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Is It Real?

Reality is quickly becoming outdated. Can virtual reality make your business better?

Virtual reality (VR) isn't just about clunky goggles and bodysuits. Think back a few years, and you may remember the buzz and excitement surrounding VR. Holograms were popping up in unlikely places, movies and TV programs featured VR themes, and forward-thinking people were contemplating how it all might fit into the business world. Though much of the initial excitement has abated, VR hasn't totally dropped off the radar. Take a visit to the VR section of technology services company EDS. They offer everything from training visualization (such as a virtual environment where someone can learn to put together a product) to Web-based visualization (3D online images).

So far, advanced VR is mainly in the realm of large companies like automobile manufacturers that create holographic walk-around 3D virtual models of cars, but the technology also has applications in other design, manufacturing and product development businesses such as architecture or electronics design. Costs, though, are still on the high end for most entrepreneurs' budgets. Holograms appear occasionally in advertising, but the novelty has largely worn off, and growing businesses can find more effective uses for their marketing budget.

The first place VR trickles down in affordable fashion could be on the Internet. Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) pretty much faded away after some initial excitement, but has recently been given a new life. The Extensible 3D specification is a descendent of VRML and allows for 3D graphics on the Web. It has been submitted for approval to the International Organization for Standardization and could be cleared within two years.

Potential e-commerce uses for Web 3D could be found in enhanced user interfaces or product images. Imagine offering retail customers an advanced virtual tour around the product they're interested in. Visit the Web3D Consortium at www.web3d.org to keep up on the latest developments.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Is It Real?.

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