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XYZ Reality:

SimCentric:

Virtual Events:

Upgrading an Industry

Intelligent Immersion

Pivot Fast in the Unreal

The Reality Wire: An Immersive World T H E

B U S I N E S S

O F

M A N U FA C T U R E D

R E A L I T I E S


w w w . v r w o r l d t e c h . c o m

THE BUSINESS OF MANUFACTURED REALITIES Dedicated to the business of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, audio sensory experiences and other upcoming innovations within immersive technology, VRWorldTech keeps business leaders and professionals updated with daily news and regular features from across the globe. To subscribe to the weekly VRWorldTech newsletter, follow this link: http://eepurl.com/dunw2v Jonathan Savage, Publisher jonsavage@vrworldtech.com

Mark Dugdale, Editor editor@vrworldtech.com


VRWorldTech Magazine

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Published by: Premeditated Media Group Ltd 71-75 Shelton Street Covent Garden London WC2H 9JQ Editor Mark Dugdale editor@vrworldtech.com

Publisher Jonathan Savage jonsavage@vrworldtech.com

XYZ Reality:

SimCentric:

Virtual Events:

Upgrading an Industry

Intelligent Immersion

Pivot Fast in the Unreal

Editorial board Jan Pflueger, advisXR Sophia Moshasha, Brightline Interactive

The Reality Wire: An Immersive World T H E

B U S I N E S S

O F

M A N U FA C T U R E D

R E A L I T I E S

FOLLOW US: Twitter: www.twitter.com/ VRWorldTech

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ virtualrealityworldtech

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ virtual-reality-world-tech

Š 2020 Premeditated Media Group Ltd. All rights in and relating to this publication are expressly reserved. No part of this

publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher. The views expressed in VRWorldTech Magazine are not necessarily those of the publisher. While the publisher has taken every care in compiling this publication to ensure accuracy at the time of going to press, it does not accept liability or responsibility for errors or omissions therein, however caused.

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Conscious cooperation So this is happening. PS: Gulp It’s difficult to believe that only a few months have passed since the publication of our second issue of VRWorldTech Magazine. Since then, well: *gestures at everything*. The impact has been as widespread as it has been devastating. There is no need for me to count the dead, nor the ill; only to mourn their passing— and wish them well. To the key workers in healthcare, transport and retail, I offer not only applause but also a promise that my political vote will always be cast in your favour. The wound is still too fresh to consider what opportunities await immersive tech once this crisis has abated, but it’s worth noting the goodwill being shown, through products and services swapped, and knowledge shared. The entire industry, from startup to incumbent, developer to chief executive, is stepping up and being counted, when we all need it most. While I didn’t want to focus on opportunities when producing this issue, I did want to contribute to this collective, conscious cooperation. That’s why we opened up this issue to press announcements from up and coming immersive tech companies that we’ve been unable to cover ourselves. Please do turn over to The

Reality Wire, which will remain a regular fixture of this publication. Of course, where we focus this issue of VRWorldTech Magazine, the retail sector, the impact of the pandemic has been acutely felt, with lockdowns worldwide reducing footfall to zero in every store but supermarkets. Retailers and businesses with online presences were best prepared, but the playing field is relatively level when it comes to immersive tech. As such, we speak to leaders and experts from London Dynamics, VRdirect, Program-Ace, Vuframe and Vobling to check the pulse of immersive tech development in retail and highlight how VR and AR can be utilised to attract, convert and retain online customers in this new climate.

you’d like to get involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Deadlines and publication dates for all of our 2020 issues are available on our website. That’s all from me. In these days of social distancing and lockdown, I’ll leave you on a somewhat sombre note: my Oculus Quest is fully capable of broadening my social horizons, yet I’m still too much of an old introvert to risk talking to complete strangers on the other side of the world. It works for many but not, as yet, for me. I will keep trying, I promise. In the absence of smiles, hearing another person laugh is absolutely the next best thing. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay there for each other.

We also hear from our editorial board on the possibilities available for holding virtual events and conferences, a highly topical subject in the current climate and one that Jan Pflueger and Sophia Moshasha are well placed to comment on. Do read their articles and let us know what you think via social media. XYZ Reality, SimCentric, DeepMotion and Vortic update us on their latest partnerships, product releases and deployments, what they’ve achieved, and what they have in store this year and the next. Our next issue will be out in August. It will focus on immersive tech in the automotive sector, where some genuinely thrilling applications of immersive tech are changing the way that vehicles are designed, manufactured and sold. As ever, if

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Mark has been a business-tobusiness journalist for a decade. He has edited and written for websites within financial services and law, primarily intellectual property, for which he also has a keen interest. He graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in creative writing. He is an avid reader, particularly of science fiction and fantasy.

Mark Dugdale Editor VRWorldTech

APRIL 2020

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CONTENTS

In this issue 10 The Reality Wire

26 NEWS / COMMERCIAL ART

Igloo Vision, KG2 Consulting, So Real, The Wild and Virtualware This is an immersive world. Here are some of its latest stories

Vortic: State of the art The convenience and cost saving benefits of Vortic’s platform could draw in the crowds, but it’s the ability to create unique experiences that will be its biggest pull

16 NEWS / CONSTRUCTION XYZ Reality: Upgrading an industry The world’s first engineering grade AR headset, and the most accurate

20 NEWS / MILITARY SimCentric: Intelligent immersion The chief aim is simplicity for end-users—and in sympathy with the realities of those on the ground

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30 NEWS / MOVEMENT TECH DeepMotion: Learn and move The new Generative Motion Brain uses an AI to develop motion models through trial and error—so that each iteration brings improvement


CONTENTS 34 VIEW FROM THE EDITORIAL BOARD / VIRTUAL EVENTS

Jan Pflueger: Welcome to the Unreal Virtual events and conferences are all about transferring direct human interaction and delivering an experience of value for attendees

38 VIEW FROM THE EDITORIAL BOARD / VIRTUAL EVENTS

Sophia Moshasha: Pivot Fast—Building immersive virtual events Organisations need a better understanding of the digital and virtual platform landscape so they can transition quickly during these uncertain times

46 SPOTLIGHT / RETAIL London Dynamics, VRdirect, ProgramAce, Vuframe and Vobling: A retail of two technologies When the world moves past the pandemic and life returns to some semblance of normality, retailers and brands will have fresh respect for online channels and how they need to interact with customers in the digital space

60 INTERVIEW / HAPTICS Meet: Interhaptics Interhaptics is a tech company specialising in 3D interactions and haptic feedback development tools for XR

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Š [sÊbastien decoret] /Adobe Stock

VRWorldTech is a must-read resource if you want to stay up-to-date on progress within immersive technology. Our content sits between the technology’s creators and developers and the business leaders who can benefit from its use and application. We cover the stories that make immersive technology a reality.


THE

REALITY WIRE Igloo Vision:

Turn any room into a fully immersive workspace

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gloo Vision has launched the Igloo Immersive Workspace—a solution that makes it possible to turn any room into a fully immersive workspace. Any organisation of any size can transform any meeting room now to house a wraparound 360° screen powered by Igloo’s easy-to-operate, content-agnostic software. Collaboration becomes easier than ever with your content surrounding you, no longer confined to a single screen. There is a major trend towards immersive workspaces and virtual meetings. Employees want to work, not have to endlessly communicate about what they’re working on. Collaboration that allows for communication is the way of the future. The Igloo Immersive Workspace leads to

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countless applications: • Data-rich project meetings and videoconferencing • Room-scale data visualisation and interrogation • Productive ideation and blue-sky sessions • Engaging presentations and storytelling • Collaborative design reviews and stakeholder engagement sessions • Fully 360° immersive content, including webbased content Stepping inside an Igloo immersive space is a bit like stepping inside a giant VR headset. And, because a group of people can get inside, it is always a shared experience. Previously, to host Igloo Shared VR technology, it was necessary to buy a structure such as a dome or a cylinder. This meant it

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could be difficult to house the technology.

at AVI-SPL’s advanced visualisation group.

