I’m thrilled to be presenting at this year’s Untethered conference on how to make virtual events immersive. Join me Tuesday May 19th and be among the first to get a preview of my Virtual Event Planner’s Guide to XR.
Everyone is looking to find solutions to keep virtual event attendees engaged from home. My presentation will explore the use of immersive technology such as VR, AR and XR for virtual events. We’ll take a look at the existing solutions, factors to consider when choosing immersive tech and how to overcome potential challenges.
It’s your typical overcast Saturday in downtown Portland, Oregon, and I’m heading out to the park to walk my dog, Betty. What I find this particular evening is anything but typical as instead of a few homeless guys sleeping on benches and fellow dog walkers, I encounter hundreds of people of all ages walking through the south park blocks. Their excitement was infectious, and I was delighted to see so many Portlander’s enjoying one of the cities most prized resources. But what made this Saturday different from every other and why had this happy mob descended on my neighborhood?
As I took a closer look, I noticed that everyone was engaging with their phones, some even had two, three, up to four different phones. I had to learn more about what was going on and if my suspicions were true that this was some sort of online community. My thoughts immediately went to Pokémon Go, but wasn’t that a thing of the past and had that game appealed to such a cross-section of the population? There were families, young children, groups of teens, adults – some solo but the majority were traveling in packs. I stopped one group who were kind enough to answer my newbie questions and learned this was indeed a Pokémon Go Community Day. A special global event that features rare Pokémon and other in-game goodies during a dedicated window of time. According to Wikipedia, Pokémon Go has accrued over a billion downloads worldwide and has 147 million monthly active users.
So how does this story relate to immersive retail and fashion? Good question! Love or hate Pokémon Go, there’s no denying that it is the most broadly used immersive app to date. The secret sauce its creator, Niantic, has cooked up is chock full of lessons for all of us looking to leverage immersive technologies to build brand experiences and ultimately sell more stuff. Let’s dive a bit deeper into how brand marketers can build effective fashion and retail experiences using immersive technology.
1. It needs to be social
The most successful digital disruptors over the last few years have one thing in common, they build social into their DNA. Recent examples include Pokémon Go and Peloton, who has grown a $4 billion dollar business by replicating the community of an actual fitness class at home. A great example of this within the fashion industry is China’s Tmall. This shopping app has leveraged immersive technology to provide their online audiences access to VIP events such as the hugely popular “See Now, Buy Now” event last year.
This “retail-as-entertainment” event is part of Alibaba’s Singles Day shopping event and featured big-name designers, celebrities, musical productions and much more all filmed live in front of a select VIP audience. The live-stream was broadcast across both immersive and 2D channels to over 57 million viewers and included a streamlined ‘see now, buy now’ app that allowed viewers to buy the products they saw on the runway instantly. The show also offered a “Play Now” feature that allowed the viewers to rank the outfits in real-time, creating an instant trend report and sending feedback to the designers. According to Sean Lane, immersive retail specialist and Technology Principal at digital studio Point B, the Singles Day event “had over 8 million users make purchases using their VR headsets. They have also been very successful with Tmall VR experiences with users watching fashion shows on the runway and leveraging the ‘purchase now’ feature.”
2. Provide value to the customer
What differentiates a good immersive experience from another is the value it offers to the user. To pay off the hassle of either strapping on a VR headset or downloading an AR app, the user must gain substantial value from the result. There are several ways that innovative brands are both meeting their business objectives while meeting the needs of customers. Immersive technology is an amazing way to take users to places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. Providing customers something they want and can’t get anywhere else is a good formula for success. One B2B fashion app based in Paris, Change of Paradigm, offers designers and brands the ability to do just that. Their high-quality, 3D models of luxury brand apparel are the best I’ve seen. If I were a clothing designer, I would want its Paris studio director, Franck Audrain, to create the digital version. A fashion designer in his own right, Audrain has spent years in the technology industry and meticulously mimics the most complicated garments in 3D. His team can create a hyper-realistic version of an already exiting garment or build a digital proto-type of a garment that only exists in the imagination of its designer.
This recent AR experience at Paris department store, Bon Marché, shows the detail captured in Change of Paradigm’s 3D fashion technology.
The company has a proprietary technology that digitally duplicates each fabric to realistically depict how the garment will flow when moving through space. This attention to detail and the fact that they can output the 3D assets across multiple channels such as web, VR and mobile AR make their offering compelling to luxury brands.
They are working on a virtual try-on experience that will rival anything we’ve seen to date but this is still several years away. According to founder Henri Mura, “currently effective immersive experiences for trying on apparel is limited to jewelry, accessories and footwear. For clothing, if you want to go beyond a simple 2D overlay, you really need to understand how the material will fit a customer’s unique shape in 3D and then represent that in the immersive environment. We’re working on a solution, but it has to be perfect to provide true value.”
Other ways brands can provide value to shoppers can include something as simple as easing friction along the path to purchase, such as the ‘See Now, Buy Now’ feature in the Tmall VR shopping app or creating a memorable experience. Macy’s successfully used virtual reality to allow Chinese shoppers the rare opportunity to visit their flagship store in New York without having to leave China. Ensuring that the immersive journey is as intuitive and seamless as possible is an important part of the recipe for success. Many U.S. brands are still struggling on that front as immersive experiences often require unique downloads and a series of user actions before accessing the experience. Puma’s recent launch of an AR shoe is an example where the user needs to download a stand-alone app that can recognize the shoe to use special decorative filters similar to SnapChat’s lens feature. I’m not so sure I would find that valuable.
3. Leverage the right immersive technology for the job
Before building any immersive experience, it’s essential to understand your objectives, your audience and the technologies at your disposal for bringing your vision to life. There are still quite a few challenges to consider when building an immersive experience and striking the right balance between quality and scale is essential. Are you trying to reach a high-stakes, niche audience like the 1% who can afford luxury items or anyone who has access to a smartphone? Is your marketing objective strictly to sell more product or are you looking to build a connection with your audience? These types of questions need to be clearly defined before getting started so that you can determine the best flavor of immersive – Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality or Mixed Reality – for the job.
Immersive retail specialist, Sean Lane, breaks it down this way: “I think latency, ease of use and accessibility are still impeding factors to adoption. I have seen Virtual Reality gain limited adoption inside brands, mostly for HR onboarding, marketing and training. I have built a few pilots testing VR internally for training, planning, global development and the like. While the experiences are good, they are not good enough. Many people still get motion sickness and the graphics are not realistic enough. Interoperability with other platforms is not seamless. However, I still believe there are times when VR is the right tool for the job. When you want to have complete control over an experience and direct the process, then VR enables a brand to do that. I think that Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality have a greater chance of widespread adoption in enterprise and retail.”
Where to start?
There are several resources available for fashion brands looking to leverage immersive technology. Hiring a specialist or creative agency to build a strategy isn’t always an option but a great first step if the budget is available. Other less costly resources include publications like Medium, which hosts a community of immersive professionals sharing insights, and marketing sites like MarketingLand.com. One specific community of brands looking to solve some of the issues surrounding 3D technologies for apparel and footwear is the 3DRC (3D Retail Coalition), which is made up of brands, technologists and educators.
The best and most important advice I can you leave you with comes from Lane, who wisely proclaims: “The biggest win for any of these technologies is to ensure the use is authentic to your brand and not forced. When immersive is used to create real experiences that enhance consumer interaction with your brand or to build brand loyalty or connection, THIS will lead to better results.”
By Lisa Peyton, originally published on Marketingland.com
Frozen in place, alert and quietly breathing the eight-foot Perentie lizard sizes me up. The only discernible movement is an opaque eyelid gliding over a dark reptilian gaze. I don’t THINK it will eat me for breakfast. Suddenly it’s long, forked tongue darts out into the air just barely missing my nose, as the lizard loses interest and looks for his breakfast elsewhere. The Perentie is one of the largest lizards in the world and can only be found on a remote Islawnd, off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.
However, instead of requiring the 20-hour flight from the US, I was able to experience this beautiful creature in my own backyard with the help of augmented reality.
Chevron’s AR experience featured 3D, animated creatures native to Barrow Island, like the Perentie lizard.
The Perentie lizard along with two other rare and wondrous creatures, the Euro or Wallaroo and the Flatback Turtle, was part of Chevron’s latest immersive augmented reality experience that launched at the 27th World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. The goal was to share details on Chevron’s Gorgon Project, a new and technologically-advanced liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant located on Barrow Island, a Class A Nature Reserve. According to Tina Robison, Senior Advisor for Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, the biggest reason they decided to use AR was to make the impossible possible. “There will never be an opportunity to bring people to Barrow Island and show them what we do there or the priority we place on protecting this nature reserve. So we brought Barrow Island to D.C.”
Coming off the heels of moderating an extremely engaging VR panel at the Immersed Conference in Portland, I’m excited to be covering a similar topic at Augmented World Expo this year.
May 21st I’ll be taking the stage with several VR colleagues to discuss how VR and immersive technology is providing positive psychological benefits. The panel discussion, entitled ‘A New Reality: Empathy, Embodiment and Empowerment in VR’ will highlight the latest work and research being done in this emerging field.
The panelists will include Donna Davis, Director of the Strategic Communication Master’s program at University of Oregon, Dr. Pam Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, Jerri Lynn Hogg, Director of Fielding Universities Media Psychology department and Robinne Burell, Chief Product Officer at Redlight Mobile Innovation.
AWE 2018 will feature hundreds of expert speakers and sessions featuring the latest developments in the AR and VR space. The two day event runs May 20th, 21st and 22nd and tickets are still available.
If you are planning on attending the event, please be sure to stop by my session, Thursday at 4pm and say ‘Hey’. I’d love to meet you!
Fran gracefully glides around the grand ballroom, sparkling pink ball gown flowing at her heals and the firm grip of her son’s arm around her waist. They are surrounded by friends and family as they elegantly move around the room in perfect harmony, looking as though they must have practiced for hours. Fran is celebrating her 90th birthday in style, and although Parkinson’s disease has limited her mobility over the last decade, today technology is enabling the joy of movement she knew when she was 20.
“Memories are real. If you’re dancing in a ballroom in a virtual world or in a ballroom in Portland, Oregon — you were dancing in a ballroom. It was an experience,” Donna Z. Davis, Ph.D, the director of the strategic communications program at the University of Oregon. She witnessed the power of virtual environments to heal and help real people like Fran. “This is not about replacing, it is about augmenting. It’s technological augmentation in a way that provides for them beyond the capabilities of the physical world. So somebody without legs or with Parkinson’s can go dance. Someone who lives in isolation can have a social life.”
