators have long been used in training for pilots, and virtual reality 360 degree video is now allowing medical students to view recordings of surgeries from the surgeon’s view point. 3D modelling of patients’ bones are being used to allow medical students to practice surgery in virtual reality before they touch a patient. These 3D models are also being used in the operating theatre. The orthopaedic surgeon still holds the instruments, but her hand is guided by the 3D model which maps out the part of the bone to be removed, ensuring that the surgeon only removes the targeted area of bone.
Zooming in on the NFP sector
So let’s take a look at how virtual reality is being used in the not for profit sector. Virtual reality, 360 degree videos can be viewed with a smart phone and Google’s Cardboard viewer, which is priced from $15. Even if you don’t have a Cardboard viewer or VR headset, you can still view 360 degree videos on the web, and we’ve included some examples below.
360 degree immersion makes virtual reality a powerful tool for storytelling. Alzheimers Research UK has produced A Walk Through Dementia, bringing to life the impact of dementia on daily chores like going to the shops or making a cup of tea.
Taking you off the beaten track, Oxfam Australia has produced Evelyn’s Story, which takes you to a remote village in Kenya to experience a young girl’s daily struggles with accessing clean drinking water.
These 360 degree videos are a powerful way to raise awareness, particularly for causes that can be hard to relate to. As production costs continue to come down, just as they have in the past for digital photography and video, virtual reality video is something we’ll be seeing more of in fundraising and awareness raising campaigns.
Beyond marketing and education, there’s an even more impactful opportunity to use virtual reality service delivery. South Australian company Add Life Tech has developed a virtual reality program allowing stroke victims to undertake rehabilitation at home, in a safe and engaging space, with the potential to reduce time in hospital, reduce rehabilitation costs and improve patient outcomes.
Virtual reality is also being used to treat anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with positive results.
What’s around the corner?
While it’s always hard to know what’s around the corner, if the experience of mobile and digital adoption is repeated, over the coming years virtual reality will become part of our everyday lives. That is why tech giants like Microsoft and Google are investing millions of dollars in virtual reality. Even if virtual reality doesn’t yet fit into your marketing or service development plans, it’s worth keeping an eye out for global resources that may add value – and impact – to your work, and to considering the opportunities of virtual reality as part of your long term planning.