Now, Igloo can retrofit any room by using 3D laser scanning and AI to map a room and create a bespoke projection template that forms the vast 360° screen.

“I was completely blown away at how useful, how immersive, how sharp the projection was and how easy it was to interact with the data and bring up various forms of information very quickly.”

In collaboration with AVISPL, the world’s largest AV systems integrator, the Igloo Immersive Workspace was launched in mid-February at ISE 2020. It saw extremely positive feedback. AV Network described it as the most exciting thing at the show, and major brands registered their interest on the show floor. “This type of collaboration system from Igloo Vision is very unique in that we can apply this and integrate this into any conference room of any size,” said Jim Angelillo, vice president

Ease of use is a key component of the Igloo Immersive Workspace. Igloo Home is a userfriendly interface no more complicated than an iPhone. If they know how to work a smartphone, anyone can use it or bring up content. And it’s completely flexible. It’s able to run 360°, VR, flat screen and web-based content. It can run with all of a company’s existing content, view websites, and have new content created with everyday tools such as Office 365 and Google and Adobe suites.


TRW

Virtualware: VR is Now campaign goes live

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ore than 15 years ago, we started an amazing ‘immersive’ adventure called Virtualware.

to design your products better and faster, engage audiences like never before and more. VR is now!

It’s been a long journey, where we’ve seen and experienced the evolution and growth of the XR industry almost from zero to the immersive (R)evolution that it is today in business. After many years of testing, developing, and applying immersive technologies to enterprise with great results, the last couple of years have been the most revealing for us. In 2019, we attended the biggest events related to XR technologies around the world.

From Europe to North America, we’ve had the opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with companies, institutions, and governments from all over the world; we learned that most of them perceive immersive technologies as a great opportunity to increase competitiveness in the current economic environment, but they don’t

know where to start. There are multiple articles and studies that predict that XR technologies are the future for business. The future is exciting, but what about the present? Today we know that VR technology enables companies like yours to bring out the best in your workers, allows you

This is an immersive world

This is why we have created the VR is Now campaign. A campaign that will show you how medium and large companies, institutions and governments are already using VR technology to solve the problems that concern us today. A campaign that will serve as a stepping stone for all those that are still undecided to take a step forward and get to the next level. Who will solve the problems that concern us today? You will. With us. Together. VR Is Now!

We Want To See How You’re Making It So. Email Editor@Vrworldtech.com To Find Out How To Feature In The Next Edition Of The Reality Wire.

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TRW the frontier. This describes AWVR perfectly.”

So Real Digital Twins: CT scanning and conversion tech delivers fully engine ready 3D

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So Real Digital Twins announced its collaboration with Anotherworld VR (AWVR). Berlin-based AWVR will operate as an extension of the Swiss firm’s development team, aiding delivery of its aggressive plan to fully automate CT2VR digital twin production by 2021. So Real’s world-first, patented CT scanning and conversion tech delivers fully engine ready 3D objects, complete with fully functioning physics and cool features such as ‘Superman X-Ray vision mode’. AWVR, a leading

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German VR studio led by Max Sacker and Ioulia Isserlis, will lend its expertise to core aspects of the process, including physics and VR capability, pushing the bleeding edge of XR. Ian Ravenshaw Bland, cofounder and chief executive officer of So Real, commented: “We have quite a challenge ahead of us to automate the production of cinematic-quality digital twins.” “To get this done, we must partner with the technology leaders in various fields; those whose DNA compels them to push further into

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“We have been collaborating with AWVR on a project basis since before So Real was even founded and always discussed working more closely together as a team. Now that we are funded and set up, we’re doing it. Stay tuned for more world’s firsts over the course of 2020.” Max Sacker, creative director at AWVR, commented: “One of the key aspects of virtual reality production is conveying a sense of realism. Virtual reality is about deep immersion and transporting the user into a believable simulated reality. The VR headset is the ultimate magnifying glass through which the user scrutinises the illusion they are being asked to believe.” “So creating 3D assets to the highest standards of realism is of paramount importance to VR studios as well as visual effects and animation studios creating AAA-quality visuals. We are very excited to team up with So Real to push the boundaries of visual realism using cutting edge CT scan technology and building on the years of experience gained from optimising 3D visualisation and asset creation.”

One of the key aspects of virtual reality production is conveying a sense of realism. Virtual reality is about deep immersion and transporting the user into a believable simulated reality.


TRW

KG2 Consulting: Enabling businesses to run discrete, virtual events

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S-based KG2 Consulting is offering a virtual conference solution that can help businesses unable to hold live events during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Immersive, Interactive Virtual Conferences (i2VC) enables businesses to run discrete, virtual events that replicate or supplement existing conferences. They can take the place of traditional in-person conferences, summits, seminars and workshops, or form part of a hybrid, rescoped event. “These events could be offered with the frequency that your organisation normally requires, minimising the burden of organising or planning the logistics for conducting such an event,” explains

Kofi Gamor, managing director of KG2. Users need only a recent model phone, tablet or laptop and reasonable bandwidth to participate in the event in a nonimmersive way. For full immersion, they will need a high-end PC or laptop with any popularly available headset (head mounted display). Gamor says that i2VC is particularly relevant to businesses that want to replicate the experience of a traditional conference or in-person event, with users able to interact spontaneously and in multiple ways, decide which sessions thay want to attend, obtain presentation materials, participate in real time, and personalise and effect networking opportunities.

For businesses, KG2 offers three i2VC options to choose from, with each providing more fidelity and realism to meet specific requirements.

The top-tier customised option is KG2-supported but gives businesses the opportunity to develop a virtual world that they own and manage.

Gamor says: “Technology today has dramatically impacted on these characteristics, so depending on your bandwidth and on how much your use case and resources dictate, i2VC can provide gaming level fidelity and realism.”

Concluding, Gamor comments: “Please contact us via info@ kg2consulting.com and together with your designated staff, KG2 Consulting will work with your organisation at any point in your conference planning process. We can provide a full-service solution or we can simply offer the venue, with a navigational orientation.”

The standard option on offer from KG2 provides businesses with selfservice, generic templatebased and non-branded workplaces, which are hosted by KG2. KG2’s configured option goes one step further and offers personalised and branded workplaces.

“No matter your needs, we can help. Our end-to-end solution may include social media, mobile technology, evaluation tools and VR technology for a full, robust, intensely real-time immersive experience.”

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TRW

V

R/AR software company The Wild doubled down on its promise to provide reliable access to architects and environmental designers needing to work remotely. With the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, architecture and design studios are making major adjustments to the way they work, in order to maintain social distance while still providing services. Video chat, messaging, and VR/AR tools will be relied on heavily during the coronavirus pandemic as staff and clients alike will need to forego travel and in-person meetings, and begin working remotely for the foreseeable future. “Covid-19 is fastspreading, and we’ve seen an almost immediate mandate to employees to work from home,” said Clay Walsh, marketing and communications director of The Wild. “The Wild provides our customers with remote access to

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The Wild: A virtual workspace for architects and designers an immersive virtual workspace where they can easily connect and collaborate with each other, as though they were in the same space.” The Wild allows architects and designers to meet inside project models with clients and stakeholders at any time, making real-time collaboration easy and accessible from anywhere. Collaborators can join from desktop (macOS and Windows), VT (HTC Vive, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality), and AR (iOS). The Wild recently released a significant performance

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upgrade and now runs 2X faster than previous versions on desktop VR. Users can iterate and prototype in a shared virtual space by rapidly sketching out ideas in real time. Native tools offer sketching, massing, material sampling, measuring, video import, 2D image capture, and speech-to-text annotations, allowing users to capture and express their ideas in the moment. These tools are useful for showing different design options or reviewing specific aspects of a

model, and with them, teammates and clients can work through issues in real time to align on a solution. Collaborating in VR and AR can help teams make better decisions and transition from design to construction more efficiently, without the need for in-person meetings. In The Wild, teams can meet virtually to evaluate designs, catch errors, and provide spatial context for their colleagues and clients. In a time of social distancing, travel restrictions and an economy at risk, finding efficient ways to collaborate is crucial to keep services moving forward. Companies currently using The Wild include adidas, Interior Architects, SAS International, ENGIN Creative, Dillon Consulting, Zoom+Care, Scala, O’Brien & Co, Bora Architects, BNP Paribas, ASD Sky, Fat Pencil Studio, and MacDonald Miller.


