Walmart is not only one of the biggest retailers of video games, they’re one of the largest consumers of them as well.
Employees may not be playing Call of Duty or NBA2K while they’re on the clock, but they are using gamified virtual reality simulators to help them train to be better associates.
It started in 2017, with Walmart using the technology at its 220 Walmart Academy training centers around the country. But last year, the company broadly expanded the program, sending more than 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to some 4,600 stores nationwide.
Today, over 1 million Walmart employees use VR technology to learn how better to deal with customers at a deli counter, to prepare for possible disasters and, at some facilities, how to best work a store during the Black Friday rush. It’s not only a fun way to learn, it’s an effective one, with test scores at the Academies increasing 10% to 15% when VR is incorporated.
Video games moved beyond their roots as pure entertainment vehicles long ago. Today, several other industries have adopted core video game technology and adapted it to their own needs. In many cases, that’s a game-like training device. In others, it’s using the graphical advances game developers have pioneered in other forms of entertainment.
The first down line and other onscreen illustrations that pop up during every NFL game? Those trace their roots back to the early days of Madden. And Fox’s Cleatus the Robot? He’s the cousin of pretty much any mech game to ever hit shelves—and possibly the 1988 arcade hit Cyberball.
And while Microsoft’s Kinect sensor isn’t a major force in the video game world anymore, the bones of that technology are still broadly used in the robotics industry. Kinect-like sensors are affordable “eyes” and “ears” for robots, tracking human body movements so that the machines can interact with them—and in some cases, help them.
In 2018, Brunel University London used the Kinect peripheral to develop a system that monitors people with Parkinson’s disease, detecting walking problems called freezing of gait (FOG). When the system detects a FOG episode, it uses an attached laser to imprint visual cues on the floor near the patient, which helps to improve their movement.
By using video game tech for new products, researchers and developers can dramatically reduce their costs, giving them more financial cushion to aim high. For instance, the prototype device for that FOG detector cost less than $200 to create.
The game-centric advances in other fields are certain to continue, too. In early 2019, Microsoft unveiled a new incarnation of Kinect, designed to be used with Azure, the company’s cloud-based service. Microsoft has promoted several use cases for this version of the tool, including helping retailers manage inventory, enhancing physical therapy to help patients rehabilitate faster and improving corporate shipping and receiving logistics.
As work begins on incorporating that technology, many corporations are focusing on VR these days—and they’re very encouraged by its effectiveness. Beyond Walmart, UPS is using the technology to help train drivers in both corporate terminology and, arguably more importantly, road safety.
UPS uses HTV Vive VR headsets to help drivers spot potential hazards when ‘driving’ down a virtual road. That same training exercise used to involve a touchscreen, but the company realized that by using that device, it inadvertently sent drivers the message it was ok for them to take their hands off the steering wheel.
Since switching to VR, the company says, the average driver retention rate for how to handle those situations has increased to 75%.