Since “The Second wave of VR”, launched by Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in early 2016, Finland has been in the forefront of Virtual Reality (VR) development. In 2017, more than 100 companies specifically focused on VR/AR technology (AR stands for “augmented reality” that enables embedding sensory information with real-world environment). Additionally, other “conventional” software companies started to build their own VR departments as well. Similarly, Finnish industry has woken up to this technological development in terms of visioning many different use cases for VR, such as “digital twin” of a machine or a building. While technology is not yet ready to fulfil every scenario imaginable, many companies already see the value that VR is able to create in their daily work. Here are some market and industry sectors in Finnish VR/AR-ecosystem:
Aerospace • Architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and real estate • Automotive • Games • Education • Healthcare • Heavy industry • Maritime • Travel • 360 photography and video • Content management • Design • Developer tools • Exercise • Graphics • Hardware development • Maintenance • Marketing • Performance measurement (benchmarking) • Training • VR arcades
Finnish VR industry has already developed to the point when there are solid business plans and ecosystems for the use of VR, but it has not yet reached its full potential. VR is still mainly focusing on “viewing 3D things in VR” (e.g. marketing, visualizing), and only recently there has been an attempt to implement more advanced VR solutions in a wider scale, with more complex interactions or communication processes in virtual space. Different social VR applications (i.e. multi-user VR with avatar-based interactions) had started to appear in the Finnish landscape during the year 2018. Despite all good development, many benefits of using VR are still materializing slowly and – outside of its most obvious use cases (e.g. construction) – there are still some major barriers to adoption. Many of these barriers relate to human factors, instead of technological capabilities. Many companies in the industry are piloting different VR solutions rapidly, but adjusting business and communication processes around VR requires still quite lot effort, especially because there is lack of understanding of what VR can do and where it is heading in the near future.
Luckily, to tackle this issue, Finland has a lively scene of technology enthusiasts. Hackathons, game development/game companies, visual computing expertise and both high quality education and academic research provide a solid ground for taking VR technology further. The biggest global players (Facebook, Apple, Sony, HTC, Microsoft, etc.) are already planning their role in the VR ecosystem. There is a hurry for Finnish VR-scene to build up before these soon ready-made products penetrate the markets. New business plans (e.g. creating high quality content or developing new platforms) are constantly being evaluated in Finnish VR scene.
Finland does not have big, multinational VR companies yet, but Varjo is expected to be one. Varjo is a start-up company (founded by a couple of ex-Nokia employees) that builds “human-eye resolution” Head-Mounted-Displays (HMDs) for industrial use. Their first product, VR-1, gathered wide global interest and hype (Forbes, 2019). Varjo’s video-see-through capabilities enable it to operate in MR as well (“mixed reality” could be seen as “smart AR” as it embeds seamlessly with real-world environment). This solution already illustrates the blurred line between what is virtual and what is real, a future direction where technological development is heading. However, the price of the headset is around 6000€, so there no peak expected in the consumer adoption of VR.
There is a stream of academic research highlighting the benefits of using VR in education (Dede et al., 2017). In spite of this and the fact that Finland is known to be one of the world’s leading countries in the field of education, VR is not used that much in teaching. There seems to be lack of ready-made educational VR-applications that would be easy to use and able to deliver enough content to justify all of the expenses. However, there is interest towards implementing VR technology in education in the future, but that may require high quality social VR applications and/or high quality educational content that would be, at least partly, scalable and user generated. Maybe the most promising way to combine VR and higher education (HE) could be, for example, the field of construction/architecture or engineering, as there is already existing 3D content that could be used in VR. Otherwise, HE institutions could have a significant impact on raising general awareness of VR technology, and by this it would surely help to remove some toughest barriers in VR adoption: knowledge of what VR is and how it could be implemented to solve different problems in a world that is getting more and more complex.
VR/AR industry of Finland, Tekes (2017), https://fivr.fi/survey2017/
Forbes (2019), The Varjo VR-1: Everything You Need To Know About The Highest-End VR Headset In The World, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jessedamiani/2019/02/19/the-varjo-vr-1-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-highest-end-vr-headset-in-the-world/#77d8ef225b91
Dede, C. J., Jacobson, J., & Richards, J. (2017). Introduction: Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities in Education. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5490-7_1