© [Andrea] /Adobe Stock

WHAT’S DRIVING ENTERPRISE USE CASES OF IMMERSIVE TECH IN THE AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR?

The fourth issue of VRWorldTech Magazine will focus on immersive tech in the automotive sector, where some genuinely thrilling applications are changing the way that vehicles are designed, manufactured and sold.


NEWS / CONSTRUCTION

XYZ Reality: Upgrading an industry XYZ Reality has created what it calls the world’s first engineering grade AR headset, and the most accurate

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YZ Reality, a startup developing an AR headset for the construction industry, has spent three years in stealth mode. Now, with approximating €5.7 million in funding secured, builder and architect David Mitchell’s mission to eliminate 2D “in its entirety” could soon become a reality. Mitchell launched XYZ Reality in 2017, after working on construction projects across Europe and repeatedly seeing the same problems: a shortage of skilled workers, severe delays and costly rework. Before founding his own company, Mitchell desired to see construction become a ‘paperless’ industry. >>

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Do you want to know more? Visit: VRWorldTech construction archive


NEWS / CONSTRUCTION

XYZ Reality founders Umar Ahmed, David Mitchell and Murray Henriksen

To achieve this, the 2D nature of design and building had to be replaced with an immersive alternative that could assist rather than hinder its progress. Mitchell explains: “When I discovered paperless construction in 2016, I was working as a digital construction manager at J Coffey Construction. Rather than leave the company to start this journey alone, J Coffey Group instantly believed in the vision and became the first company to invest in XYZ Reality.” “Three years later and they are still part of the incredible journey, allowing us to work alongside the very people whose lives we are trying to change for the better.” He continues: “I have always been passionate about the construction industry. I took my very first steps on a construction site, following in the footsteps of the rest of my family who were contractors and passionate about change.” “Since then, I have lived and breathed everything construction and knew when starting this journey that I wanted construction workers to be the very people to trial and test our product and ultimately, tell us how to make it better.” Build it and they will come XYZ Reality has created what it calls the world’s first engineering grade

AR headset, and its most accurate. The headset, called HoloSite, allows builders to view and position design models on-site to 5mm accuracy, and allows construction stakeholders to make real-time decisions in the field, thereby eliminating errors-out-oftolerance, improving the feedback loop and drastically speeding up the process of construction. The trials that Mitchell referred to have seen XYZ Reality deploy the prototype HoloSite to participants of its Early Partnership Programme, so that the headset can be tried and tested on construction sites in multiple locations and under different conditions—all with a view to perfecting the product before its general release. Mitchell says: “Our Early Partnership Programme allows us to work alongside construction workers every day on completely different projects and in different countries. This is the most valuable resource for us as it allows us to constantly evolve to match their needs.” “For us, it’s not about bringing a nice-to-have offering to the table but solving a real issue that cripples so many projects in the industry.” According to Mitchell, current practice in construction today is to design buildings in 3D and then convert them into 2D drawing, a conversion that creates inefficiencies, such as up to 80% of construction >>

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NEWS / CONSTRUCTION works being ‘out of tolerance’. The resulting roughly 20% of project costs being wasted amounts to an average of £70 million for buildings of significant size and scale. The 3D-to-2D problem comes down to the people involved; after all, 2D is an unnatural language for humans, yet “tradespeople are being asked to interpret 2D drawings, conceptualise the 3D asset and then build the asset on-site to within construction ‘tolerances’”. Mitchell says: “Works are currently validated after the fact through laser scanning. 80% of the time the construction fails to meet acceptable tolerances. With HoloSite, we can prevent errors happening in the first place.” “This alone solves a huge problem for everyone in the industry but we also believe that it benefits every construction worker in a different way. From allowing those on the ground to build correctly first time and eliminate the need for re-work to being able to validate the work taken place in real-time and merge the site and the office with live reporting, our technology offers an efficient and transparent way of working that boosts productivity in an industry thought to be declining.”

We have designed holosite from the groundup with health and safety at the forefront. We wanted to ensure that the product was not just easy-to-use and adaptable to its user but that it offered a truly seamless experience.”

David Mitchell Founder XYZ Reality

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‘Assisted Reality’ is an excellent description for technology improving an industry’s workforce, rather than rendering it obsolete. The user experience is also front and centre of the development of HoloSite. Mitchell says: “The user experience is at the forefront of everything we do at XYZ Reality. We have designed HoloSite from the ground-up with health and safety at the forefront. We wanted to ensure that the product was not just easy-to-use and adaptable to its user but that it offered a truly seamless experience.” “What has been incredible during this process is to see just how quickly our users interact with our product. Be it an apprentice, construction manager, journalist or investor, everyone who tries our headset instantly understands the product and sees the vision.” “As part of our Early Partnership Programme, we are visiting all of our project sites and ensuring our technology is embedded into the daily workflow of the building site, from attending morning briefings to offering upskilling on-site we want to ensure our product has a lasting impact, wherever it is used.”

Is construction ready for an upgrade of the kind that HoloSite is promising? Mitchell certainly thinks so. He says: “I think generally, the industry is going through a digital transformation. Whereas previously construction has been limited by technological hardware available in the past, we are beginning to see

who keep this industry alive, that this tool can enhance their role. We call AR ‘Assisted Reality’, not there to replace workers but to allow them to achieve more, in the same amount of time.”

technology address the needs of our industry.”

A 2021 reveal

“There is always room for improvement in any industry and I believe it’s a case of proving your concept and showing the very people

The €5.7 million in funding secured in March, from Amadeus Capital Partners and Hoxton Ventures, as well as Adara Ventures and J Coffey >>

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NEWS / CONSTRUCTION HoloSite allows builders to view and position design models on-site to 5mm accuracy

Construction, allows XYZ Reality to look toward moving out stealth mode and planning a general release for its flagship device. In the short and near term, XYZ Reality will expand into the US and Asia, “where we have already seen an incredible demand from construction companies”, and build its software, hardware and marketing teams “to allow us to constantly evolve our product and talk about the impact it is already having on our early partners”. Aside from the financial support of its investors, XYZ Reality will also use their experience and expertise to shape HoloSite as a product. Mitchell says: “Our partners bring much more to the table than the monetary value ever could. Whether it’s J Coffey’s support for the vision and their valuable resources as our ideal end-user, or it’s the input of

Hermann Hauser who has been a champion of ours since trying HoloSite some years ago, we have been extremely lucky.” “Hermann has supported our investment from Amadeus and introduced us to some incredible thought-leaders in the space who have helped us communicate the XYZ vision to the world, including Nick Kingsbury at Amadeus. We were also lucky enough to be introduced to Hussein Kanji from Hoxton Ventures and the team at Adara Ventures along the way, who have all added tremendous value to the business with their insight, ideas and passion for turning the XYZ vision into a Reality.” XYZ Reality will spend the rest of 2020 presenting HoloSite to partners. Mitchell says: “We thought it was vital that in our development and

funding stages that we kept the product under wraps until we could keep our promise of delivering value on day one of any project and now, it’s already transforming the way we work across the industry.” “We will be putting all our time and efforts this year into developing our Early Partnership Programme and inviting construction companies around the world to be the pioneers of HoloSite and see just how big an impact it can have.” “At the start of 2020 we also received some phenomenal press coverage appearing in the likes of The Telegraph, Irish Times, TechCrunch, Yahoo Finance and Sky News.” “We plan to keep the momentum up in 2020 and get ready for our exciting launch at the beginning of the next year.”

