Study of Implementation Aspects of Virtual Reality for Developing Microenterprise Level Customized Shopping Applications
Virtual Reality is a computer technology, which can replicate real world environment or imaginary environment with the help of virtual reality devices. Though this technology exists long ago, the recent developments in this field are very high. Today’s generation of people are in a world where they wanted to change the way they do things like play, work, and live. The Virtual Reality technology is almost applicable to every field. One major application where virtual reality is shopping. Because, today the customers are very proactive in choosing what they want, how they want to shop and where they need to shop. The boom of online retail is huge and the online retail industries have to compete with the changing trends in technology to increase their profits. Most huge companies can afford to change the technology they are using to develop their business. However, microenterprises cannot always afford to make this change. For example, family based handmade crafts shop. Though they might produce a better and more required product that the retail giants, they might not efficiently compete with competitors due to poor online retail methods. The Umbrella VR is a virtual reality android application that can customize and save the created beach umbrella design. It helps to bring up the practical difficulties involved in implementing virtual reality in a very small-scale. The purpose of the project is to study the possibility of implementing virtual reality for microenterprisesand analyze their results. This application is a very simple application to create hope among low investment businesses that they can utilize the advanced technologies for effective retailing.
Table of Contents
The significance of the research problem
Microenterprise plays a key role in providing job opportunities for people in most countries. Microenterprise is a form of business with six or fewer employees with capital of $50,000 or lesser. In United States, about 21% of population is employed under microenterprise. The microenterprise sells more local products because most of the time, it may be family business and their family makes the products. The product itself can be each of the local community’s handcrafts, industrial products, or agricultural products. One key strategy to expand the sales of one country’s local product to seamless borders is m-commerce. Mobile e-commerce or m-commerce is a form of online electronic commerce transactions that uses network interfaced with any wireless handheld devices such as smart phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA). The key attributes of m-commerce are Personalization, Localization, Convenience, Ubiquity, and Interactivity. It has been forecast that mobile commerce will reach US$700 billion in 2017. The product can be made accessible to global markets with this technology. Some of the local product may be unique to that particular region. For example, Pembarthi metal craft is a metal handcraft unique to Telangana state of India. Therefore, it is difficult for overseas people to be aware of what each product is. Thus, the decision to purchase it on mobile is really an important obstacle. If this were the case of premade products, then customized product shopping experience would be more complicated. The researches should utilize the obstacles and opportunities to help solve the problem. They should help in increasing the value of local products both domestically and internationally with innovation in the presentation of the product called Virtual Buying Experience. Using the Virtual Reality technology, the users can explore the 360-degree virtual environment that helps the customers to match their expectations and provide more convenience in choosing the product.
The objective of the research project
- To study about various aspects involved in implementing virtual reality for microenterprise level customized shopping application in mobile devices
- To analyze how virtual reality enhance the shopping experience of customers
- The Definition
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality is a computer technology that uses a simulated immersive and realistic form of 360–degree and three-dimensional environment also called as a virtual environment. This environment is computer-generated. The user is able to interact and navigate through the virtual environment with the use of virtual reality equipment such as virtual reality headsets. Virtual reality headset helps to provide the display of simulated environment. The virtual reality uses one or more of the user’s five senses to give better-simulated environment. The application areas of Virtual Reality are wide. Some of them are tourism, education, entertainment, and healthcare.
The effectiveness of the virtual reality system depends upon the level of user immersion in the virtual world and the psychological presence . The more the level of user immersion in virtual world, the more effective the user experience will be. One way or sign to find this level is analyzing the user’s behavior in virtual environment. If the user acts completely according to the needs of virtual environment forgetting his actual presence in the real world, the virtual reality system is more effective.
The virtual reality implementation process takes pale in various fields and sectors and its growth is expanding rapidly. The increasing rate of growth of this technology affects its related and sub-fields. The current prediction is that virtual reality is going to be one of the next big things in the next decade and will be emerging with diverse fields. The following figure shows the current emerging Virtual Reality fields.
