Undergraduates at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota had the opportunity to collaborate with manufacturing giant 3M in a Digital Transformation Applications course to create virtual reality (VR) experiences for potential executive customers in the yacht industry. The course, taught by Dr. Seth Ketron, focused on providing students with real-world challenges and opportunities.
The teams of students, representing various majors, worked together to develop different versions of a VR experience tailored specifically for 3M's leisure boat and yacht-building products. The goal was to showcase what 3M could offer in a more realistic environment, allowing potential customers to see and interact with the products.
The yacht business has been booming, with full order books until 2025 and a projected market value of nearly $14 billion by 2030. However, many potential customers are unaware of the capabilities that 3M can provide. To address this issue, VR was seen as a way to communicate the benefits of 3M's products more effectively.
VR and other forms of “extended reality” have gained popularity in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when physical stores had to close. VR offers additional benefits, such as customization and the ability to showcase products in different colors, patterns, or textures. While VR is not yet essential for businesses, the investment in VR technology by companies like Meta indicates that it will likely become mainstream in the future.
For the students involved in the project, the experience was eye-opening. They had the opportunity to explore the school's VR lab and see firsthand how immersive and customizable VR can be. Beyond the convenience of saving time and resources for executives who would otherwise have to travel, VR allows for a deeper connection with customers, leaving a lasting impression.
To create their VR experiences, the students visited 3M Innovation Centers to gain insights into the company's products and find inspiration. They wanted to replicate the “aha” moments they had during their visits, such as feeling the temperature difference under a window with and without 3M's heat-protective film. However, some students were skeptical about whether VR could effectively convey the benefits of 3M's products, emphasizing that sight alone is not enough to evaluate a product's performance.
In the end, all three teams presented their virtual walk-throughs of customized yachts, showcasing the various ways 3M Marine products could be utilized. The presentations included comparisons with competitors, simulating sun damage and corrosion over time. The VR experiences aimed to provide potential customers with a comprehensive understanding of the value that 3M can offer in the yacht industry.
Overall, this collaboration between the University of St. Thomas and 3M highlights the increasing importance of virtual reality in enhancing the customer experience. By creating immersive and interactive VR experiences, companies can effectively communicate their products' benefits and establish a stronger connection with their target audience.
– University of St. Thomas
– Grand View Research