Recently, I had the opportunity to lie down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and watch the stars overhead. I didn’t have to get on a plane to get there, and I didn’t need to hire a guide to find my way down the Bright Angel Trail. Instead, I simply walked down the hall into our Fidelity Labs Innovation Showcase space. I put on a virtual reality headset and picked up the handheld controllers and took off on my adventure to the Grand Canyon using a new application that we downloaded earlier that day.
Is it the same as being there? Would I tell my grandchildren about this virtual adventure with as much excitement as I would the real-life one? No, certainly nothing beats the real thing. But I am fascinated with how far virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality (usually abbreviated VR/AR/MR) have come.
We started looking into VR/AR/MR about three years ago, and have done several experiments. Back in 2014 (almost ancient history for VR) we created a tool for Oculus Rift to help people visualize their portfolios as a city, called (not surprisingly) StockCity.
This year we created something new, focused on the needs of our clients who help their employees with retirement plans offered at work. In this new experience, the user puts on a headset and picks up the controllers, and suddenly they are standing before their employees in a large auditorium. The user can both look and move around the stage to get some interesting information. For example, they can see if their employees are using the company retirement plan. They can look even deeper to explore whether employees are actively engaged in the process of saving for their futures, or if they need more support.
We hope this view provides employers with another, more visual and human-centered way to think about and interact with the information we make available to them.
But is that it? We continue to research and test the technologies and experiences that may be most useful to our clients and customers in the future. Perhaps VR/AR/MR could be used for training here at Fidelity, as we’ve seen in some retail and travel companies. Maybe these new interfaces could help us uncover new ways to help investors think and plan and make decisions about their money and their future. Or maybe there’s a way to use VR that no one has considered yet.
As for me, I’m heading back to Yavapai Point to watch the sunset. From the office, of course.