Power to heal
Davis has been working in the virtual reality space for over 10 years. The last three years her focus, through the support of a National Science Foundation grant, has been studying embodiment in VR spaces and the role that the body plays in shaping the mind. Her findings along with the results of several other studies indicate that there is a link between our physical selves and our digital selves, or avatars. What we see our bodies do on screen can positively impact what our bodies can do in the real world. Davis was first introduced to this phenomenon while working with Fran and her daughter, Barbie. As Fran enjoyed navigating her virtual world with ease, she began to have the confidence to do more physically demanding tasks in the physical world.
After meeting Fran and Barbie, Davis and her colleague, Tom Boellstorff at UC Irvine, were invited to join the newly formed virtual support group for others suffering from Parkinson’s. They have been meeting virtually for over seven years and Fran has developed a following of support group participants that refers to this healing power of virtual reality as “the Fran effect.”
Although Davis primarily works with the “ability diverse” or those who are challenged in both visible and invisible ways, she believes the benefits are not limited to this population. “How many of us are trapped inside a body or a place that doesn’t allow us to really live our lives in a way that we feel capable of? These technologies may open those doors in really exciting ways.”
Above: Donna Davis, far right, celebrates Fran’s 90th birthday with members of their virtual support group
New technologies, new opportunities
While much of her work over the last decade was done in a 3D environment on a 2D screen, Davis is pioneering therapeutic applications in the more immersive social 3D platforms like Sansar and High Fidelity. While this new medium provides increased immersion and freedom from physical limitations, it also provides additional accessibility challenges. Currently these platforms don’t rely on text chat and instead use voice technology as the primary means of communication. This makes it difficult for someone with speech and hearing impairments to use the platform successfully. Hand controllers coupled with physical movement are also required to navigate these virtual spaces, which is impossible for those suffering from debilitating physical conditions. However, Davis and her research partner and cultural anthropologist, Tom Boellstorff, have been working with the teams developing these platforms to help ensure they support the needs of their users.
Above: Tom Boellstorff (center) and Cecii Zapien helps Cody with a headset and controllers in order to experience the 3D virtual world. They are accompanied by Linden Lab executive, Bjorn Laurin.
Davis and Boellstorff recently visited Linden Lab, Second Life’s creators, to try to co-opt these new immersive tools for the unique needs of their research population. They were accompanied by Cody, a man who has suffered from severe physical challenges with cerebral palsy resulting from a tragic childhood accident. Cody can’t move his hands or arms which would typically render hand controllers useless, however Cody’s caregiver placed the ‘hand’ controller on Cody’s foot allowing him to experience, for the first time, his real body ‘moving’ his 3D avatar’s arms.
Caught on film as part of an upcoming documentary entitled “Our Digital Selves,” Cody’s joy of experiencing this type of movement was undeniable. The kicking movement required to move his avatar’s arms not only produced a feeling of joy, it is also a vital part of the work he does on a regular basis with this physical therapist.
Davis believes making something seen as a chore, such as physical therapy, a joyful experience can be a powerful motivator. “Immersive environments can help motivate patients to do painful or difficult physical therapy movements. Make it something that’s fun, make it joyful. How do you create an opportunity that gets people to go beyond themselves in healthy and supportive ways? Using the virtual world for physical therapy can help create that opportunity.”
Above: Donna Davis and Cody during their recent visit to Linden Lab.
Since Davis began her pioneering work almost a decade ago, there have been many additional studies linking virtual reality with healing outcomes and pain management. Several studies have focused on using virtual technologies to help with chronic pain and conditions such as ‘phantom limb pain’ often experienced by amputee patients. One such study determined that VR can “trick” the brain into believing the patient is using the limb in the virtual environment, thereby alleviating the sensory conflict of not having use of the limb in the real world. The increased sense of presence and immersion afforded by newer VR technologies can often be enough of a distraction to help patients manage painful conditions without the use of highly addictive pain medications. This fact has made some established medical institutions in the US slow to ratify the new methods for fear of alienating the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.
Given the amount of new research showing the potential of VR to heal both emotional and physical conditions, it’s no surprise that many innovative VR companies not bound by traditional methods have stepped up to help find new solutions to old problems. One of the most successful applications is the use of VR to treat PTSD. Virtually Better, a company that Dr. Skip Rizzo and his team out of UCLA founded, developed a simulation that would re-create the conditions that Iraq war veterans experienced. “Virtual Iraq” proved successful, helping treat over 70 percent of PTSD sufferers, and that has now become a standard accepted treatment by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. They also support applications of VR-based therapy for aerophobia, acrophobia, glossophobia, and substance abuse.
Another U.S.-based company, Firsthand, has developed a platform to help manage chronic and acute pain. The 3D immersive, game-like environment uses bio-feedback sensors to help patients regulate physical activities, like breathing, in order to calm the mind and promote mindfulness. Their website claims that “patients can use a technology solution for pain management with no pharmaceutical side effects.”
Physical and occupational therapy is another field that benefits from the advancements in VR technology. Companies like Mindmaze and VRHealth offer platforms that help practioners’ administer various types of VR physical therapy treatments. MindMotion, developed by Mindmaze, creates virtual environments therapists can customize for a patient’s preferences and needs. These virtual enhancements motivate them to be more consistent and get the most from their prescribed exercise programs. The platform also allows for real-time multisensory feedback, so patients can monitor their own performance.
There are also several companies building platforms to help therapists and counselors leverage these new technologies within their private practice. Limbixoffers clinicians a ‘plug and play’ VR therapy solution and Psious offers a monthly subscription package that includes VR therapy training, a platform enabling VR sessions with clients, marketing support and client session reporting.
We are just beginning to understand the true potential for immersive, VR environments to change how we think and feel. There are those who fear the negative implications of these hyper-real environments and worry they will replace the physical world. Davis sees the virtual world not as a replacement for the physical world but as an enhancement. “That’s the thing about our work that I love most, is that we’re forcing people to look at the positive potential for virtual reality — maybe not even as positive, but normative — as opposed to the dystopic narrative most commonly represented.”
Davis believes there is great potential for VR to help revolutionize the health care, retail and fitness industries but more importantly she is hopeful it will transform our values as a society. VR social spaces can help remove cultural, racial, gender and economic barriers that prejudice our interactions in the real world. “When do we start to value somebody’s mind and heart? I think in the VR space you begin to place a value on their mind and their heart rather than physical beauty because those are the things that are driving your interaction with that person.”
Next week, I’m thrilled to be attending the Immersed Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference is a two day event focused on immersive technologies like VR and AR and how they are impacting the world around us.
I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on empathy, empowerment and embodiment in VR featuring my colleagues and friends Donna Davis, Tawny Schlieski and Jerri Lynn Hogg. You can learn more about all the conference sessions, buy tickets and join the community on the Design Reality website.
Stephanie Mendoza, an immersive media artist and enthusiast will also be participating in the conference. She will be teaching a workshop on WebVR and PIMG will be demoing on the exhibition floor along with other Portland VR/AR startups. She was kind enough to answer a few questions on her experience with VR, Portland and becoming a dragon!
1) How long have you been in Portland? Why did you decided to stay here?
I’m coming up on 4 years now, I arrived in May 2015 to take some front end web development courses over the month. Then I got a job in Seattle- didn’t like Seattle very much so I went to Canada for a month and a half to visit old friends. I’d also made enough money selling drawings at an art auction to visit Portland again before going home (also my car was there). The intention was not to stay, but to spend two weeks with the friends I’d made and then move back to Texas.. well my student loans kicked in and automatically took money I didn’t have, leaving me with a balance of
(-$600) and no gasoline to get back. I would have been homeless, had I not been taken under the wing of a Cyborg Anthropologist I got nerdy with at a Hackerspace in NE called CtrlH. That really started it all.
2) Describe the creative and emerging tech scene in Portland? Could it be recreated elsewhere?
Portland is pretty special, though I’m not sure if I’ve traveled enough to know exactly how unique it is. The city is easy to navigate, creative and there are many programs that support practicing artists. I can meet people from almost every socioeconomic/cultural background, and not be restricted by notions of cultural bias, so long as a common interest is pursued. This place is incredibly community oriented, it seems that each group has about one or two degrees of separation between its members, that tend to just get together en mass, and hack at whatever they are doing.
3) What latest tech trends excite you the most?
GDPR. I’ve been an advocate for data protection since I was in 8th grade and social media was taking off. Specifically, what gets me excited is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe which comes into effect on May 25th- most importantly, it states that 1) Right of Access: Users have full access to all of the data a company has on them as well as how it is being processed, and 2) Right to Erasure: Users have a right to have that data removed. Failure to comply could lead to sanctions as high as 4% of annual worldwide turnover, so it’s not toothless.
Additionally, people are finally listening to me about dumping Facebook, and caring about how companies treat their user’s data. I strongly believe that this is the most important trend to evangelize in our modern tech climate.
4) How did you get involved with social VR? Which social VR platforms do you hang out in and why?
I started in Anyland, a social VR sandbox where anyone could make anything with unlimited resources (well, until their GPU choked on the particle effects). Anyland was and is still an incredibly powerful tool for rapid prototyping of ideas that just can’t exist yet in tangible space, but who’s presence we can prepare for in a simulation.
I’m in VR Chat a lot now too. I got sucked in to watching a bunch of Ugandan Knuckles videos over my VR deprived trip to visit family in Mexico, and spent months making highly detailed avatars (also converting my Anyland one). I still think I prefer the open and immersed creativity of Anyland, but I’ve been spending much of this year exploring VR Chat.
5) What do you see as the BIGGEST potential for VR, AR and immersive technology?
VR is an incredible tool for exposure therapy and it shields us from own own biases about identity when avatars come in to play, exposing something deeper. One of the first things that happened when I started developing for VR in Unity was loosing my fear of heights, which was pretty bad at the time and hasn’t returned since. I did the same for my stage fright, where I simulated the old New Relic office and practiced in there with my slides in front of a fake audience of zombies, tigers, and men in blue suits. This all gets amplified when it involves social learning and observation.
6) Do you feel large corporations such as Intel and Nike have played a role in the technology innovations happening in Portland? What role should corporations play in promoting innovation?
Bike town provides a good model of accessible equipment. Also Intel sponsors a lot of events like hackathons and small conferences/meetups (that feed us starving tech artists, many of whom us won’t admit to barely having enough to feed ourselves), so keep doing that!