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NEWS / MILITARY AND DEFENCE

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Do you want to know more? Visit: VRWorldTech defence archive


NEWS / MILITARY AND DEFENCE

SimCentric is developing the SAF-TAC training platform for the British armed forces

SimCentric: Intelligent immersion SimCentric encourages the use of immersive technology in military and defence, but its chief aim is simplicity for end-users—and in sympathy with the realities of those on the ground

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implicity is key for SimCentric, the software and smart wearable company run by veterans of the armed forces, when it comes to developing immersive training solutions for military personnel of all disciplines and nationalities. Its training solutions, the latest of which SimCentric is developing for the UK Ministry of Defence for trials and testing across the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines, are easily accessible for the current generation of military personnel who are themselves gamers, deployed on tried and test hardware and software, underpinned by a base platform that can be customised to suit most requirements and scenarios. SimCentric’s desire to keep things simple was borne from its

combination of military experience with technical expertise. Its founder and chief executive officer, Dr Adam Easton, is a former captain in the Royal Australian Corps of Signals and holds a doctorate in computing and artificial intelligence from the University of Oxford. Tom Constable, director of innovation at SimCentric and a former British Army officer with a degree in interactive games design, says: “Almost all of the leadership team are veterans of various armed forces. Between us, we have experience of 10 operational tours, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. But what is different about SimCentric is we are also highly capable technical individuals. We draw upon our military background and technical expertise to address and fix pain

points within training in defence and the military.” Each military and technical background of the leadership team at SimCentric has yielded a unique solution to a particular pain point within a military organisation. For example, Major (retired) Gareth Collier, vice president of strategy at SimCentric, served in the Australian Army for 19 years. He identified that the process to train soldiers to use live fire ranges could be dramatically improved through the introduction of new techniques and technologies, and in direct consultation with the Australian Army, SimCentric developed the SAF-FORESIGHT product, an end-to-end range safety, planning, visualisation, briefing, risk assessment, analysis and safety intervention >>

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NEWS / MILITARY AND DEFENCE

SAF-FORESIGHT is an endto-end range safety, planning, visualisation, briefing, risk assessment, analysis and safety intervention tool supporting live fire collective military training

tool supporting live fire collective military training. Constable says: “Following initial introduction to the Australian Army, SAF-FORESIGHT has been further developed to take into account the location of friendly forces and, via an algorithm running in the background, track the location of participants and assess the risk of fratricide. That enables commanders and range safety to act in cases where, for example, one section steps in front of another introducing a risk of a live fire incident and casualty. The Australian Defence Force subsequently procured an enterprise licence for SAF-FORESIGHT, which will be introduced into service during 2020/2021.” As a result of this experience and technical expertise, SimCentric is well placed to guide and educate military and defence organisations on the benefits of immersive technology for training. Although simulation has been used in defence and the military in one form or another for many years, VR is very much a new realm for their personnel. In truth, they are still discovering exactly what they want from the technology and what they can achieve for training, according to Constable. He continues: “A function of the collaboration we are going to be

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doing with the Ministry of Defence and British armed forces is about answering some of those questions and working with end users to really help them understand the technology and what it can do.” “One of the biggest challenges we face is education and giving the right people the right information. When we do speak to military personnel, we try to overlay our technical understanding with our military background and give them what they need.” Use cases abound but SimCentric is keen to focus on exact needs and requirements before developing a bespoke solution. Constable says: “For example, SAF-TAC is a platform designed to be efficient, flexible and as simple as possible, so that when a customer comes to us and says they want to use VR for a particular purpose, we already have the foundations in place so we can work with them to develop that extra module to work on our platform.”

“Due to the wide variety of use cases, the platform may not solve all of their VR needs out-of-the-box, but in these cases, it can be quickly adapted to provide a solution tailored for their requirements. Also, there are some cases where VR isn’t appropriate and we will help them to figure that out.” SAF-TAC is the platform being trialled in partnership with the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. In March, SimCentric was awarded a contract worth £300,000 to evaluate, compare and trial the platform, which uses Unreal Engine 4 and can train more than 30 personnel at the same time, using intuitive gesture control designed to match real actions on the battlefield. HD surround sound and realistic visuals bring to life training scenarios tailored for VR interaction. Constable, who designed and developed the concept for SAFTAC at his own startup before being acquired by SimCentric, says: “What makes our VR training solution >>


NEWS / MILITARY AND DEFENCE

different to others on the market is the recipe. Every solution is going to have the same ingredients, such as graphics and hardware, sound and input controls, but they will not all be put together in the same way.” “Our platform is designed from the ground up to apply the strengths and mitigate the perceived weaknesses of VR.” An initial successful concept demo with the parachute regiment and senior officers at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick helped to drive and inform the SAF-TAC product vision. Again, simplicity is key, Constable says. “We designed the platform to be plug and play. All that’s required is a laptop, router and headset, and users can start their training in minutes.”

SAF-TAC can be deployed anywhere, meaning military personnel no longer need to be “put behind keyboards and re-trained to be ‘virtual soldiers’, sometimes with numerous and complex keyboard inputs”. Constable says: “With VR, it’s becoming evident that immersion and engagement can be built at the right levels. The requirements mean users can carry the necessary equipment around with them and use it where they need to, all in order to help drive the success of ‘real-world’ training and operations.” The platform is also uncomplicated when it comes to the type of headset being used. SAF-TAC is deployed on Oculus Rift S, which Constable describes as costeffective, efficient, and technically capable because it comes with inside-out tracking.

SAF-GEAR smart wearables deliver cost-effective, machine washable, and multi-sensor garments designed to support a variety of military use cases

The simulation uses just three controls: grab, move and shoot. “With those three actions there are very few scenarios that require more. Users can interact with their rifle, change weapons, look at maps and even communicate over multiple radio nets—99% can and should be done with those three commands.” Unreal Engine 4 is a tried and tested base that this generation of soldiers are familiar with. “The vast majority are all gamers themselves,” Constable says, “so what they see on our training platform is what they see on a daily basis back on their blocks during their downtime. That makes them feel invested in the platform and that they understand it already. They know what to expect.” Developer Epic Games is a highly engaged partner, ready to deliver customised upgrades at no extra cost and in very little time. Constable adds: “It’s also a highly optimised engine that helps us achieve the frame rates required to deliver training in the desired fidelity. We have designed wide open geospecific training areas that reflect their real counterparts, so that users can access those training areas from their barracks. They can do mission planning and rehearsals before they deploy, so when they do, they maximise the training.” Further tests with the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines are planned, with the Ministry of Defence aiming to integrate immersive tech into the armed forces’ wider training programme, and to support and enhance real-life training exercises. >>

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NEWS / MILITARY AND DEFENCE

Going forward, SimCentric is investigating the use of smart wearables within defence and the military. Constable says the aim is to develop devices that support training and live activity, rather than cause new problems for the personnel and officers who use them. Constable explains “We’re using smart wearables to develop algorithms and machine learning to help real-time protection during training. For example, if a user is conducting physical training and about to lift an object, but with the incorrect posture, the smart wearable would detect that and provide near real-time haptic feedback, like a tap on the shoulder, to warn the user about the risk of an injury. We have also developed a baselayer top that sits on your skin and carries out biometric monitoring and provides haptic feedback.” With smart wearables, Constable stresses that there is “a balance that needs to be struck” between need and want. An AR headset that provides the wearer with reams of data and information might seem like a good idea, but “there is a risk of generating too much information for infantry commanders on the ground and saturating their environment with artificial data”.