Shopping using virtual reality technology is increasing lately. It is due to the expectation of its growth with marketing and advertisement. Though concept of virtual reality exists very long, implementation of it in various applications is in its early stage and changing very rapidly. Thus, it faces many obstacles. The experience of virtual reality sees substantial growth with the expectation that it could provide helpful measures for shopping. This in turn develops the execution methodologies for improved sopping experience.
Market for Shopping with Virtual Reality and people’s acceptance
The study is done keeping in mind that it could find some paths to have future of shopping with virtual reality with regard to highly required and suitable areas.
This research will hugely benefit the age group of 18 to 35 who are highly accessible to the equipment needed for the virtual reality. This study also helps people living in very cold regions where heavy rain or snowfall occurs who could frequently go out for shopping. These two group of people can directly contribute to the shopping with virtual reality applications market.
The analysis of people’s support and their knowledge is highly necessary since the implementation of virtual reality in shopping is in its new era. The following are research results of the people’s interest towards this implementation .
The participants of the study are from various countries, with different age group, both genders. The study shows that majority of the people support to try the virtual reality and consider seeing the development in this field.
Virtual Reality Applications with Unity 3D
Unity is a game engine that is cross-platform used for developing video games and for creating 3D virtual worlds. It can develop applications for 27 target platforms. Unity Personal edition is free and no royalties needed. It can be used for professional use also if make an annual gross revenue of $100k or lesser. Unity Plus edition allows using for professional use for up to $200k or lesser annual gross revenue. Unity Pro allows for unlimited professional use.
- It provides good support for many critical platforms such as iOS, Android, Web Player, Console, Steam, Mac App Store, and Flash
- It has native plug-ins that support platform-specific functionality
- It provides support with forums and provides feedbacks from support
- It has asset store where many useful development essentials like 3D-models, materials, shaders, editor extensions both paid, and unpaid are available
The various components of the Unity include Camera, Rigid body, Particle emitter, mesh filter, etc. All script files, materials, shaders, animation files are kept in assets folder. The game object can be customized as per the requirements of the user such as picking components, assets, and build the project in a required way. A sample customized game object paradigm is shown in following figure4 .
Virtual Reality Headset
The Virtual Reality Headset (VR Headset) is head mounted goggle that has stereoscopic head-mounted displays and sensors that tracks user’s head. The stereoscopic head-mounted display is that the user can view the virtual reality with two different images for two eyes. Some variations of VR headsets include a game controller and sensor that tracks user’s eyes. Some commonly available VR Headsets in the market are Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and LG 360 VR. The VR Headset requires some input device for interaction and some of the input devices are mouse, fixed mechanical arm, joystick, interactive gloves, and body suit. These input devices provide information such as user’s navigation, view, and movement of user body. This information is sent to tracking device located in the headset .
It is a simple and cheap stereoscopic viewer for Android smart phones. This device is made from ordinary cardboard with two lenses for eyes and a mechanism to trigger a button “click”. The users can even build the device with low cost elements and guidelines published by Google. It is also available ready-made. The Cardboard software development kit(SDK) is used to build unity, android and iOS applications. The Cardboard is used to play low-fidelity games and viewing 360-degree photos.
It uses technologies of smart phone including:
- Magnetometer as the trigger sensor
- Central Processing Unit as the main processor
- Internal Measurement Unit as the motion sensor
- Graphics Processing Unit as the graphics processor
Google also helps the customers to build their own cardboard by providing the schematic and product specifications with no charge.The following figure shows the schematic for Viewer Body Version 2 as a sample.
Cardboard version 2.0 has a button for accepting the input. This is made of strip and pillow that are conductive and pasted to cardboard hammer.Once the button is pressed, the body charge of user transforms to charge on the screen of the smart phone. This acts as if the user is directly interacting with smart phone screen and necessary operation is done. That is it uses the native phone screen in an indirect mode.
Another option to access the smart phone screen is using the handheld Bluetooth controller. Since there is Bluetooth provided with smart phone, it is a useful alternative for using cardboard applications. This idea is not part of the specifications provided in the Google specification but can be used for accessing the user interface of cardboard applications. The figure 6 shows a sample Bluetooth controller.
