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VR is a viable business tool, no longer a novelty

(TECH NEWS) VR is no longer just a novelty. Medicine, entertainment, the arts, and yes, even business is now on board as the tech has matured.

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VR Kix

Despite what you may have heard from naysayers, Virtual Reality (VR) is not dead.

VR is probably best known as an enhancement to our entertainment experience with gaming, but it’s also been available at the enterprise level for military combat training for quite some time now.

VR has found its place in medicine, training, education, and now businesses are champing at the bit to get on board. So how would VR make sense for business?

I’m glad you asked.

For starters, millions could be saved on building full-scale working prototypes. In manufacturing and production-driven businesses, VR allows every characteristic of a part, process, or mechanism to be simulated and tested.

This same idea can be applied for on-the-job training purposes as well. KFC has already begun training their employees in some locations how to properly cook chicken, allowing the company to save time and money on materials that would be tossed otherwise due to burning or contamination.

We’ve also recently covered how retailers such as Wal-Mart are utilizing the VR tech for real-life scenario situational training. Angry customer, spill in aisle four, and a line of customers on register five?

Much less stress on an employee for having to deal with this type of on the job demand in a real life situation in which actual customers are also being affected, and much more effective than awkward role-playing with your manager and co-workers what could potentially happen.

I mean, can we say Black Friday? That beast is still alive and well.

This type of situational training also opens the floodgates for a wealth of data on customer interaction and behavior when acting out simulations in a digital world.

Aside from training, the “try before you buy” method is becoming increasingly more prevalent, especially considering a broader range of audiences can be met if they’re able to try something out without having to leave to a different state, different city, or even the convenience of their own home.

Airlines, car manufacturers, travel markets are looking into the ability to give customers a sneak peek at their offerings, immersing someone more than say, looking at a picture of a tricked out car or watching a commercial.

Lowes and IKEA have also begun showcasing digital showrooms to allow customers to customize a kitchen or to conceptualize a home renovation. Imagine being able to tap cabinets in a virtual world to change the color or the style, swap out a sink, or to even take the mockups home? This gives customers a much better idea of what they want and encourages them to further explore their options.

For real estate, companies like Altoura are already developing immersive apps to give potential buyers a stronger first impression in order to generate more leads and sales. In some locations, The Marriott offers a “VRoom Service” allowing guests a virtual experience in their hotels in other parts of the country.

Are we really traveling when inside a virtual world if it looks and feels like we’re in Chile? Does it matter if we’re not really there or not, and is there a market for it? I’m sure some people would love to see the world without ever stepping foot on a plane, like my dad, for instance.

VR is still in its infancy in regards to development and we’ve got a long way to go before it feels like we’re totally immersed in another world via Ready Player One style, but businesses are already recognizing the benefits that come with investing in VR beyond publicity stunts. Luckily, VR tech is evolving and the consumer market for the tech is becoming more commonplace and less of a gimmick.

Ashe Segovia is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Southwestern University. A huge film nerd with a passion for acting and 80's movies and synthpop; the pop-cultural references are never-ending.

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Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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Could Amazon’s new augmented reality app replace auto mechanics?

(TECHNOLOGY) Augmented reality has been gimmicky at best, but Amazon plans on changing that with their new step forward in auto parts. But could it threaten mechanics’ market share?

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amazon augmented reality for auto parts

During its brief time in the mainstream spotlight, augmented reality (AR) technology has been used to measure objects, disappoint crowdfunding audiences, and catch Pokémon.

However, its most recent iteration (by Amazon) might have you rethinking your last trip to the used auto parts store (and your aforementioned disappointment in AR).

While Amazon has explored augmented reality applications in the past, the uses have generally revolved around projecting things such as furniture representations into rooms.

In theory, a user could select a specific model of furniture and, using their smartphone, see what the room would look like with the piece of furniture in it. Their new augmented reality service plans to extend that same technology to encompass a smaller-scale setting: automobile parts.

The app is still in its early stages of development, and they’ve only recently been granted the patent, but the concept sounds incredibly promising.

amazon augmented reality patent application

To use the app itself, a customer would point their smartphone’s camera at the vehicle’s engine. The app would feasibly start by identifying your vehicle’s model information and displaying different modular points, after which point you would be able to select a type of part and project it onto your vehicle to see how it fits.

Once you found the correct part for your vehicle, Amazon could order the part via the standard Amazon app.

In an age where the combination of YouTube and your dad’s toolbox provides an attractive alternative to paying the local mechanic, having the option to diagnose accurately your problem and have a reliable solution appear is a huge potential step forward (IF and only if you are the type of person that isn’t intimidated by a car engine).

Amazon is used to crushing the competition in traditional fields; however, where automotive augmented reality is concerned, it seems like Amazon may be the first big name to consider. Virtually no companies use augmented reality for in-house repairs, and customer-level AR support is nonexistent, making Amazon the obvious (and only) choice for now.

Augmented reality has been little more than a novelty thus far, and while some of its applications have been more geared toward services than entertainment, arguably none have been essential for more than a limited number of users (even their grocery offering). Amazon’s foray into automotive self-help is a promising step toward mainstream augmented reality which both improves users’ lives and serves a purpose greater than the sum of its parts.

We’ll stick with our trusted mechanics for our nicer cars and feel dubious that Amazon will ever threaten the practice, but for our junkers that just need a new air filter, we’re down for some AR magic.

Our ruling is that this app is pretty cool and could replace auto parts competitors, and perhaps even be used by tinkerers, but it’s unlikely that any amount of AR magic will replace mechanics (I mean, have you had to replace a part in an Audi!? You have to take out the entire engine to get to the transmission, so no thanks).

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