A function of the collaboration we are going to be doing with the Ministry of Defence and British armed forces is working with end users to really help them understand the technology and what it can do. Tom Constable Director of innovation SimCentric

“Use cases would include navigation, so they can put a map/grid reference on their electronic display and put it away, and the vest will slowly/ gently vibrate to indicate a direction to travel. The user then doesn’t have to think about their location and whether they are lost. Instead, they can focus on tactical decisions, such

Wearables can also be integreated with the SAF-TAC training platform

“Instead of having an overlay HUD using goggles, you can use a smart wearable haptic vest to generate and convey additional data, without dominating their sight or their hearing.”

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as making the most of the ground in front of them, where the threats are and where the weaknesses are. It’s about using technology, but sympathetically with the realities of a commander on the ground.”


The fifth issue of VRWorldTech Magazine will consider how organisations and defence companies are deploying immersive tech to prepare and enhance personnel and equipment, at home and in conflict zones.

© [Gorodenkoff] /Adobe Stock

HOW CAN SOLDIER-CENTRIC IMMERSIVE TECH IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MILITARY PERSONNEL WHILE KEEPING THEM SAFE?


NEWS / COMMERCIAL ART

Vortic: State of the art

The convenience and cost saving benefits of Vortic’s platform could draw in the crowds, but it’s the ability to create unique experiences that will be its biggest pull By Mark Dugdale

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ortic, the new XR platform for the commercial art sector, is disrupting a business that is built on the traditions of exclusivity and relationships, with artists, collectors, dealers and galleries—individuals and organisations of reputation and standing who introduce and refer one another—waking up to the potential of digital channels. Nick Walter, chief executive officer of Vortic, explains: “It has been fascinating to watch the digital evolution of the art world. In general, the art world has been behind the curve in widespread digital adoption. The commercial art sector is a more traditional business >> A mockup of the Vortic Curate App showing a VR representation of Grayson Perry’s exhibition Super Rich Interior Decoration at Victoria Miro. All works © Grayson Perry, courtesy Victoria Miro. Picture: Vortic

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NEWS / COMMERCIAL ART

that is built around exclusivity and relationships.”

amazing experiences that don’t replace physical but offer something different.”

“However, the industry is now recognising the consumer shift to digital, driven in part by recent increases in consumer consciousness towards sustainability and an appreciation that not all collectors can visit physical spaces due to time and location constraints.”

Walter says Vortic arose when gallerist Oliver Miro, the son of art dealer Victoria Miro, saw an opportunity to begin using VR to display artists’ work at the Victoria Miro gallery where he works.

Examples of commercial art galleries dipping their toes in the digital space include the David Zwirner and Gagosian galleries, which have been experimenting with enhanced online offerings, referred to as ‘online viewing rooms’. Walter says those have experienced wider adoption, with other galleries and large art fairs starting to incorporate these into their websites. He continues: “We were able to anticipate this shift and also had the advantage of being able to create a platform using first-hand industry knowledge, which we were able to combine with the latest VR and AR technology to create ‘at-home’ viewing experiences. We can get collectors closer to art than ever before from any location in the world.” “The convenience and cost saving benefits Vortic can provide are huge and we are able to create unique

Miro opted to take his idea into the wider art world instead of building a gallery-only tool, and engaged Walter to build the products and establish the business. He took the task on in June 2017. Walter says: “We describe ourselves as the art world’s leading XR platform offering customised and sustainable solutions for galleries to exhibit works of art using the most AR and VR technologies. Our seamlessly integrated apps bring art closer to collectors and provide them with the highest quality digital viewing experiences, allowing for engagement with works in-situ, from anywhere in the world.” Using software and rendering techniques, Vortic incorporates 3D works, including sculpture and textiles, as well as 2D works. It actually offers three platforms: Curate, Collect and VR. Through these, collectors are able to make direct real-time enquiries.

At the platform’s heart is Vortic Curate, a content management system that allows galleries to curate and publish exhibitions. They are able to choose from digital spaces of different dimensions that are fully customisable, or have their own physical space captured photogrammetrically using highresolution 3D scanning technology. Within these virtual spaces, galleries can then mount interactive and immersive exhibitions, while controlling every detail of how the works are displayed. Galleries are able to create XR-only exhibitions to sit alongside their physical programming or curate private gallery rooms tailored to the interests of specific collectors. These exhibitions are available for collectors to engage with via Vortic Collect, an AR app available on smartphone and tablet devices. The app allows collectors to receive invitations to exhibitions by leading galleries, including virtual private views, art fair previews and exhibitions tailored to their collecting interests. Collectors can navigate these exhibitions from any location in the world and view works of art from every angle. Using AR, collectors are also able to view how works would look in their homes. >>

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A mockup of the Vortic Curate App showing a VR representation of Grayson Perry’s exhibition Super Rich Interior Decoration at Victoria Miro. All works © Grayson Perry, courtesy Victoria Miro. Picture: Vortic

Vortic VR enables audiences to fully immerse themselves in XR exhibitions, private views and art fair previews. Supported by Oculus VR headsets, the VR app enables audiences to experience exhibitions in 3D, moving freely through gallery spaces as though they were physically walking through them. Why did Vortic decide to develop a complete XR platform rather than specialise in either AR or VR, two very different kinds of immersive experience? Walter says it was a case of recreating the gallery experience for art collectors. “One of the issues we were trying to solve is that flat 2D imagery does not allow art collectors to understand the true scale of works or envisage what this looks like in a gallery setting or in their home. The VR side of our offering allows a collector to place themselves within a gallery setting and browse works, as well as inspect the detail of the work and learn more about it. This has been aided by the introduction of the Oculus Quest headset, which is the first VR HMD

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to offer a good quality wireless viewing experience.” “The AR complements this perfectly as a collector is able to favourite a work and then place it on their wall at home using their smartphone or iPad to see what it would look like in-situ. Once people see the quality of experience our platform can create, coupled with its accuracy and realism, it feels like you are in a physical gallery without the constraints. Collectors can spend time with the art, inspecting detail, seeing artworks in scale and ultimately being able to use our AR functionality to view both 2D and 3D artworks in their own home.” The digitisation process behind Vortic Curate, the content management system that underpins the whole platform by allowing galleries to curate and publish exhibitions, is where Walter and his team dedicated much of their time. He says: “We have spent a lot of time developing the infrastructure behind Vortic Curate and have built a highly

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sophisticated VFX pipeline that supports the digitisation process of gallery environments and artworks. It is at the discretion of each gallery how much of this capability they would like to utilise, which is driven by the inventory of artworks that they want to distribute to collectors via the Vortic Collect app.” “We support both 2D and 3D artwork asset placement inside a virtual environment. In regards to 2D artworks, high-resolution imagery is uploaded to the platform and galleries can choose to frame and light this to achieve the most realistic representation of the works. We offer 2D and 3D scanning services via a partnership network and have been able to achieve some very impressive results—our VR production of Grayson Perry’s Super Rich Interior Decoration that was shown at Victoria Miro last year was incredibly well received.” It’s very early days for Vortic. The integrated VR and AR apps launched on Oculus Store and Apple App Store, respectively, with a >>


NEWS / COMMERCIAL ART

We can get collectors closer to art than ever before from any location in the world. The convenience and cost saving benefits Vortic can provide are huge and we are able to create unique amazing experiences that don’t replace physical but offer something different.