7) Do you feel immersive communities and social VR can help empower and heal people or do you feel they will have more of a negative impact?
Both. Back in Anyland the crowd was mostly west coast, with a good amount of midwestern conservatives, and a few Europeans and Asians sprinkled into the mix. It was a small but tightly knit community. We actually managed to build bridges between the two wings of American ideologies (liberal redditors, and 4chan trump trolls) using the unlimited creativity Anyland provided us. We could coexist extremely well in a simulated utopia, void of any ‘economy’ other than a gifting one based on creative capitol. It sounds unrealistic, but also not impossible. I think this kind of thing can work wonders helping people get out of the mindset that everyone has to have a job, in a rapidly approaching post-work world.
That being said social VR can be a serious trigger for those with preexisting conditions who have PTSD from combat or assault. People in these spaces can be ruthless, but there are definitely ways to deal with them as an individual without getting the mods or the company involved. Trolling in real-time is a double edged sword and often the worst offenders are terrible at comebacks, which in my experience changes the game. Most of the other users will also have your back, you just have to have some thick skin, which comes with experience. It can be harrowing for a first timer.
8) How has spending time in social VR communities impacted you pesonally?
I have finally realized that yes, I can grow up to become a dragon; nine year old me is very pleased. I feel like anything is possible now, and I can test new inventions people come up with, before they manifest in ‘reality’. I wind up having these extreme experiences that can only be described as if they were a dream, since often it involves shapeshifting, and strange worlds/contraptions that exist as pure imagination manifested by data. Also shapeshifting was always my go-to superpower so thats a huge incentive drawing me back to the territory.
9) Currently VR is really only accesible by a small number of users – when do you think VR will hit mass adoption and why?
Probably once the next generation of headsets comes out, just like any other console or ‘gaming’ hardware. Go to goodwill and you can see the stacks of unwanted Wii’s and Xboxes, and on the shelf below them, every variety of mobile VR headsets.
10) Which local start ups or local innovators do you feel have the most potential? Why?
So I can’t answer this question in the context of financial potential, because the places I see the most creativity come out of, and have the greatest community impact, are also the places that earn the least and are burdened the most- especially during this current administration which has dramatically cut funding for the arts nationally. Take Open Signal and Enthusiasm Collective- they provide a vital service to the Art and Tech community, and without places like that many VR devs/artists would not have had opportunities to get started.
I have high hopes for our local hackerspaces as well, I want to give a shout out to CtrlH for the amazing things they’ve done, providing equipment for local creators, and bringing together a variety of interesting meetups- Dorkbot (robotics) and Exploit(information security) come to mind, and they have even supported Portland Immersive Media Group(VR) when we needed a venue.
11) How did you get involved with the Design Reality community? What will your upcoming presentation at the Immersed Conference cover? Who do you feel should attend this conference and why?
Luck. I met Joshua at Kent Bye’s house when Kent had a pre-release of Google Earth VR. A few weeks later I got an email about the new VR meet up, noticed that he was charging for tickets, and promptly wrote a concerned letter. I knew that charging ANY amount would immediately discourage most of the artists that I knew were currently participating in VR from attending, since even a small $5 fee is detrimental as costs add up when you include parking/MAX fares, and that resulting $10-15 is a grocery budget for the week. Yes we are that economically challenged. I worried that this would result in further homogenization of the group, creating the beginnings of an elitist VR scene in Portland. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and Joshua completely understood what I was talking about. He is still charging for tickets, but there are both volunteer and scholarship opportunities for those of us who wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise.
I feel like this conference is for anyone who wants to get the full scope of what Portland VR has to offer. I will be teaching a workshop on WebVR and PIMG will be demoing on the exhibition floor along with other Portland VR/AR startups.
Connection is difficult. With more distractions, demands on our time, and mediated communications like texting and social media, making time for intimacy and love can be challenging. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day can serve to reinforce this realization, further isolating singles and those who choose alternative lifestyles. There are some who feel technology is an obstacle to intimacy and love, but other experts believe virtual reality can actually help foster connecting in new and exciting ways.
“Absolutely. Virtual reality can help bring us closer together and foster love and intimacy,” said Dr. Holly Richmond, a Ph.D Sex Therapist and author of the soon to be published Next Sex: Mating, relating and masturbating in the new age of technology. Richmond sees VR and other emerging technologies as having immense potential to help break down the barriers to love and intimacy in the digital age.
According to Richmond there are several applications where VR can play a role in healthier relationships and closer connections. VR therapies are already being used successfully to treat disorders such as PTSD and common phobias, Richmond believes this treatment can extend to sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction, low libido and performance anxiety. “VR therapy can help common disorders — pain disorders, low libido, and erectile dysfunction. By helping people understand arousal and taking the pathology out of ‘not doing it right,’ VR can provide positive solutions in a safe and comfortable environment.” Richmond is currently exploring using immersive VR environments to help treat these common issues among her patients.
She also believes there would be huge value in using VR to help teach anatomy and human sexuality in schools. Using a 3D model to explore female and male anatomy would enable students to better understand their own bodies and the bodies of potential partners. Immersive VR educational videos would also act as great tool to help explore human sexuality in a safe and nurturing environment.
Beyond therapy and education, Richmond also believes VR has the power to help normalize sexual expression and empower users to better understand and meet their own needs. In her practice, she outlines three elements that are vital for healthy, intimate connections. These “Three E’s” are Empathy, Empowerment, and Embodiment. VR’s immersive elements, such as having a first-person point of view (POV), enable the user to experience and feel these elements instead of just talking about them.
Above: Dr. Holly Richmond is currently working on using VR to help treat her patients
Image Credit: Katarina Kojic
“VR is great place to learn and practice. It gives users an experiential component. Better than just watching, we can feel our way into things. It also gives us choice — choosing your POV, for example — gives us more control and can be very empowering. VR also allows for a mind and body connection. We can actually feel it — it’s an integrated experience. Used in education, learning outcomes are dramatically improved when someone can experience something instead of just watching.”
The love-tech landscape
Above: Holly Richmond on the set of Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series.
Individuals and couples can now use a few immersive tools to help enhance intimacy. VR films, primarily focused in the adult entertainment sector, are beginning to take more of an educational approach. For example, Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series, which Richmond co-authors, is positioned as a sex therapy program. It primarily consists of 360 degree videos shot from the first-person perspective. The viewer can choose man or woman’s POV, and the scene immerses them as a participant. The voice-over includes tactics like sensate focus and applied behavior applications such as positive reinforcement. While this type of immersion may be a step above traditional 2D video, it still doesn’t enable the viewer to feel what’s happening on film.
Enter Kiiroo, a growing tech company based in Amsterdam. It’s developing a solution to this problem.
Kiiroo is the leading producer of remote-controlled smart teledildonics for couples. Since 2013, this company has used technology to help couples feel more connected and intimate when they’re not together — especially when they are hundreds if miles apart. Through the use of the Kiiroo app and the devices, both male and female, couples can have an interactive experience, controlling each other’s pleasure, despite being a continent away. Couples can see each other in real-time via a 2D webcam or other similar device (like a smartphone), but according to Kiiroo’s Maurice Op de Beek, couples can now use a 360 degree camera and enjoy the VR version. “VR is so real and immersive, but historically, you couldn’t feel it. You needed touch. We have created the illusion of touch and are solving this problem.”
Above: Kiroo’s Fleshlight Launch and Onyx 2
Op de Beek is extremely optimistic about the potential of creating more and more realistic experiences with the help of VR. When asked if we would see hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, his immediate response was “Definitely! We already have this with our Launch device. It’s very real and the developments are going so fast we are about 10-20 year out from hyper-real simulated sexual experiences.” Kiiroo’s most immersive product, the Fleshlight Launch, enables male stimulation synchronized with a VR film experience. The device exactly mimics the actions onscreen, reeling the viewer into the action and providing for a new level of embodiment. The market has about 1,500 VR-enabled films that are synced to devices, with more in production.
Above: Kiiroo Chief Technology Officer Maurice Op de Beek, believes we will experience hyper-real immersive encounters in our lifetime.
Kiiroo is also enabling devices for women to sync with VR films, partnering with We-Vibe and OhMiBod. Op de Beek has approached many of the leading device manufacturers and proposed adding Kiiroo’s smart technology to their products. Eventually there will be hundreds of thousands of these smart devices all over the globe, allowing for couples and singles to remotely connect like never before.
Richmond feels leveraging the immersion of VR can be a valuable tool for these devices: “The newest VR-enabled, remote control devices are some of the best that I’ve seen. They force couples to communicate, taking some of the guess work out of meeting each other’s needs. It has facilitated conversations about what people like and what they don’t like. Sex tech can help women be empowered and connect with their own bodies and then share this with a partner.”
Given the reality of achieving hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, some fear that these experiences will be addicting and act as a replacement for real, human interactions. Headlines such as this one from a recent ABC post, “Virtual reality addiction threat prompts cautious approach as VR nears ‘smartphone-like’ take-off,” work to propagate these concerns. Richmond doesn’t believe VR will increase addiction and argues that technology is only working to enhance human connection, not replace it.
“The idea of addiction — I just don’t buy it. There’s no such thing as sex or Internet addiction. There will always be people who abuse technology. The VR component won’t make it that much more addictive. From print magazines like Playboy, to online adult entertainment, and now VR and teledildonics — the technology will keep progressing. We, as human beings, need to learn how to keep up with it.”
The future is bright
Both Op de Beek and Richmond are extremely optimistic about what the future holds for VR and making a love connection. As technology improves, so will the ways we leverage this technology to learn more about ourselves and our partners. VR is creating new communication channels, new ways to feel and empathize with one another and ultimately allow for a full range of intimate self-expression. Richmond sums it up: “My mission in life is to stop the pathologization of any kind of sexual expression that isn’t within the ‘normal’ box. And thankfully, that box is opening — we’ve got pansexual, demi-sexual, bisexual, and now digisexual.
“We’ve still got this inherent desire, especially in the US, to pathologize difference. Immersive technology, like VR, can enable us to embrace, even celebrate, these differences, and allow us to safely explore and experience ourselves in new ways. This is what I see as the biggest potential for VR.”
Above: SimVis’ 3D VR modeling of the human head and neck.