The cardboard viewer should be configured for the specific cardboard viewer. This is done by using Google cardboard application. Download the application the settings icon in the application is selected.
The figure 7 shows the Google cardboard application screen.
Then the camera of the mobile device should be pointed towards the Quick Response code of the viewer for configuration. The figure 8 shows the QR code of Cardboard viewer.
The Google VR Software Development Kit (SDK) is used to simplify many of the virtual reality development tasks such as the following:
- 3D calibration
- Head tracking (as input)
- Stereo geometrical configuration
- Two side rendering for both eyes
- Distortion correction of lens
Mobile Application development
The mobile application became a common thing for online shopping. Nearly 58% of smart phone users use the smart phones for store-related shopping or in-store shopping. Most people prefer to shop online through mobile phones.
Most people prefer to use smart phone for the online shopping activity . It is one of the important reasons to consider while implementing the virtual reality application in smart phones. Unity supports many target platforms and it supports mobile platforms as well. Since Android platform provides many free applications, most preferred platform for mobile application development would be Android.
Requirements of customers in online retailing
Online retailing has become a more common aspect today. In a survey  done to know the expectations and disadvantages of online retail methods and services, it is evident that the customers gave first preference to the basic elements of shopping like product quality, value provided and convenience. However, these elements are common to any form of shopping method. The particular preferences of use in online retail by customers are obtaining knowledge about the product specifications and price. These are primary preferences. Nevertheless, most people wish that few of their online shopping elements are not satisfactory and they require more factors based on their convenience and desirability.
The following table gives the information about the expectations of customers in online retailing.
The most important of all preference of using online shopping is for product information. Therefore, there is a need in the market to focus and bring up new advancements in describing product information in a very informative and interesting way.
Below is the chart of customer expectation based on the age of customer.
This clearly shows that more effective modes of online retailing are necessary than existing systems. Therefore, adopting newer technologies in an effective way would increase customer satisfaction.
Though many advanced technologies are available today, virtual reality is one of those technologies that many retailers look forward to adopt. For example, Alibaba the retail giant of China has plans to implement virtual reality to enhance shopping experience for their 400 million users.  The main considerations for researching in the implementation of virtual reality are most Virtual Reality devices are compatible with smart phones, provide information on the go, and obtain information without even taking the mobile phones. The advantages of head-mounted displays like image source, mounting mechanism on head, and collimating optics are also a great reason for implementing virtual reality. Thus, a detailed analysis of application of virtual reality in online retailing is necessary.
Implementation Aspects of Virtual Reality
The main aspects to consider in the implementation of virtual reality system are implementation cost and virtual reality development skills. Though the cost of devices for implementation reduced recently due to raising demand, not many virtual reality applications are seen. Even large retailers have not implemented this technology widely. If it is not so easy to implement for large-scale industries, then there are many challenges left for microenterprises. From a survey , it is evident that major barriers for microenterprises to adapt advanced ecommerce systems are that they do not proper knowledge, awareness, resources, time, and return on investment. For example, let us consider a family based business of selling woven fabric. The family might have knowledge of their profession but they might not have knowledge on technology or resources to implement it. This family cannot really afford to invest much for the developer cost. Though the gadgets for implanting the technology are considerable, definitely the developer cost is not affordable. For example, given below is the estimate of the development cost and time for making virtual reality applications of Think Mobiles Company. Though the rates may vary with enterprises, this is a sample of how high the development cost is around $15000 to $20000.
It is the fact in recent days that most retailers use common online retail tools such as email, internet but the issue is they cannot update it with the development in the technology. However, these could not be the sole reasons of the virtual reality not been implemented widely but also the difficulty in the development also.
There is not any virtual reality application specifically designed for the sole purpose of the customized products shopping. The existing possibilities for purchasing customized products are through e-retail websites, social media accounts and mobile applications.
The first application to discuss is a website called 4imprint.com. The following is a screenshot of the webpage of that site.
