Why it matters: Virtual reality provides an immersive platform for gaming. However, it does have practical applications as well. Companies are beginning to look to the technology in more practical applications such as training employees and allowing customers to test products before they commit to a purchase.

Home improvement giant Lowe’s has been running pilot programs of its Holoroom Test Drive for a few months now with notable success. The platform allows customers and staff to try a virtual version of a power tool to both learn how to operate it and see how it handles. In the past four years, Lowe’s Innovation Labs (LIL) has conducted over 10 pilot programs of its Holoroom and has charted a 127-percent increase in user confidence in using the featured tools.

“My team has recognized that immersive technologies have the potential to change the way customers try and purchase products online and in stores,” LIL Producer Olivia Myers told Vive. “At Lowe’s Innovation Labs, we use virtual reality to break down visualization barriers to empower customers with the confidence and skills they need to begin a project.”

An HTC Vive powers Holoroom Test Drive. Combined with a custom-built Kobalt 24V cordless hedge trimmer controller, the platform gives customers and associates a realistic feel for the tool. The controller replicates the actual weight of the real-world counterpart and provides realistic haptics, sound, and even the scents produced while using a trimmer.

Holoroom is more than learning how to trim a hedge though.

“Lowe’s Innovation Labs developed the Holoroom platform with the intent of helping customers visualize their home improvement projects by providing an immersive, intuitive VR experience,” said Myers. “Since then, it’s evolved into multiple experiences for both customers and associates, including visualization, navigation, skills training and most recently, product demos. Customers step into a virtual garage and backyard environment where they can safely and realistically learn how to operate power equipment.”

Currently, the technology is only in use at a handful of Lowe’s retail locations and is still considered to be in the testing phase. While the demos do have video game aspects to them — like an arcade mode that allows you to test your hedge trimming skills — they are primarily designed to demonstrate product features, safety tips, and how to handle the tool.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs seems to be taking KFC’s wacky (and somewhat creepy) chicken frying VR trainer concept and bringing it to a more sensible and pragmatic level. I’m intrigued to give it a try, but unfortunately, they aren’t running a pilot in my area. If you happen to have had some hands-on experience with the demo, let us know what you thought about it in the comments.