Surrounded by darkness, the looming 20 foot skull is so close I can touch it. With the click of a mouse, the 3D model of the human head and neck pivots and I’m inside the eye socket examining this complex system from the inside out. It’s A viewpoint typically reserved for surgeons on the operating table; I’m amazed by the scale and detail of the mechanism that gives us the miracle of sight.
Above: Creative and medical teams examine the 3D Neck and Head project in SimVis’s ‘Lab 01’ immersive media space.
The finished product of three years of work and almost 1 million pounds, the 3D Head and Neck anatomy project has revolutionized the way we study anatomy. Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualization’s virtual reality model has been so well received by the medical community that the school was awarded funding to complete male and female versions of the entire human body. These complete anatomical models, dubbed the ‘3D Definitive Human’ project, will be launched in early 2018.
Best thing since Gray’s Anatomy?
The 3D VR model of the head and neck has been rapidly adopted by universities and training programs across the U.K. with thousands of interactions annually. According to Dr. Malcolm Skingle, CBE DSc PhD, Director and Academic Liaison for GlaxoSmithKline, “I think that the 3D Definitive Human has the potential to be the best thing available since Gray’s Anatomy to train the next cadre of medics and biological scientists.”
The School of Simulation and Visualization, or SimVis, partnered with leading hospitals and universities in order to complete the most accurate and detailed model of the head and neck ever constructed. The ultra-high resolution 3D virtual model is fully interactive and can be consumed across a variety of environments and platforms. Students can interact with the model in a group setting, similar to an IMAX theater, or study the model solo on their tablet, laptop or mobile device. The 3D model includes accurate interactive visualizations of all the anatomical systems including the musculo-skeletal system, circulatory system, nervous system and digestive system.
The model also includes haptic capabilities providing feedback through hand controllers that can simulate routine procedures, such as giving an injection. In the past, medical students would practice giving an injection on crude, plastic dummies or on each other. Today, students can perfect this skill safely and expertly without ever touching a patient.
Above: The 3D Neck and Head project include haptics or touch technology that simulates administering an anesthetic injection to a patient
Blending of art and science
In order to create the medically verified model, the SimVis team worked alongside a clinical verification team of surgeons and anatomy professors including Professor Anna Lysakowski, a board director of the American Association of Anatomists.
Above: SimVis 3D modeller works to create texture maps for an anatomical model
The creation process brought together computer scientists, 3D modellers, artists, doctors, anatomists, researchers and professors.. This blending of the creative arts and sciences is what sets SimVis apart and allowed for such stunning results.
The workflow begins with actual dissections of human cadavers that are then photographed using advanced photogrammetry. This technique includes taking thousands of high-resolution photos from multiple angles and stitching them together to help form the precise 3D model. Modelling software, such as 3ds Max or Maya, is then used to construct the shape of the model virtually and overlay the exact look and feel through a process known as “texture mapping.”
Once this has been completed, the user interface is constructed and the content is formatted for various platforms with the help of the gaming engine, Unity. Rigorous tests are then conducted in order to validate the model’s accuracy.
Above: SimVis designer shows how real cadavers are photographed at various points and then stitched into the shape underlying the 3D virtual model
The road ahead
Capitalizing on the momentum of head and neck projects success, SimVis is preparing to launch the completed “3D Definitive Human” project early next year. This second-stage project is the culmination of a three year partnership between SimVis, the Scottish Funding Council, NHS Education for Scotland, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Fulbright Commission, and selected colleges and universities in the region. The end result is a highly accurate, 3D model of the entire male and female human body.
Above: SimVis Director, Paul Chapman, on stage sharing a preview of The Definitive Human project launching in early 2018
Based upon the positive results and improved learning outcomes from the head and neck project, the implications for the “3D Definitive Human” project are limitless. According to SimVis director Paul Chapman, “Our models will now be augmented with pathophysiology, for example skin cancer, which could result in better diagnosis, improved training and education for medical professionals and will ultimately lead to much better healthcare for patients.”
SimVis is not alone in seeing the potential that immersive technology, such as virtual reality, has in shaping the future of health care. A US based start-up, Surgical Theater, uses virtual reality to create a model of the patient’s anatomy to help both doctors and patients better understand complex procedures. Microsoft has also been exploring medical case uses for their augmented reality headset the Hololens. One pilot project, dubbed “Project Serra,” experimented with using the Hololens to project MRI data, real-time on a patient being prepped for surgery. This would then allow for more precise targeting of tumors within the body.
VR projects like the “3D Definitive Human” are a great stride forward but we’re still in the nascent stages of truly leveraging the power of immersive technologies to help improve health care. Combining highly accurate, VR models with actual patient data, the emerging capabilities of AR and AI, and new concepts such as “digital twins” will result in life altering outcomes. Chapman sums it up best, “We can only begin to imagine what comes next.”
Historically, VR and AR have been seen as two separate technologies both having unique case uses. VR has been embraced by gaming enthusiasts as a way to make their gameplay more immersive and relies on a display that is worn over the eyes, tricking the mind into believing it is somewhere else. AR uses a transparent display and overlays data onto a real-world setting, thereby enhancing a user’s interaction with their environment in real-time. These differing displays and approaches to how a user experiences the digital content have led to disparate teams working on each.
A group of AR and VR devs gathered around a modern conference table on a sunny afternoon in the English town of Milton Keynes, all eyes are on the man in the helmet. Joachim Latta, IT tech innovator from BMW, is like a kid in a candy store using the DAQRI Smart Helmet for the first time. By using a gaze-based interface and subtle head movements, he’s able to easily access and activate several menu features such as thermal heat mapping and instant video capture.
Above: Joachim Latta, IT Tech Manager from BMW, experiencing the DAQRI Smart Helmet™ at TSC’s Innovation Lab outside of London.
The DAQRI demo is the first of many commercial AR and VR experiences planned for this motley crew of tech enthusiasts and experts including DAQRI’s International VP and General Manager, the Director of Glasgow’s School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualization and our host, Ryan Johnston, GIS Engineer at Transport Systems Catapult. The goal of the meeting is to break down the silo between current commercial VR and AR projects in order to enable innovation across both platforms for the business applications of the future.
The idea of mixed reality, or combining both AR and VR into a singular experience, has become a hot topic. The most vocal company boasting the potential of mixed reality is Microsoft, who just launched their Windows 10 Mixed Reality Operating System along with an MR headset. This is directly targeted at consumers, is primarily a VR device integrating Hololens advanced tracking and mapping features and requires the user be tethered to a PC. Apple has also developed a platform for their iOS called ARKit which will equip new iPhones with the technology to overlay digital information onto the real world. This would allow innovative developers to create MR apps that could function via a smartphone.
Both of these are ‘MR light’ solutions stripped of the more robust features required for commercial applications, in order to hit a consumer-friendly price point. Higher end, commercial AR and VR developers not beholden to the price constraints of a consumer audience hope to further extend the potential of MR by joining forces to provide a more robust commercial solution.
Above: Goldman Sachs’ AR investment projections
One such AR developer, DAQRI, has developed an AR product line that includes the DAQRI Smart Helmet, DAQRI Smart Glasses and an automotive heads-up display (HUD) that projects information onto automobile windshields. Their current focus is manufacturing and engineering however the applications for their technology are endless. According to Sweeney, “We are focused on industrial applications today as we can solve problems for people in the workplace. Analysts are predicting that 40 to 50 percent of the AR and VR market will be in the industrial workplace sector, so that’s the space we’re looking at.”
However, Sweeney recognizes that there is a pull from adjacent markets, as “DAQRI’s professional grade AR products are a great solution for early adopters in other sectors, as they experiment with their immersive technology strategies”. Goldman Sachs investment research predicts that the entire AR market will climb to over 20 billion dollars by 2022 with the top growth areas including enterprise and AEC, consumer and automotive. For DAQRI, partnering with companies like Transport Systems Catapult will help them better serve these markets.
Transport Systems Catapult is based just outside of London and is a government funded organization designed to help drive innovation and growth in the transport and mobility space. One of ten such programs around the UK, TSC works alongside other programs focusing on a wide variety of sectors including smart cities, offshore renewable energy, digital innovation, cell and gene therapy and high value manufacturing. TSC’s innovation lab at Milton Keynes houses cutting-edge technology aiding in building transport systems for the future. They have developed two virtual simulations to help understand how consumers will react to autonomous vehicles. One that takes the user inside an autonomous vehicle and another that places the user on the street alongside the vehicles. The simulations can be run simultaneously and multiple users can interact together within the virtual space.
The Omnideck, which was originally developed for special forces training, puts the user inside a Vive HTC HMD while walking on a multi-directional treadmill. The result is an extremely realistic experience of walking in a virtual environment with no motion sickness and with very little limitation of movement. Mastering walking on the device is quite easy and addictive and several similar devices are housed for entertainment purposes within gaming arcades.
In TSC’s case use, VR serves as a way to introduce a user to a new environment, one that is currently impossible to replicate in the real world. This is where AR can eventually step in and potentially solve that problem. The AR device of the future, will be able to project virtual elements into real environments seamlessly without wires, the use of hands and eventually even without any type of HMD. The DAQRI headset and glasses already are solving this problem on a smaller scale within the manufacturing sector.
Above: BMW’s Joachim Latta experiencing the Omnideck as it simulates walking in a city that has a fleet of autonomous cars.
Paul Chapman, Director of GSA’s School of Simulation and Visualization, or SimVis for short, has a commercial team working on several projects using 3D virtual models to improve the safety and effectiveness of complex tasks. One such project uses a VR experience to help train nuclear reactor inspectors navigate ‘dark sites’ to ensure they are being properly maintained. These sites are extremely dangerous to navigate and allowing inspectors to practice in a virtual environment helps to ensure their safety. Chapman was also excited to experience the DAQRI helmet first hand, as combining the AR functionality with SimVis’ highly accurate 3D models could allow inspectors to access the materials in new ways and perhaps even in a real-time working environment instead of a simulation.
Both commercial VR and AR have been adopted across industries where the relatively high-cost has been offset by a bottom-line ROI demonstrated by more efficient and effective ways to work. In the past these technologies have been independent of one another but the biggest disruption lies in the combination of both technologies. According to BMW’s Joachim Latta, “these two worlds will merge together. You will have one type of delivery device, such as glasses, that will provide you with AR functionality alongside full VR functionality in your environment real-time.” Gartner VR/AR analyst, Brian Blau, agrees with this prediction and believes the market will start to see these type of ‘mixed’ devices as soon as 2020.