Nick Walter Chief executive officer Vortic

co-presentation of works by artists represented by the David Zwirner and Victoria Miro galleries. Walter says that Vortic has been “in a fortunate position to be able to build this platform alongside gallery professionals”. “We were able to access Oliver’s artworld network to get valuable input into the product development so we didn’t have to come at this from a pure technology perspective. We have consulted all potential users of Vortic Curate along the way, as well as understanding the needs of collectors and so far we have had a very positive response.” He continues: “The art world is very nuanced and you need to understand it from the inside to be able to make good product decisions. The

current climate has meant a change in mentality for most art galleries, resulting in them needing to think more about their digital offerings.” “We anticipated the need to educate galleries as Vortic is disruptive to their normal business practices, but we built the system to complement their physical word practices as well as putting a large emphasis on user experience and ease of use. In regards to artists, we have consulted with them throughout development and we are really excited to see how they can work with us to find new ways to not only display their art but to tell stories.” Despite the clear use cases for the Vortic platform, Walter says experience has taught him to be realistic about what can be achieved in the first year of operation.

He says: “First and foremost, we want to make sure the Vortic curate provides real value to our gallery audience and support their usage of the platform. We want Vortic to become a must-have for all galleries who want to engage digitally with their worldwide customer base in a new and exciting way.” “Our ambition is for collectors to get real benefit from the experience the Vortic apps provide and discover a new way to get closer to art. We are also concentrating on building a sustainable business that puts our internal team at the heart of everything we do.”

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NEWS / MOVEMENT TECHNOLOGY

DeepMotion: Learn and move

I

t is the aim of DeepMotion, the company founded in 2014 to develop smarter movement technology for virtual applications, to use the real world as its muse for virtual motion.

The new Generative Motion Brain uses an AI to develop motion models through trial and error—so that each iteration brings improvement By Mark Dugdale

Using the Perceptive Motion Brain platform, DeepMotion is able to capture and create accurate, natural 3D character motion from 2D video and imagery. Now, its new Generative Motion Brain is able to step in and lend the considerable weight of the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology to do the “heavy lifting” of simulation, according to founder and chief executive officer Kevin He. He likens the new Generative Motion Brain to “learning like a baby”, with DeepMotion’s AI developing motion models through trial and error—so that each iteration brings a new improvement. “A significant advantage of the unified platform is that both sides of the brain can feed data to the other and keep improving,” He says. “They keep learning, which is crucial for accurate motion.” >>

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The Perceptive Motion Brain tracks real-time body motion from a single camera with three-point tracking, while the new Generative Motion Brain generates ‘on-the-fly’ realistic motions for the NPC

Do you want to know more? Visit: VRWorldTech software archive


NEWS / MOVEMENT TECHNOLOGY

With Motion Brain, the AI generates better lower body movement, which is hard to synthesise. An AI has stronger capabilities to synthesise a movement based on physical constraints.

To develop this new tool, DeepMotion required massive computing power to run its deep reinforcement algorithms. The company partnered with Intel to achieve this, and in the process reduced development time and required resources, while empowering applications with new levels of immersion, interaction and realistic character motion.

Before collaborating with Intel, Motion Brain handled single input motions at a time, could only mimic reference motions, and might take a week or more to train. Intel’s 192-core SDP server enabled DeepMotion to train its new generative Motion Brain that can handle multiple inputs and generate new behaviours while in progress. DeepMotion’s VR Tracking solution builds on Motion Brain and leverages as little as one tracking point to simulate full body motion in VR. He says: “With Motion Brain, the AI generates better lower body movement, which is hard to synthesise. An AI has stronger capabilities to synthesise a movement based on physical constraints. It also generates better interaction, because

Kevin He Founder and chief executive officer DeepMotion

what is produced isn’t a simple keyframe animation that cannot be changed, but a real-time simulation that’s influenced by external forces and environments. Those are adapted to in real-time, so the resulting simulation will change. That provides better interactive results in VR.” DeepMotion began commercialising its solutions last year. An early customer was Samsung Electronics, which used Motion Brain to power the AR Emojis feature in its Samsung Galaxy S10 line. Using the smartphone’s camera, its owner can capture a person performing a motion and then create a virtual character that mimics the actions. The company is also working with Dry Cactus, the maker of popular bridge-building simulator Poly Bridge, on a new title that utilises its core physics engine for character simulation. He says that DeepMotion has a portfolio of prospects in the immersive technology space. These are split evenly between locationbased VR entertainment providers looking to use its full-body tracking solution to create avatars for shootem-up and puzzle games, and businesses developing immersive training programmes. >>

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Prospects in this latter group are developing military training programmes for soldiers and industrial manufacturing simulations for basic physical skills and health and safety—all of which require realistic and believable avatars capable of flexible movement and immersive interaction. All of these areas stand to gain from increased immersion and realism, because both enhance user experience and are areas where VR in particular is traditionally lacking. He points to a demo that DeepMotion produced to highlight how the VR user experience is enhanced by its solutions. The user interacts with a non-playable dog simulated by AI, and is able to pet and play with the animal. He says users reported that the experience’s feedback was such as they could ‘feel’ the dog at their fingertips, due to the tricking of one’s senses: “In this case, there is no tactile feedback. But the player said they could feel it. With a strong simulation and interactive and responsive NPC, it really makes the experience much more immersive.”

He says: “Their interaction needs to be realistic because users often react negatively to anything artificial.”

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“All of this combined makes for a better immersive experience.” Right now, DeepMotion continues to advance its full body VR Motion SDK for Unreal Engine 4, after recently being awarded a grant under the $100 million Epic MegaGrant programme.

Similarly, VR social and gaming applications require simulations to be grounded in reality. Here, it’s important for the avatars of users or players to appear real. For this purpose, a simulated lower body makes all experience participants more comfortable.

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DeepMotion’s full body VR avatar tracking solution on HTC Vive using four tracking points: head, two hands and torso

He says: “It was an honour to get that funding, which we used to make full body VR tracking smoother and more streamlined for Unreal Engine 4. We have just finished integrating the SDK into the workflow.”

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A cloud version of Perceptive Motion Brain will be available in a few weeks, He says, and steady progress is being made with the Generative Motion Brain following the partnership with Intel. This is only the first step, however, in DeepMotion’s mission. He says the company’s next focus is to use AI to accurately simulate human motion, as developers the world over attempt to replicate many other facets of the human condition.


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VIEW FROM THE EDITORIAL BOARD / VIRTUAL EVENTS

Welcome to the

UNREAL Virtual events and conferences are all about transferring direct human interaction and delivering an experience of value for attendees By Jan Pflueger

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he coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic brought serious upheaval to our everyday lives, disrupting everything from how we socialise to how we work, all in the relative blink of an eye. Most strikingly, its impact has been global. You only have to check your next email to see another ‘stay safe and healthy’ signoff; log on to social media to learn about another nation tightening its lockdown. An early casualty of the crisis was the mass social or professional gathering. Their organisers were >>

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The HTC Vive Ecosystems Conference was recast and renamed as the Virtual Vive Ecosystems Conference in March

among the first to react and either postpone or cancel their events, citing the health and safety of attendees, sponsors and staff. As a result, they were quick to move online, ushering in not quite a renaissance, because they have long been there—but a shot in the arm that has resulted in a flurry of digital content, webinars, meetings, and, of course, virtual conferences and events. Indeed, the explosion of online content and web-based communication was such that Zoom reported a twenty-fold increase in the number of users within a short time after the outbreak. Issues such as security and bandwidth limitations came into focus and are to be considered in this context, too. What a virtual event means What does it mean for a conference to happen virtually, in response to the current crisis? There are many points to consider before reaching a decision. How do you communicate with your community/attendees online? How many people must be served at the same time? What content is there

available to provide? How will timings be worked out? Your audience is now distributed worldwide and located in different time zones where, before, they occupied a single point in space and time—it is a challenging problem, but it’s also one that lets you scale your coverage. Screen-sharing conferences and streaming content are a familiar setup. But this limits the experience in a way that content will be more or less just consumed, and important aspects such as networking and face-to-face chats are lost. XR meetings offer many more opportunities. Talking to someone who is reacting (even using a simplified avatar representation) directly makes a big difference; you are more focused and involved in the discussion and less distracted, or in other words, you are present. Participants do not start talking simultaneously as is the case with most desktop-based meetings and the flow of exchange is much more efficient. It’s worth bearing in mind that spatial platforms have a large variety of >>