This website allows the user to customize certain products.
The second application is Customized CreationZ face book page. The following is a screenshot of the part of their face book page displaying their custom-madeproduct.
The applications given above provide customized product depending upon the customer request. They also provide pictures of how the outcome will be. The main disadvantage is that while purchasing customized products pictures just are not enough for the user to buy it. They need more information about the look of the outcome. The fear of the user that the product may not come as expected makes them not to buy customized products. The virtual reality technology with its ability of providing more immersive shopping experience can change the decisions of the user to buy the product.
UmbrellaVR is a simple virtual reality application developed for analyzing the technical difficulties lying behind the development of virtual reality applications and elements of enhancing user experience. The key element of analysis is how the virtual reality application is made more simple. If this application can be made simple and with less cost, then many researches can be done in order to educate people on developing virtual reality application creation rather than reducing virtual reality peripheral device cost. Because, the development cost is the key factor that microenterprises cannot afford. Thus, this application is an utilizable online retail application. Rather, it is an attempt to simplify the complex building processes of virtual reality application.
Hardware and Software Requirements
- Android device – Android OS Lollipop 5.1 or higher
- Unity Personal Edition – Unity 5.2.1 or later
- Java Platform Standard Edition Development Kit (JDK)
- Android Software Development Kit (SDK)
- Google Cardboard
- Google VR Software Development Kit (SDK)
- USB Cable
The application is tested in an android device with display 1280*720 HD.
Following is the use case UML diagram of the UmbrellaVR application.
The application is divided into three main use cases. First, is entering into virtual reality environment that is virtual beach environment for enhanced user experience. Second is to customize the product in the virtual environment. Third is the saving of the design in a mobile device or sharing the design on social media.
The flow diagram for list of processes in the application is as follows.
Start the App
The initial window of the application has the start the button to begin the application. This window enables the user to experience the 360-degree virtual environment similar to a beach. This window has the product to be customized in Virtual setting.
Customize the product
The second window is to customize the product based on the user needs. The materials of various parts of the umbrella can be changed as per the user choice. The user first chooses the type of umbrella. The umbrella object is divided into three subparts. They are umbrella canopy, umbrella pole and umbrella base. The user can change the material of any of the parts. In real time online retail application, the seller can add more options to make the application more useful.
Save or Share the design
Once finished with the design, pressing the green share icon will enable the user to save or share the data in the android device or share it in social media. Since, the design can be saved the data; the seller could perform other parts of the business like online transactions outside of virtual reality also.
Project Design & Implementation
Unity VR Implementation
Unity Technologies develop Unity. It is a cross-platform game engine. It helps for game development and other applications for mobile devices, consoles, PC, and websites. Unity VR has base Application Program Interface (API) and other compatible features for multiple virtual reality devices.
To enable VR support in Unity, open Edit Project Settings Player. Select other settings. Then check Virtual Reality Supported checkbox.
Unity VR supports multiple platforms. Even in a single platform, Unity VR supports multiple devices. However, only one device can be accessed during runtime. Google VR SDK can be used with Unity VR to support virtual reality devices in Unity versions of Unity 5.2.1 or later.
Unity VR uses single-pass stereo rendering that means it does not have to render the images on both eyes separately. They can be rendered as one packed render texture.
Unity supports audio spatializers for virtual reality applications. This feature helps to regulate the audio gains of each ear contributions. This is done with the distance measured between the audio source and audio listener. The Spatializer plug-in helps to choose the native plug-ins irrespective of enabling the VR mode.
Unity for Android Application Development
Unity allows for platform-specific application development. This feature helps the developer to switch to the desired target platforms. The figure below shows the list of available targeted platforms.
Installation of Java SE Development Kit(JDK) with highest version number is required. Then, installation of Android SDK Tools is necessary. Once installed, SDK Manger has to be opened and all packages marked are installed. This is done by clicking the Install x packages in SDK Manager Window.