In order for such a vision to become a reality, our group of experts agreed upon a few key factors. It is essential to ensure that developers and designers have the skills required to build these amazing new products and experiences. Traditional academic programs aren’t nimble enough to keep pace with technology and therefore a skills gap is being predicted. Chapman believes SimVis is unique in that it brings together scientists, engineers, content and graphic designers, psychologists and a handful of other highly specialized professionals to provide the highest quality commercial VR content and degree programs in the world. There is also a need for better collaboration across technologies, industries and companies. The digital era is blurring the lines between real and virtual, commercial and consumer. In order for true innovation to happen quickly information needs to be shared openly and globally.
The Milton Keynes meeting is one small step toward building a global community of innovators and advocates working together to shape the future of IT innovation. Our host Ryan Johnston sums it up this way, “there is a huge amount of potential in bringing together people from the automotive industry, from construction and other industries to help innovate. Bringing people together is a big part of the reason we’re here.” Perhaps this meetup was the start to several conversations and potential partnerships that will bridge the gap between AR and VR and one day transform our experience of the world around us.
Last week I was fortunate enough to be part of VR World in London. I was extremely impressed with the brands and businesses that attended and the continuing advancements in the commercial VR sector. Businesses are harnessing the power of new technologies such as VR and AR to do everything from providing better care for patients, developing safer working environments for employees and creating mind-blowing art and entertainment experiences.
One hot topic that was on everyone’s mind is – WHERE IS THIS GOING? What is the future of commercial VR/AR/MR and how will it impact our daily lives. Those that attended the conference can’t deny the HUGE implications these technologies pose to businesses and ultimately consumers. Below I have collected some of the most intriguing predictions from technology visionaries from around the globe. Let the countdown begin:
10) Commercial VR/AR/MR will permeate EVERY aspect of our lives within the next 10 years.
This couldn’t have been more evident as the breadth of commercial VR companies at the event represented a wide array of industries. Retail, healthcare, automotive, architecture, city planning and many more were represented. There is a rapidly growing community of savvy developers looking at these new technologies and how they can help enterprises and businesses improve their offerings. Two major obstacles for commercial advancement in these technologies – high costs and poor content quality – no longer pose a challenge and businesses of all sizes are eager to benefit from these new technologies. Intel is working to provide professionals the compute power required to create robust commercial Virtual, Augmented and Merged reality experiences, learn more by visiting intel.com/workstations.
9) The ‘killer app’ that will push VR into the mainstream will center on education – both consumer education and professional training.
The use of VR for training purposes is nothing new, as military training simulations have relied on it for decades. More recently, other sectors such as healthcare and education have realized the potential in using virtual reality and augmented reality to teach in new ways. Pearson is piloting a program in partnership with Microsoft’s HoloLens to help improve nursing programs in the US and universities around the world are incorporating AR and VR into their curriculum.
Paul Chapman, Director of the School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) at Glasgow School of Art, has devoted an entire MA program track to medical VR applications. His team is working on one of the most accurate 3D models of the human body ever created, allowing for complex anatomical structures to be studied in new ways. According to Chapman, “over the next 10 years VR and AR will see significant improvements in display resolution, field of view, interaction technologies and device ergonomics. VR and AR will become standard issue in classrooms and, due to the improved quality of the devices, we’ll be feeling less nauseous and able to use them for extended periods. Their use will become as common and accepted as the use of smart phones today.”
8) Social VR or AR platforms that are built to help users interact and communicate with each other in new ways will be the driving force behind mainstream adoption.
It’s no secret that Facebook is investing heavily in social VR and the platform just launched ‘Facebook Spaces’ – a virtual space to spend time remotely with distant friends. Given Facebook’s global reach, their support of using VR technology to connect with friends could help bring such activities to the masses. There are also several other companies banking on the power of social VR, such as High Fidelity and AltspaceVR.
7) VR and AR for commercial purposes like shopping, workplace collaboration, navigation, transportation and healthcare will make the technology so commonplace that 3D entertainment will be forced to innovate.
Currently VR technology is so new that businesses can rely on that factor alone to help create engaging and entertaining experiences. The potential for dramatically improving film and theater viewing experiences with the help of VR is just taking shape and will continue to develop over the next decade. However, as VR and AR become more commonplace commercially, directors and content developers will need to work harder to continue to immerse their audience. The novelty of these technologies will wear off and content will need to rely more on the substance and story instead of the method of delivery.
Vicon, a company dedicated to 3D motion capture, is providing the technology to shape the future of 3D entertainment. Their applications helped produce an updated, VR inspired version of The Tempest, giving the public a glimpse of the immersive entertainment experiences of the future.
6) Virtual or holographic home goods, apparel and footwear using AR and VR in-home, will become the primary means by which consumers purchase and customize their products.
One of the most inspiring sessions of the entire conference was presented by H&M’s Innovation Evangelist, Peter Hagström. He showed impressive video footage of how H&M have leveraged the power of VR to optimize the design process, even allowing designers to ‘feel’ the weight and drape of virtual fabrics. When asked if eventually these design innovations would make its way into the hands of consumers, Hagström indicated they were moving in that direction and exploring those options, however he warned that the hardware needs to evolve for fashion consumers to embrace the new technology, “as we in HM IT Labs look at the future around VR / AR, we see that it will develop and help customers in the omni channel experience. We also see that this will help the fashion industry to become both more sustainable and more productive in the development and design phase. Right now we see a challenge in the IT industry that the Hardware is not there yet, it doesn’t fit the fashion world.”
5) Commuting to work will be a thing of the past, as your virtual workplace will be ‘commuting’ to you.
With the help of VR and AR, it will no longer become necessary to be in a physical location to get work done. Advanced collaboration tools have already made it possible for engineers and designers to work remotely on 3D models and as the advancements continue, more and more companies will go ‘virtual’.
4) Virtual social networks will enable hyper-realistic and safe dating environments making face-to-face ‘blind dates’ a thing of the past.
Online dating has become a billion dollar business and more and more couples are meeting via online apps. With improvements in resolution quality and the ability to eventually project a lifelike representation of yourself into any environment, the potential to from fully digital relationships increases. Creative Director and Digital Media specialist, Dirk Singer, attended VR World and sees the potential in this new form of dating, “It’s an area that’s ripe for exploitation by major players such as match.com. Hold a virtual date before you meet for a real date. Create an avatar in an online world or platform and spend an evening or afternoon with that person before deciding to meet in real life. It takes the pressure out of that first date and gives both parties a chance to get to know each other in a kind of instant message and face to face meeting half way house.”
3) The integration of drone technology, VR, AR and AI will allow for the creation and operation of fully autonomous factories in previously uninhabitable locations.
Companies are already using drone technology coupled with VR modeling to improve and streamline the construction of complex structures. Clicks and Links is working within the UK to help build a process to repair structural damage to sites difficult to access, such as underground tunnels. They utilize drone technology to take a 3D image of the space and then create a VR model that can be used to plan and practice repairs. It’s not that hard to imagine eventually building entire structures remotely that could house fully automated systems.
2) AI coupled with merged reality will produce housing cost efficiencies and improved city planning thereby ending homelessness.
Advancements get REALLY exciting when you begin to blend the power of AR and VR with artificial intelligence. Programs that can actually learn to see patterns well beyond what humans can achieve are allowing for unbelievable advances in data analytics. Innovative companies are working to try and incorporate this ‘thinking’ into smarter cities, factories, transportation systems, city planning and many other case uses.
One such company, Spantium, has developed a robust platform to create precise, 3D models of buildings and skyscrapers that haven’t even been built yet. Their team of developers use drone technology to recreate the exact views from each of the floors of the new buildings. The interactive platform can also be used to help design the building’s interior spaces and plan how to best optimize for efficient use of space.
With the help of AI, these types of VR modeling tools could become infinitely more powerful, eventually mapping, analyzing and optimizing entire populations.
1) Predictive computer programs coupled with VR and AR will allow users to play out future interactions and scenarios, thereby ‘predicting’, visualizing and even optimizing their own future with some degree of accuracy.
Not as crazy as it sounds, there could be a time in the not too distant future where we could explore several options or decision points and have a high degree of certainty of the precise outcome. This could impact everything from financial and investment decisions to professional considerations like job offers and even personal decisions like who to befriend or marry. A sort of ‘crystal ball’ that would be available to help us make more informed decisions and could even show us a visualization of each possible outcome. WOW!
As exciting as these predictions are, there is also the need to exercise extreme responsibility and to carefully consider the consequences of these types of innovations. We’re still in the nascent stages of these immersive technologies and nobody can truly predict what lies ahead. I’m extremely hopeful however that the benefits will be experienced by all of us in the not too distant future. To learn more about how Intel is helping to pioneer these new technologies and provide professionals the tools to enable amazing VR experiences, visit intel.com/VR.
I’ve been interested in the business uses of immersive technologies for over a decade. I’m NOT embarrassed to admit that I ran a global publication, ‘SLentrepreneur’, dedicated to the virtual world of Second Life. The digital magazine focused on the real-world, business uses of Second Life and explored how companies like IBM, KLM and dozens of universities and training facilities were using the platform to help cut costs, improve services and create experiences that were once thought impossible. In many ways, Second Life, was ahead of its time and eventually many businesses decided the new technology was too unwieldy and risky for future investment.
A decade has passed and I’m excited to see the business case uses of cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality surging into the mainstream. While the benefits to the enterprise, such as cost efficiencies, may now be obvious, my real excitement lies within commercial applications that have not yet even been imagined. When I first experienced virtual collaboration with my remote team from around the globe and witnessed ‘in-world’ broadcasts over ten years ago, I KNEW that someday the business implications would be profound. That day has arrived.
Why Commercial VR? Why Now?
One of the biggest obstacles to mainstream adoption of VR has been around the costs of the hardware and a shortage of high-quality content. The average consumer had no compelling reason to invest thousands of dollars it required to experience the technology at home. VR and AR for businesses however, DID have a very compelling reason to invest the funds required to develop applications that could do everything from cut costs to help save patient’s lives.
As hardware costs have come down and the technology has become faster and lighter, businesses of all sizes have been able to embrace the benefits of VR and AR. It’s not just the largest architectural firms that can now use VR to help design buildings, there are now software vendors that provide this service at a fraction of the cost. Businesses can now purchase workstations equipped to handle professional VR workloads for a fraction of the cost. According to Debra Goss-Seeger, Intel’s product marketing engineer for VR workstations, “designed for professionals – workstations powered by Intel® Xeon® processors are the foundation for pervasive performance, agility, and security to manage the most mission critical professional workloads in a secure environment, with fewer interruptions. Intel® Xeon® processors are specifically designed to handle professional workloads and ensure your hardware is future-proofed to handle the newest VR software applications.”