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requirements. Offering access for different technological platforms (ranging from desktop to freely moveable HMDs using manufacturerspecific input channels) and handling a larger number of attendees who do not know one another means you need to find another way to deal with infrastructure and interaction.

conference with several tracks and an exhibition area—and include space for networking and incidental meeting opportunities with other attendees. In a virtual space, there are almost no limits and event content can be flexibly scaled depending on need. Preparation is key

It’s important to remember that none of the platforms available should claim to replace known physical events. Instead, they are offering a means to create new experiences. Virtual conferences and events need to encourage knowledge sharing, community exchange, or establishing new trade shows and services. Transferring spatial experiences to a 2D desktop, in my opinion, should be a worst-case fallback. A spatial platform offers the opportunity to structure the event— much in the same way as a physical

As an attendee, there is perhaps a little more preparation required. Firstly, you need to familiarise yourself with the platform. Furthermore, your virtual representation/user profile should be prepared to match your expectations and how you want to be recognised by others. Figure out how to get in contact with other virtual participants and how to exchange information and store contact details. In most cases, there are some introduction spaces and basic rules on how to use the platform.

And take note: even in a virtual space, the common rules of social behaviour apply. XR platforms use avatars for your virtual representation, but most do not offer realistic avatars (there are only a few solutions where you can use a scan of yourself or just a photo to generate a realistic impression of your face). Due to technical restrictions, simplified, cartoon avatars are the norm, which might not fit into a business context. Another big disadvantage of avatars is that they cannot reflect all of the facets of human interaction. Talking to an avatar might feel awkward, and it will be more difficult to interact without getting the usual context, such as body language and facial expressions, but if you do not want to exclude yourself from communication in virtual space, try it in a friendly environment first. The quality of a presentation depends heavily on the presence of the speaker and the way they interact and get their point across. In an environment where it is nearly impossible to get direct feedback, or even be disturbed by randomly moving avatars, it will be difficult to deliver highquality content. This requires a new way of presenting. As long as 2D content is just transferred to a spatial environment, we will not get the benefit out of it. A virtual spatial environment gives us a new kind of freedom to create interaction >>

V2EC used the ENGAGE platform for its keynotes and announcements

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areas, use other kinds of storytelling, and implement aspects we are not able to experience in a real-world context. This should affect the way information is presented, and I am convinced that using spatial storytelling tools (such as Flow Immersive) will increase the value of conferences in the virtual space. As mentioned, virtual conferences are not new. But in the context of the current crisis, recent examples worth mentioning include IEEEVR 2020, which was successfully transformed into an online event using a customised Mozilla Hubs platform. Another good example is the HTC Vive Ecosystems Conference, recast and renamed as the Virtual Vive Ecosystems Conference (V2EC) in March, which used the ENGAGE platform for its keynotes and announcements. As it was reported, the quality of the experience was very high, although due to platform limitations, the number of present online attendees was of a manageable amount. It is proven that with these kinds of event setups, organisers can reach their audiences. The expectation that these will substantially grow is underlined by the fact that HTC Vive will soon be offering virtual conferences and events as a service. Called Vive Events, this should be able to support up to 5,000 attendees. Easier access to information, reduction of travel effects, increased coverage and removing physical limitations are big benefits of virtual conferences and events. An example of how trade showdependent businesses are dealing

“Virtual conferences and events need to encourage knowledge sharing, community exchange, or establishing new trade shows and services. Transferring spatial experiences to a 2D desktop, in my opinion, should be a worst-case fallback.”

with cancellations is the Volkswagen virtual motor show. The initially physically planned trade show booth, which was originally planned for the Geneva International Motor Show, was transformed into a virtual experience and is accessible via a web browser. Creation and deployment of interactive virtual content will surely play a larger role in customer experience strategy and influence the direction in which trade shows and product announcements will develop in future—adding a fully immersive environment as a framework would be the next logical step to interact with customers. As we can see, there are many requirements to keep in mind as an event organiser, presenter, attendee, and as a solution provider for virtual conferences and events. Content will be key, but the most important factors will be accessibility and interaction. These are the critical points for

overall acceptance, but also open up a new horizon for event formats, new possibilities to engage with prospective clients, and even offer services in XR. Current XR-enabled events and conferences are mostly attended by experienced users who know and understand the technology, and are well-versed in dealing with its limitations. But we are well on our way to achieving a critical mass of people involved to move the technology further along. The challenge will be to enable XR experiences for non-XR users and to lower the hurdles to access them. This involves hand-in-hand progress in hardware, infrastructure and usability. Primarily, it is all about transferring direct human interaction and delivering an experience of value for attendees. This is a long-term journey and we must be aware that this is just the beginning of a transformation in this area.

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PIVOTFAST BUILDING IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL EVENTS Organisations need a better understanding of the digital and virtual platform landscape so they can transition quickly during these uncertain times By Sophia Moshasha, Brightline Interactive

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C

urrent times demand that we keep our distance while continuing to conduct normal business operations. As we shift into a period of a new normal, our global community needs to navigate what that means for us as individuals, as well as what that means for our individual organisations and what we are trying to achieve. This could be anything from transitioning our internal business practices for meetings and collaboration, to interactions and initiatives external to our organisation.

Adobe Stock © Tatiana

In an effort to help organisations navigate the new distancing practices, Brightline Interactive, in partnership with the VR/ AR Association and Resource Department, recently held the first of a series of discussions called ‘Pivot Fast’. The goal is to help organisations better understand the landscape of digital and virtual platforms and to help them develop informed and actionable short and long-term strategies in their transition to digital and virtual platforms. The first episode of the Pivot Fast series featured global and experts in virtual technologies to include thought leaders from HP, HTC, Microsoft and Unity Technologies. This discussion was led by Tyler Gates, host of the VR/AR Asociation’s ‘Everything VR & AR’ podcast, and Donny Neufuss, a seasoned expert in live event streaming and vice president of commercial and brand partnerships at Brightline Interactive. The discussion kicked off with an in-depth review of the landscape of digital meeting and event platforms, describing the best uses of the technologies, followed by an industry expert panel with featured guest speakers. Why Pivot Fast? Why pivot fast? Because we have to. Most of us are challenged at some level due to the current and residual conditions of social distancing. It’s important for us to consider the lasting effects of the time that we’re in now. Even when we do have the ability to gather again, how long >>

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will it take for things to get back to ‘normal’? Furthermore, how long will it take for people to get comfortable with being in large crowds? Will people get used to the ease and efficiencies of accessing information and connecting with people from the comfort of their computers or other connective devices? Regardless of the extent and intensity of the short- and long-term outcomes, we should all be aware of and prepare for the fact that things will insurmountably change.

Regardless of the extent and intensity of the short- and longterm outcomes, we should all be aware of and prepare for the fact that things will insurmountably change.”

Where are we right now? It’s important to be able to understand where you are now to know where you need to go. Do you have a campaign that culminates around a physical launch of a movie with activations in different geographical locations, or are you involved with sporting events that require a physical presence of players and attendees? Thinking about your event goals, what is it that you were really trying to achieve? Understanding the core of what you have been doing and why, you’ll be able to better understand what options or combination of options, will work for you. On demand vs live content

Before considering different platforms, you should ask yourself a few questions: • Do I need my content to be delivered live or will attendees appreciate accessing content ondemand? • How many attendees do I expect to have? Will we have attendees all at once or is there an opportunity to break up content?