To build the Unity project in Android platform since it is the target platform of the project, switch the platform to Android by selecting File Build Settings. Then highlight Android and select Switch Platform. The scenes necessary for implementation needs to get added by clicking Add Open Scenes.
The developer has to change the bundle settings in Player settings.
Then, the location of Android SDK and Java Development Kit (JDK) are specified. This option is available in Edit Preferences.
Meanwhile the android device also has to be setup. On the Android device Settings About phone is selected. Build Number is tapped seven times to go Developer mode. Then, USB Debugging should be enabled with options Settings Developer options Debugging and USB debugging is enabled.
The android device is then connected the computer using USB Cable. Then user selects File Build Settings. The user adds the required scenes and chooses the option Build and Run.
Once the Build process is done, the android device has to be placed and connected to the Virtual Reality Headset to view the application.
The cameras in unity cannot create two cameras for each eye. Input tracking class helps to obtain the position of each node. That is, it is used to get individual position of the application for each eye. For testing, below code can be used.
Analysis results of Implementing Virtual Reality as a simple application
The virtual reality mobile application development generally is not a very easy task to accomplish even without any restrictions. That is the reason it is not more common when compared to regular mobile applications. However, this project attempts to analyze the more common issues in the virtual reality application development so that more research can be done on the same to make virtual reality application development a more common task.
Critical factors to consider before implementing virtual reality application
Increased Application Size
The virtual reality application comprises of several 3D-models, materials, shaders, script file, animation data, prefabs, etc. These are the basic elements to build a 360-degree environment for a Virtual Reality application. The development also involves giving more details to make the application more realistic by using features such as Wind Zone, camera, Collider, Mesh Filter, Particle emitter, rigid body, and audio source. The details considered small generally are more important in virtual reality applications. For example, consider a misplacing a tree. This looks like a small error. However, if a tree is floating in air it affects the user’s engagement with the virtual reality environment.
In order to bring the liveliness for the user, more objects are placed in each frame, which adds to the bulkiness of the application. Keeping the file size lower is important because since it is a mobile application, there are huge constraints of memory in mobile devices.
The developer has to assess which of the assets consumes more memory. This information can be found in editor log after every build process. Using option Window Console and selecting Open Editor Log from a small drop-down box in the right corner, the memory used by various assets.
- Compress the size of the textures since it occupies most of the space. This is done by selecting texture in project view and adjusting the Max Size until the texture is clear enough to look. Though unity compresses the textures during build, this method helps to reduce the resolution of the application thereby saving some space.
- Compress the size of the mesh. Selecting the mesh and setting the mesh compression value as high, medium, or low in inspector window reduce the size of the mesh.
- Remove the dependencies of the selected Dynamic-Link Libraries (DLL). The developer has to avoid the dependencies of the System.dll and System.Xml.dll. These dll’s may occupy up to one megabyte of data of the total storage size. An alternative without using these libraries is including library such as Mono.Xml.zip for parsing Xml in the file. That is substituting with smaller libraries instead of using system libraries.
Cost is one of the major factors that many small industries cannot afford. Since the project aims to make the application very simple to the level of the microenterprises, cost is one of the primary factors to analyze. The total cost of the application can be split into development cost, cost of the peripherals, and cost of the software.
The cost of the software is the major cost spent on the unity software. Unity Pro is $125 per month and Unity Plus is $35 per month with 12 month commitment. Since the aim is to build simple application, Unity Personal edition can be used at free of charge. This edition can be used for professional use as well for up to a gross annual income of $100k. The cost of the peripherals includes cost of head-mounted display, cost of application deployment device, cost of application development device and some minor requirements. The application can be deployed in smart phones that most of the users use already. The device for application development is unavoidable and renting a device can be an alternative. The cost of the head-mounted display is another major factor. The Google Cardboard is available for relatively cheap price of around $15. A much alternative is ordering a free VR headset from freehmd.com website with just the shipping cost. The application cost depends upon the level of complexity of the application. For a simple application, the cost is relatively low. Therefore, considering all the ideas presented above comparatively cheaper VR application is possible.