According to recent research by SuperData, the VR software market is poised to grow from just under $5B to over $25B by 2020 with the bulk of that growth occurring in non-gaming applications such as interactive media, wellness, tourism and social networking. This growth will fuel a surge in high-quality, VR content that will help expedite mainstream adoption.
Another major obstacle limiting the growth of both business and consumer VR markets is the means of delivery. There are currently several head mounted displays on the market of varying quality, including the least expensive option – mobile VR. The fragmented landscape of distributing VR content and the relatively low numbers of consumers who have access to devices has been an insurmountable obstacle for many content creators. However, the data predicts that VR is about to reach mass adoption in the same way color TV’s and computers were adopted years before.
These factors coupled with continued VR and AR technology investments from companies like Google, Facebook and Intel means that we are very likely on the brink of a HUGE shift in the way technology impacts our daily lives. You can learn more about Intel’s investment in VR technologies in my recent article, ‘VR’s Breakthrough Moment: What will it take?’. Many industry experts are banking on commercial VR eclipsing gaming VR in the years to come. Events such as the upcoming VR World event in London are bringing these experts together to explore future commercial case uses of VR and AR. I’m excited to be attending this year’s VR World conference and look forward to learning more about this exciting frontier. Feel free to follow @IntelITCenterand @LisaPeyton on Twitter to get real-time conference updates.
Several of the event speakers along with other commercial VR luminaries were willing to answer a few key questions and make some exciting predictions about the future. You can read quotes from the experts below. If you are planning on attending VR World, please reach out and send me a tweet. I’d love to connect.
“My personal view is that healthcare is the most exciting application of commercial VR. Furthering the treatment of people who have been in traumatic situations, whether mentally or physically, and using VR to rehabilitate or trick the brain into activating dormant neurons is beyond sci-fi. It amazes me how some really smart people have thought outside the box and extended VR into areas never considered when the products were first conceived.”
Gaming vs. Commercial
“In 10 years AR will make evolutionary strides. AR lenses will provide a gateway to information and interaction that layers into our reality. Things like Pokémon Go or Google Glass provide a very narrow glimpse of that potential, but a glimpse nonetheless. In a decade Big Data, IoT sensors and ubiquitous middleware that can make sense all that information could be integrated with advanced computer learning or AI. At that point, you have a very smart, even predictive, computer and an extremely versatile visual interface together; the efficiency and transformative power of technology like can really send you down of rabbit hole of ‘what if…’
“Commercial VR applications will eventually outpace gaming, gaming/entertainment will always be a popular industry that grows relative to the overall VR/AR market. At the moment, the one thing limiting commercial application/usage is resolution – writing is difficult to read and you cannot just work on the applications on the desktop inside VR. The adoption of VR will start to increase in commercial when resolutions increase and application vendors really start to take advantage of VR capabilities. This will then progress into AR, where the commercial markets will find even more uses as it does not isolate from the outside world and prevent other interactions. It is at this point the market will shift more to the commercial side when gamification of training and operation becomes a real alternative.”
Gary’s Hardware Recommendations
“Applications that are running are the key to buying the most appropriate system. A gaming machine that run professional applications may be seen as the most cost effective way of approaching VR but this is not the case. Lower frame buffers, systems that are not designed for 24/7 operation, consumer level cards and drivers that constantly update and phone home do not give a good professional experience. A workstation machine that can run VR is a far better option for all the reasons above. Independent Software Vendor certifications are still in place to ensure support of mission critical projects, components are designed to run 24/7 and be available throughout the life of the product. This reduces errors and allows creation of VR data at the highest fidelity possible with the final output being rendered down to the limitations of the destination, consumption platform. Customers should consider that today the workflow is still the same for VR as it ever was. VR is just a new destination or viewing device – the workflow is still 80% the same, it is only how you check and reiterate that has changed until such time as we get full on ‘Minority Report’ interfaces.”
“VR is going to be most exciting around how people interact and communicate with each other. You can see from Facebook’s announcements at F8, such as Facebook Spaces, that they’re really keen on allowing people to use the technology to connect and enhance social experiences. This allows the applications of the technology to go far beyond gaming and tech. I think it will have implications for the workplace and social situations. Within ten years VR and AR will be much more commonplace and people will be far more comfortable using the technology – it will be more seamless. Hopefully that should mean that we rely on and interact with screens far less and have a more natural interface with technologies that we’re using, through sound, touch and voice.”
Gaming VR Too Narrow
“Just thinking about VR in terms of gaming is pretty narrow in terms of its potential. I’m sure that gaming will drive uptake as consoles and games are released, but particularly if you look at mixed reality, there are far broader applications. For example, there are some great examples of how VR is being used in surgery, helping to train people to carry out highly complex tasks where you can’t afford to make a mistake. Facebook is thinking about how to make VR more social, while HoloLens and Magic Leap could well be used in the workplace and to enhance stores, allowing people to try out products seamlessly.”
“Commercial VR has the ability to change all aspects of workflow within enterprises & commercial institutions. From product design, to customer engagement, to training, to marketing & more! I do think VR/MR based training is a truly compelling experience which can span across commercial verticals. 7. Commercial VR/MR/AR will permeate all aspect of our life over the next 10 years: from the way you learn (Education), to the way you buy (Retail), to the way you build your next house (Visualization), to how you interact with your colleagues/friends (Social VR/MR).”
Commercial VR Benefits and Challenges
“There are a couple of trends holding back Commercial VR compared to the consumer space: 1. VR content investments in the consumer market significantly outpaces that in the commercial space 2. Commercial adoption of new technology has a painfully long sales cycle (6-12 months). Moreover, the content ecosystem for the consumer space is consolidated around the mature gaming industry. But on the commercial VR side, the ecosystem will need to mature to support customized solutions for verticals ranging from Education to Automotive markets. In the next 5 years, expect these to gaps (compared to the consumer space) to be closed.”
“Commercial VR can deliver significant value back to the enterprise. VR visualization can help shorten TTM & reduce risk for products, VR can be a very powerful tool for training & safety, VR enables new customer engagement modes and potentially new business models. The challenge today is how can ISV/Solution providers create solutions which can be easily adopted by existing workflows within these end commercial customers. At Intel, we are always looking at way in which VR can adopted – our CES press event was done completely in VR! Today’s VR tech is still 1st gen – its adoption held back by need to set up complex hardware (e.g. lighthouse towers for outside-in tracking) and the need a tether to a PC. Within Intel, we acknowledge these barriers and are actively working to make the next gen of VR significantly easier to adopt within an enterprise.”
“I get most excited by experiences that blend film, immersive theatre and gaming seamlessly. The BBC’s Home – VR Spacewalk is a particular favourite of mine at the moment. I don’t believe true VR will be as mainstream as AR. AR will touch every element of our lives to a greater or lesser degree – retail, medicine, industry, transport – they will all benefit from an augmented layer of interaction.”
“In my business, VR has the potential to reach whole new audiences with opera and ballet performance. So it’s a medium that can be productized for experiences. Coupled with that, we see exciting potential for VR/AR to influence the process of making opera and ballet. Streamlining the production process for example. The big obstacle at the moment is that VR is a solitary experience – we work in the business of collective experiences.”
“I believe that VR Education will be the real “killer app” that will drive further user adoption in both consumer education (schools & universities) and professional education (specific niche markets such as industry, field services, etc.). The added-value of VR training is evident, allowing a faster learning process, fewer human errors and therefore increased productivity. We will start seeing more and more MR (mixed reality) applications in the next 10 years. VR and AR will eventually converge, and smart glasses will complement and take over our digital interactions (on top or instead of our phones). Humans will then feel more connected to the digital world and the internet, allowing for better and more relevant information (in connection to IoT services), and better communication between each other (through holographic and volumetric streaming).”
“Always accurately define the problem and specification requirements for the project, before proposing hardware solutions. One size does not fit all.”
In just a couple of decades, virtual reality has moved beyond science fiction to become a very real part of people’s lives. Experts describe advances setting the stage for VR to go mainstream.
Surrounded by clear blue water, a diver examines the bow of a sunken ship. A stingray gracefully glides from the depths of the ocean floor, practically grazing the diver’s face. An 80-foot blue whale emerges from the depths and the diver’s heart races as she stares into the brown pool of his curious eyeball. She can’t help but reach out to touch its dorsal fin.
But instead of feeling the whale’s long, thin flippers, her hand is met by the familiar feeling of her office cubicle. This diving trip didn’t require a SCUBA license or even a wetsuit. Instead, it relied on a virtual reality (VR) headset, a PC and a $9.99 purchase of theBlu software.
The whale experience is just one example of how VR technology can transport anyone from the real world to an entirely virtual one.
“VR conjures up a set of images and other properties that drive your senses to forget where you really are,” said Kim Pallister, Director of Intel’s Virtual Reality Center of Excellence.
“You really start to believe you are someplace else.”
Heading up the VR project lab in Hillsboro, Ore., Pallister and his team are working to bring VR to the masses. He believes advances in hardware and compute power enabling high-quality VR experiences are enough to finally give VR its breakthrough moment. That breakthrough is opening new possibilities for fusing VR and AR into merged reality experiences that bring the real world into digital experiences in real-time (read How Computer Vision is Transforming VR into Merged Reality).
VR, Then and Now
Today’s VR headsets or Head Mounted Displays (HMD’s) are more affordable and offer higher quality graphics than ever before. Pallister recalls the first time experts attempted to push the new technology throughout the 90’s.
At that time, the cost was too high and the graphics were too poor to entice the general public to adopt the technology. Today, Pallister said, those challenges are eroding with the advent of higher powered processors and smaller, more affordable visual displays.
“Mike Abrash, the lead scientist at Oculus, said ’affordable, high-quality, VR is the peace dividend of the smartphone war,’” recalled Pallister. He said this explains how consumer demand for high quality, smaller phones inspired improvements in quality of display and sensor technology, while driving prices down. Those same components are now being applied to VR.
The last twenty years have seen dramatic advances in both the hardware and software required for a truly immersive VR experience. Some of the earliest computer games used simple text boxes to create imagined spaces and environments in the minds of the player. The player would type in ‘Lights on’ and the gaming program would respond indicating that the lights had indeed been turned on.
This type of interaction between computer and human formed the underpinnings of today’s interactive experiences. Instead of simple text, 3D gaming graphics of today are hyper realistic and game play allows players more freedom and agency than ever before.
Not Ready for Prime Time Yet?
Despite Pallister’s optimism, challenges still exist preventing VR from becoming commonplace.
Companies like Google and Samsung have developed lower cost, mobile VR experiences that convert a cell phone display into a VR viewer. Google cardboard, for example costs less than $20, and Samsung’s Gear VR mobile headset comes it at under $100.
While this break in price point eases the burden on consumers, some argue that the lower quality experience offered with mobile VR is still preventing mass adoption. The most immersive experience still requires a significant investment for a high-quality headset and a computer that can handle the additional compute requirements.
Cost isn’t the only challenge. VR headsets can be clunky, cumbersome and require a tether to the PC. Even tech enthusiasts are resistant to wearing these devices for hours at a time due to physical discomfort. Some experiences also require handsets and controls that require substantial time and expertise to set up.
Mass adoption of VR also requires a psychological evolution. In the same way the internet was initially met with fear and resistance, some psychologists fear VR poses a threat to the mental health of users.
“Reality is fragile and complex,” said Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, in a recent New York Times article.
“It demands a lot and we are fatigued. Addressing real problems begins by seeing them clearly,” she said. “If we are not vigilant, seeing the world through a lens – albeit not darkly – can be a first step toward accepting a dreamscape as sufficient unto the day.”
Although some are fearful of the mental impact of VR experiences, Pallister said VR is already benefiting industries like education, retail, architecture and healthcare.
In classrooms across the U.S., students are taking virtual field trips with the help of Google Cardboard. Instead of reading about the pyramids in Egypt, for example, students are transported to a 3D, life-size rendering, where they can actually explore the amazing structures.
VR helps developers create environments that don’t yet exist, allowing builders and architects experience a planned space, get a sense of scale and make changes before committing to the final version.
Ikea took this concept and created a consumer shopping experience, allowing customers to create virtual kitchens and other living spaces designed with 3D, virtual Ikea products. Shoppers can determine if their chosen Ikea furniture is the right size, color and style and then make a better purchase decision based upon this information.
The healthcare industry has also benefited from virtual reality technology. Doctors can train using 3D modeling and simulated surgeries. These types of medical VR applications can reduce the costs and risks associated with intricate medical procedures.
Pallister and his team are working to improve the overall VR experience and bring down the cost to consumers. The team is working on a high-quality wireless headset, experimenting with existing technologies like the lightweight Depoon. It operates on WiFi, which limits the graphics quality. By using a faster wireless technology like WiGig, which nearly doubles WiFi’s top speeds, Pallister hopes to allow for the highest quality graphics over a wireless device.
Another approach to helping VR make it into the hands of the average consumer is minimizing the required compute power to enable the best VR experiences possible. Pallister’s team is looking into off-loading some of the required processor power to the visual display unit within the HMD. This would then allow consumers to buy a super powered headset that could run immersive VR experiences on less expensive PCs.
“We have a ton of Intel technologies either existing today or in development, that will improve the whole VR experience over time,” said Pallister. For example, sensing capabilities available through Intel’s RealSense technology opens up worlds of new possibilities.
“VR is not a thing that we all get excited about this year and then it’s done. VR in five years is going to make today’s look horrible, and in 10 years it’s going to be even better.”
I have to admit, I’m fairly new to Intel’s business client team. Most of my Intel colleagues have held their jobs for well over a decade, making them an invaluable resource as I try to learn as much as I can about how Intel plays in the B2B client space. Tom Garrison, VP of Business Client Platforms, is one such colleague. He started at Intel over 20 years ago as a Field Sales Engineer and has risen through the ranks to now lead a team dedicated to helping CIO’s and top IT leaders solve their toughest business technology challenges.
When I discovered Tom was leading two conference sessions at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona this November, I felt it would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about digital business transformation and discover how Intel is planning on solving the challenges surrounding an emerging digital workplace. Not only did Tom take the time to answer a few of my key questions, shared below, Intel is also affording me the opportunity to travel to Barcelona where I’ll be reporting on the highlights and key takeaways from the event.
The Gartner Symposium event series just wrapped up an event in Orlando, featuring Intel’s Chad Constant, and will continue with conferences in Barcelona and Las Vegas. The theme of the series is all about digital business and includes tracks that help IT leaders plan for a digital future, architect the digital platform and transform the technology core. Along with identifying top business technology challenges, Tom lays out what IT leaders need to be focused on in 2017 and how to best navigate the journey toward digital.
What are three steps you would recommend CIOs and IT leaders take in the next 90 days to prioritize driving digital change in their businesses?
First and foremost: CIOs and IT leaders must begin evaluating the significant capability advances and ROI opportunity delivered by Microsoft Windows 10 on 6th Generation Intel Core vPro-based systems within the enterprise. The advancements in security, manageability, cost reduction and employee productivity are significant to the point where all enterprises should at least begin evaluating these opportunities.
In addition to Win10 on modern hardware, all IT departments should begin or continue their evaluations of recent breakthroughs in hardened security (Intel® Authenticate), manageability (Intel® vPro™), and conference room collaboration (Intel® Unite).
Which top strategic technology trends demand CIOs and IT leaders attention in 2017?
Intel’s business client strategy very much reflects the strategic technology trends that our CIO customers communicate to us:
Providing employees with the flexible, powerful tools they need to be productive in an increasingly mobile work environment.
Protecting the enterprise from the increase in frequency and financial loss associated with cyberattacks on business PCs.
Facilitating the move to smart workspaces.
Our customers tell us over and over again that these are their biggest pain-points and ask Intel to continue our development and innovation in these areas. Therefore our investments in powerful, flexible, and highly manageable business PCs, hardened security solutions such as Intel® Authenticate, and our collaboration tools such as Intel® Unite work to solve these challenges.
With data security breaches on the rise, what are your top recommendations for ensuring data security? How are you working with your ecosystem?
Corporate breaches follow a pattern, and understanding this pattern, or this anatomy, will help CIOs understand where to invest their security solutions to maximize benefit.
The first step of this pattern is to attack the corporation’s access and identity management system. Typically this is accomplished by exploiting a weak or stolen username/password combination. Since many enterprises today rely solely on username/password to access the network, once this combination is exploited, the hacker has access to corporate data.
True multifactor authentication represents the best mechanism to combat this. At the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Chad Constant and Microsoft executive, Rob Lefferts talked about how Intel and Microsoft are forging a deep security partnership that uniquely joins software and hardware to thwart attacks in a new way.
What are your top recommendations on how IT departments can help boost ROI and productivity when considering a technology purchase?
Enterprises are seeing the value that Windows 10 (Win10) on modern PCs powered by our 6th generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ processor can deliver to the IT department as well as the business end user. Forrester published an ROI evaluation of Windows 10 alone and determined a 188 percent ROI on upgrading to Win10, and Jack Gold and Associates in 2015 found more than a 500 percent ROI based on productivity gains when comparing 6th Generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ platforms versus platforms only two years old. Combining this modern OS with modern hardware represents one of the biggest opportunities we have seen in a decade to significantly improve productivity and utility for the end-user, while delivering real cost savings for IT.
How are you helping CIOs and IT leaders make the digital workplace a reality?
Intel’s strategy to accelerate the digital workplace has three major components: device evolution, delivering advanced manageability and security, and collaboration.
For devices, we have been engaged in a multi-year effort to advance the business PC to maximize its value in the digital workplace. In addition to the significant performance advancements we typically deliver, we have enabled significant advancements in form factor for devices such as ultra-thin and light notebooks, 2 in 1s, mini desktops and fully integrated all-in-ones. Increased employee mobility and workplace transformation have created the need for differentiated devices — some focusing on mobility, others focusing on performance, some requiring a blend between the two.
Despite the need for differentiated devices, one thing is very clear: Employees still require and demand the effectiveness of a PC. A recent Intel survey of enterprise business users worldwide found that 92 percent of employees see their PC as very or extremely important to doing their job, and 91 percent would choose a PC if they were only allowed a single device.
What can we expect from Intel at the Gartner Symposium and Summit events?
Our goal will be to share not only details of the technologies Intel is delivering for the digital workplace, but to share insights and the data behind our investment and innovation strategies.
Tell us about the sessions you are leading at the Gartner Symposium Barcelona event.
I will be providing additional details, data, and customer examples around strategies and products — our investments and innovations in PCs, security, IT manageability and the move to smart workspaces. I will also be talking about the collaboration that I have been engaged in with my counterparts at Microsoft. The current level of partnership between Intel and Microsoft – this is really exciting time for us in terms of the velocity and magnitude of the solutions we are able to bring to market together.
Gartner Event Details
The Gartner Symposium, is a series of events including a European stop in Barcelona on November 6–10th 2016. The conference brings together like-minded CIOs and senior IT executives who will be solving digital workplace transformation challenges and shaping emerging technology trends for 2017. I’m excited to have the opportunity to attend this event and will be sharing highlights via @IntelITCenter and @LisaPeyton.
You can follow Tom on Twitter, @tommgarrison, for ongoing news and the latest developments in information technology.
If YOU are planning to attend the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Barcelona, I would LOVE to meet you! Just shoot me a tweet or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also be sure to attend Tom’s workshop sessions, both scheduled for Wednesday, November 9:
10:00–10:45 a.m.: Three Steps to Making a Digital Workplace a Reality
6:00–6:20 p.m. Intel Enhances Collaboration and Security for a Digital World
What causes immersion? As the digital revolution rages on, technology has been both blamed and lauded for capturing more and more of our attention. We have been given the tools to tell stories in new and exciting ways, access to data that has never been available before and the ability to connect to a fully realized digital universe. As digitally connected citizens, we are constantly bombarded with incoming messages and have become adept at tuning out endless amounts of ‘noise’. So what then CAN capture and keep our attention? An array of augmented reality and virtual reality applications or ‘immersive media’ experiences are being developed across various sectors and engage users like never before. The immersion grid has been developed to help compare and contrast these applications and predict how likely they are to be truly immersive. (more…)
I was recently asked to present at Power2 Leaderlab’s Happy Hour of Power in Portland, OR. The group wanted information on how to extend their leadership qualities online and use social media to expand their network. Here’s my presentation, enjoy!
About Power2 LeaderLab
Power2 LeaderLab brings together women leaders who are committed to being their personal and professional best. Learn more on their website: http://www.p2leaderlab.com/.