The estimation of the need for the application is necessary not only for virtual reality application but also for any kind of product development. Before starting the development of any product, various factors such as the need for product in the market, the requirements of the product and estimated profit that the product could yield should be analyzed. Similarly, virtual reality application development also requires all these analyzes. For example, before beginning the development of some shopping application various factors like the need of the particular application in the market, requirements or features to be included in the application, the number of estimated future users of the application, estimated profit of the application are all need to be determined. This factor is important because even if it an important application but does not have any market value, then its development has no use. The customer needs are the primary goal for the development of any application. This is done by conducting various customer surveys covering wide audience. The results give the necessary information for obtaining the requirements of the customers. Hence, considerable time and good analysis is required for deciding whether to develop a virtual reality application.
It is evident that relatively high technical skills are required for the development of the Virtual Reality applications. This is due to the fact this technology is in the new era of its development. For example, Think Mobiles Company  provides estimation for the various application developments. The estimated cost of building a virtual reality shopping application is $15000 to $20000 whereas the estimated cost for building a shop’s mobile application cost around $40. This is a huge variation of the development cost. This means that really skilled developers are needed for virtual reality application development. Though the base development cost or developer’s salary cannot be changed, a better alternative could be altering the whole application model. The application can be made partly with virtual reality and partly with ordinary technology. The most important phase of user interaction with the application to provide enhanced user experience is when choosing the product information. So, by the part where the user selects the product can be made with fully immersive technology so that the user selects the products with complete satisfaction. The rest of the application processes like online transaction, user login, etc can be made with present technology available. These kind of application model alteration helps to considerable reduce the production cost.
The risks involved in development of a virtual reality application are of different categories. Some form of risks are as follows. The financial risk in which the application may not yield profit and development cost is wasted. The risk of technical failures that happen in future of application creation, which could bring additional repair, cost. The security risks in which the potential hackers hack the important details of the users like online transaction details. The risk of customer disappointment towards using the application. These are just some of the perceived risks but there are huge risks that come with development of a product. The fear of the risks involved makes the investor to stay away from investing in this technology. Most of the risks can be eliminated if proper analyzes of whether the application development is needed should be done. Further, by keeping the investment low, the chance of risk is also relatively less.
Advantages of Implementing Virtual reality application for customized shopping android application
Although there are some aforementioned critical factors that need care before implementing a virtual reality application, there are several advantages of using a virtual reality application for online retailing. Below are such advantages.
With the virtual reality technology, the user gets the feel of being in an immersive and responsive virtual environment. The high interaction with the simulated environment is due to the sound effects, stereoscopic graphics, animations, head mount displays and tracking devices. The success of good experience of virtual reality relies on the level of interaction. For example, if the user observes a farm the farm should become a dessert without proper supply of water. The user’s cognitions also play a vital role in increasing the level of interactivity. Thus, it is important to create the virtual environment more similar to the real environment to seek the user’s attention.
With this technology, the user have the feel or effect of being present somewhere. The location will be somewhere other than the user’s physical location. This is done by providing some stimuli to user’s senses to provide the feel of being in different environment. This effect is brought by obtaining position, actions, movements, voice, etc. of user and duplicate the data collected in remote environment. The data collected travel in both directions from user to remote location and vice versa. The more the person acts like the requirements of virtual environment even in real world thinking that they are still in virtual world, the more the person’s interaction with the system. This is an advantage to give the user a realistic shopping experience.
The use of wireless device for the application deployment permits the user to get information and perform online transaction anywhere the user is moving and anytime. Combining the user experience of virtual reality and advantage of the mobile device being able to move around anywhere, the user gets more comfort in using the application for effective shopping.
The virtual reality technology is still in the developing stage. Though the implementation of virtual reality technology is not so easy and has various critical factors to consider, the above study proves that it is still possible to implement the technology even in a very small scale. However, the major factor to consider for the implementation is analyzing the requirements and the affordability of the user. If all the mentioned factors are considered while developing the VR application, an efficient product is possible. Though there are many considerable resources needed for the application development today, more research on the topic will make the application development process simple.
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