Flying into San Jose EARLY Monday morning, I was filled with excitement. What cutting-edge technologies would I discover? Who would I meet that was doing cool immersive stuff? What virtual reality and augmented reality gear would I get to TRY out?
Day 1 of the conference was a mixed bag of highs and lows. Unfortunately due to high demand, many of the sessions I wanted to attend were standing room only in a HOT room. After about the third try, I gave up attempting to see and hear over the crowd and just hoped they would release the session ‘on-demand’. The one session I WAS able to attend was a GREAT demo of Unity3D, a development tool that is quickly becoming the industry standard. It boasts several key features that make it the ‘go-to’ choice for many developers and designers. It supports all of the major devices like the Oculus Rift, Hololens and Leap Motion. It also allows developers to publish their work on the web or in an Android or iOS environment, apparently with the click of a button. You would think all of this functionality wouldn’t come cheap, but they have packages starting at under $100 per month. Unity3D also has a resource library of plug and play 3D components for sale by other designers. Apparently skilled designers are making upwards of $90K per month selling their 3D creations.
By far the most compelling part of the day was the NETWORKING and getting into countless inspiring discussions around the potential of these immersive technologies. Everyone that I met was eager to jump into a conversation about how they planned to use the technology to make the world better. Because I’m a teacher, I tend to see the most potential on using AR and VR to help engage students and improve learning outcomes. There are a myriad of other case uses that might be more surprising. One session entitled ‘How to measure enterprise AR impacts’ outlined how Boeing was able to save millions by using augmented reality to help them build airplane wings more efficiently. Amazing! (more…)
Advances in digital technology and communications are radically changing the way we live. Can they change the way we learn? YES!
One of the areas digital technology has the potential to make the biggest impact is education. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade and currently teach both online and offline courses. I’m excited about the paradigm shift that is happening in education, however there is is still a VERY wide gap between what is possible and the current state of classrooms. Today’s students aren’t engaged by the old teaching methods and aren’t gaining the skills required to succeed in a digital world. This is where immersive technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and virtual environments can help. (more…)
Augmented Reality or AR is the process adding a digital layer over our real world environment with the hopes of adding value to the experience. During my journey researching some AR projects, I was impacted by two very different areas of exploration.
The first included multiple stores and experiments demonstrated on the Augmented Reality Overview blog. The site included many user-generated videos that demonstrate some of the amazing technology that is emerging in the field of AR. The videos demonstrated uses that could provide value in the real world and change our lives for the better. One example of this was a medical AR application that allowed doctors and medical staff to scan a patient with the phone app and be provided real-time access to their medical records such as x-rays and other pertinent information.
Another example demonstrated real-world interactions with computer generated objects.
The developers explained the technology this way:
Mano-a-Mano is a spacial augmented reality system that combines dynamic projection mapping, multiple perspective views, and device-less interaction with 3D virtual objects.
It was mind blowing to see this high-level technology being enacted in what looked like a college dorm room. The juxtaposition of this futuristic technology alongside an average looking apartment reminded me of how NEW this technology is and how we’re all in the nascent stages of something very powerful.
These humble videos describing home spun AR projects lay alongside polished campaigns by entrepreneurs like Vivian Rosenthal. Rosenthal has started a company called GoldRun, now called ‘Snaps’, that produces AR campaigns for big brands like Target and AT&T. She is positioned as a thought-leader and innovator in the AR space and had this to say on the future of AR in a recent interview (Rosenthal, V. 2015):
In the past it has been pretty gimmicky. It has been tied to a webcam and we’ve all seen some of the webcam AR. And some of its kinda cool but ultimately it’s gimmicky because you have this piece of paper and you’re awkwardly moving it around. I thought there was this opportunity to when GPS was unhinge those physical restraints and tied to AR. You have AR, GPS and your smartphone that you could literally invert how AR was used and think of your city as the chess board and you’re the chess piece. Different physical locations become hot zones and your this game piece and you’re walking through a hot zone you have the ability to see these virtual objects.
Rosenthal has crafted some innovative marketing campaigns, coining what she calls ‘v-commerce’. She believes that brands need to create off-line experiences, targeting consumers using their smartphones. In a recent example, she worked on a campaign that created pop-up virtual stores in various locations in urban centers. The stores could only be ‘seen’ using the smartphone AR app, where consumers could then click on the product and order it online. The campaign boasted amazing results with the product selling out during the virtual flash sale.
I am both mesmerized by Rosenthal and also a bit put off. I would LOVE to see someone with her talent working to use AR for something OTHER than selling sneakers. She briefly discusses extending the GPS AR technology beyond marketing but has no real-world examples of what this might look like.
Have we arrived at a place where EVERYTHING has to be branded? Are brands so deeply embedded in our identities that in order to make sense of the world around us we NEED to connect with brands? Part of me feels like this choice between the user-generated AR applications and branded AR experiences is being made for us. As marketing teams continue to co-opt technologies such as AR, brands and corporations will continue to tighten their grip on our identities. Digital media and AR have given anyone with big pockets access to our lives through what is quickly becoming a digital version of the self: the smartphone.
User generated content in Second Life houses MANY representations of big brands, such as Converse, created by brand advocates.
In the final chapters of his book, Convergence Culture, Jenkins (2006) outlines the characteristics of a paradigm shift to a ‘participatory culture’. He cites many examples of the tensions that are arising between the old mass media and the new media revolution. The digital tools that have allowed the average consumer to find a voice online and create user-generated content are also being exploited by larger brands, attempting to mimic this grassroots phenomenon.
As I read Jenkins (2006) observations, I was struck by what may have been an unintentional experiment testing this new paradigm. Many of the issues raised in the text, reminded me of events that had transpired years before in a virtual world called Second Life. SL, as it’s referred to by insiders, was started in 2003 and is COMPLETELY crafted from user-generated content. The platform gained popularity briefly but never quite made its way onto the list of mainstream social networking platforms.
SL had several obstacles keeping it from going mainstream, ranging from technical issues and a steep learning curve to adult and x-rated content. The latter, coupled with the old media’s focus on what they deemed as unacceptable content worked to marginalize the entire SL community. Jenkin’s (2006) sums it up this way, “Old media still defines which forms of cultural expression are mainstream through its ability to amplify the impact of some user-generated content while labeling other submissions out of bounds.” Articles like the recent post, Second Life: what went wrong?, focused on the platforms adult content getting into the hands of children. The author calls SL ‘a disturbing hive of graphic sexual content, extreme rape fantasies, and vendors selling webcam sex…children were inhabiting some of the most hardcore locations’. This may be true but children are accessing porn on the Internet everyday and I don’t hear a call for turning ‘off’ the Internet. Just like the web, SL houses a myriad of communities OTHER than those that are adult-themed.
My friend and old SL resident, Draxtor Despres, has made it his mission to tell the stories that mainstream media has chosen to overlook. An amazing example of user-generated content, his YouTube channel houses dozens of expertly crafted videos telling a very different SL story. There’s the video about an elderly women with Parkinson’s who is finding renewed vigor thanks to her time in SL. The video outlines how mirroring what her avatar does on the screen actually strengthens her neural pathways in real life and allows her better mobility.
Another story outlines the flourishing fashion industry in SL and explores the relationship between avatar and real-life.
Better Way to Learn?
Back in its heyday, SL was seen as a promising alternative for virtual learning. Many institutions created SL islands and universities. Educators worked to provide online students with a more engaging environment. Today many of the university campuses have disappeared and online learning has moved in a different direction.
Educators my have overlooked the fact that learning happens in a very different way in SL. Instead of learning in virtual classrooms, SL residents learn by interacting with the virtual environment. Jenkin’s (2006) references “scaffolding” as a means to help students try out new skills. He describes it this way, “In the classroom scaffolding is provided by the teacher. In a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way.” This is VERY much a part of SL culture. The older, more experienced SL residents take it as their duty to help ‘newbs’ maneuver the steep-learning curve that is required to truly enjoy SL. The learning happens by attempting to navigate and participate in the community.
Brands in SL?
As SL was becoming more popular and recruiting more die-hard users, brands decided they wanted to market to this extremely desirable demographic. Several corporations, including IBM, coca-cola and KLM, built an in-world presence. In very much the same way consumers have rejected ‘astroturf’ or FAKE grassroots media, SL residents rejected big brands attempting to hijack their virtual community. Corporations attempted to use this new media platform to sing the same old song – buy our products. They built virtual cars, virtual clothes, virtual jewelry, virtual beverages and expected residents to assume some sort of brand affinity. Instead of speaking the language of the residents and giving them the power to assume an active role in their brands, companies attempted to control the message. This was a HUGE failure. IBM, who once held global company meetings in SL has left all but left the space. Companies have pulled the plug on SL but instead of gaining some self-awareness of how they could have better engaged this community, they simply deemed all of SL a huge waste of time.
The branding that survives in SL today are the items that have been built organically by SL residents and NOT corporations. You can still find Converse sneakers and virtual Starbucks coffee shops. Are these brands aware that their brand has been co-opted by virtual avatars? Probably not. Years ago these brands may have tried to shut down this type of content. What would they do today?
Looking at these virtual content creators through the lens of today’s marketers, we see a group of brand advocates replicating items they love in SL. These are the consumers of marketers dreams, referred to as the ‘loyals’ in Jenkins (2006) writings. Marketing luminaries, such as AdAge editor, Scott Donaton, realized years ago that attempting to control the narrative would have negative effects on the brand. Second Life has proven this to be true.
Today’s teachers are finding it increasingly challenging to engage students. Considering the unique learning styles of our students and catering teaching techniques to support these styles can improve student performance (Dunn, R., Beaudry, J.S. & Klavas, A., 2002) and increase student engagement.
Research indicates that learning styles are the result of many influences including biological, sociological and cultural characteristics. Within each culture, class bracket and classroom ‘there are as many within-group differences as between-group differences. Indeed, each family includes parents and offspring with styles that differ’ (Dunn, R., Beaudry, J.S. & Klavas, A., 2002, p.88). Studies have found the closer the match between a student’s and teacher’s styles, the higher the grade point average (Dunn, R., Beaudry, J.S. & Klavas, A., 2002). It’s important to remember that no learning style is BETTER or WORSE than another and each style has similar intelligence ranges. “Most learners can master the same content but HOW the master it is determined by their individual styles” (Dunn, R., Beaudry, J.S. & Klavas, A., 2002, p.89). (more…)