Virtualising events on demand is a very powerful tool and the platform you choose highly depends on the use case. While we do have certain limitations with non-physical engagements, we also have the luxury of delivering content in a

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Do I plan on passive information intake or do I want my audience to engage with each other or the speaker? Does this engagement need to be in real-time?

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variety of ways. On-demand gives us the ability to time shift and play what we want, when we want, allowing us the freedom and flexibility to access content that is specifically appropriate to you, on our own schedules. Some would argue that accessing content in this way allows the event to capture more of their audience since the audience is in control of their time. There are very few things these days that demand us to watch live content. In fact, most content is actually delivered ondemand now. Certainly, there are benefits to live programming as well. You can compare live content to ‘must see’ TV. What content is important to get to the audience in real time? For example, we need to deliver critical information to healthcare professionals to communicate constantly changing circumstances, logistics and access to equipment. Other examples of critical real-time information are watching sporting events for up-to-the minute scoring or having a popular keynote speaker attract attendees for live messaging and potential interactions. Then there are examples where on-demand content may be more appropriate, such as content for niche audiences, education sessions and breakout rooms. In some cases and for larger events, you may conclude that a combination of both delivery mechanisms is necessary. Our suggestion is if you don’t have to go live, then don’t. There is a potential large budget shift that comes with delivering content ondemand vs live. On-demand content allows for easier logistical planning and in a lot of cases, lower >>


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costs to produce your event. One obvious reason is that speakers and key participants can record their presentations and talks in advance of the event at a time that is most convenient for their schedules. When deciding on-demand or live content, think through your event goals and assess what makes the most sense for your audience. Virtual event platforms Learning management system Learning Management Systems (LMS) are commonly used with on-demand content to deliver information to an audience that needs to learn the information. That learned information needs to then be verified and sometimes scored. This could range from engagement on YouTube Live video, all the way to granular assessment of content for training purposes. Virtual conferences and meeting platforms Virtual conferences and meeting platforms refers to any tools used to bring people together to deliver content. This ranges from Zoom, where the purpose is to gather a small group for collaborative purposes, to a YouTube Live event or other webcasting tool where the goal is to deliver a one-to-many experience for larger audiences. The culmination of these tools include LMS, webinar and webcasting, and should all be considered based on who the audience is, what the content is, and what the purpose and goals are for your content distribution. These tools can be used to educate, communcaie and assess, and have significant alternatives to what we were able

to achieve and measure with inperson events. We should now be thinking about virtual-first event and engagement strategies rather than focusing on replicating the live experience. VR and AR With VR and AR, we are able to deliver embodied cognition to the consumer, giving them the sentiment that they are physically involved and interacting within an environment. VR and AR have grown in utilisation to create efficiencies across a

There is one truth about both live and virtual events. Content is everything! If the content isn’t engaging, if the speaker isn’t great or if the quality is bad, that is what turns off attendees both on site or virtually.”

multitude of industries. Specifically for events, VR and AR are being used to bring people around a common ‘dinner table’. Examples could be for product releases, showing a movie, or displaying 3D objects for a variety of purposes. These immersive events can be networked for real-time interactions or standalone, ‘ondemand’ experiences. VR and AR are also commonly used for collaborative meetings to deliver deeper and more meaningful connections and communications. During virtual meetings, attendees have the sensation of being in a room where you can see everyone’s ‘bodies’ and ‘faces’, and feel as though they are in the room with others and can even hear them from varied distances and positioning in the virtual room. Features are constantly being innovated to enhance the virtual experience, such as being able to import 3D objects and files, creating ‘face masks’ of the attendee to overlay on the avatar, enabling avatar mouth to voice matching movement, being able to draw things in a 3D capacity and shift individual perspectives of viewing those objects, and much more that will continue to develop in the near future. Much like the trends with enterprise and the military, the events industry is also beginning to explore the use of VR and AR to conduct training both for their event producers as well as for delivering training content for attendees. There are a lot of studies and statistics that show that learning in immersive environments is very impactful and the next best thing to being there in person. >>

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Featured guests Our featured industry guests joined us for the second half of the conversation to go into more detail about what their organisations are doing to help the community in the effort to ‘Pivot Fast’. Amy Scarfone is the principal design manager for Microsoft’s new SharePoint ‘spaces’, a webbased tool for authoring and consuming MR experiences both on traditional browsers or with a head-mounted display. Spaces provides an easy way for anyone to federate 2D and 3D content and tell meaningful stories. Currently, SharePoint’s education and enterprise customers are using spaces to design and share experiences for scenarios such as virtual galleries, tours and training. Microsoft is broadly focused on optimising its sharing and communication tools. Joanna Popper, global head of VR for location-based entertainment at HP, discussed many initiatives the company is focused on to grow the XR industry. She teased a new headset being produced in partnership with HP, Valve and Microsoft, and introduced HP Z Central to remote into workspaces and HP’s Refresh Software that helps make older computers remoteeducation ready. We also loved hearing that HP is utilising its resources to produce 3D printed personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals and healthcare workers. Ron Martin, creative and technical developer at Unity, announced the recent availability of free coding courses on the Unity Learn platform to fasttrack education for creating immersive technology experiences. Unity is also launching Create with Code Live, geared for educators and aspiring developers. Vinay Narayan mentioned HTC Vive’s new event platform, Vive Events, a virtual meeting service that will be both budget- and climate-friendly, and will allow users with and without VR headsets to participate.

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YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED! During this live discussion, many of the participants asked some great questions. We captured those questions and have made sure to answer them thoroughly. How are you going from creation in Zoom to broadcasting on YouTube and Facebook? What tools are you using to go from Zoom to YouTube and Facebook Live? The platform we are using is a custom syndication solution we developed to allow us to distribute Zoom to as many live streaming platforms as we want. We are also using a dedicated enterprise encoder that we have customised. This encoder allows us to take several feeds of both audio and video and route them anyway we need. It is not a solution you can buy off the shelf. It’s built specifically for this capability.

How do you integrate live VR and AR in a one-tomany platform? (Livestream/YouTube/ GotToMeeting/Adobe Connect) You can push VR through one-to-many platforms by doing a screen share. AR is a lot more difficult. That being said, there are platforms that allow the distribution of VR and AR content over the web. These platforms are also device ubiquitous, which means the viewer can use their phone, desktop or head-mounted display to view the same content. The use case for the VR and AR content will dictate what platform and distribution method makes the most amount of sense. >>


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What is the best platform to have interactive panels for a few hundred people that can be recorded for later on demand use? How do you view the future of colleges and universities with what’s going on with Covid-19 in regards to how immersive tech can help? Colleges and universities are already creating more virtual and immersive platforms to teach students both on campus and remote. But what Covid-19 will do is only expedite this adoption and capability for higher education. There is now unfortunately a clear use case as to why these technologies are important. The challenge, for many people in higher education who are not familiar with virtual and immersive content, is their perception of the technology. Many people have a misconception of what immersive tech does. They haven’t viewed it as a way to communicate a lot of information with higher levels of comprehension to remote students. But that is changing due to the lens through which we’re now forced to look and the scenario we’re living in.

There is no one-size-fits-all platform for this question. This all depends on: • The environment you’re rolling this out in (open vs closed) • Security required • The end users that participate • The level of interactivity required • The type and amount of data required to collect and measure • The requirements for integration into other platforms, such as customer relation management systems or marketing platforms • The quality requirements of audio and video The best way to figure out what will work for you is to first consider with your colleagues and stakeholders what is important to you. Define what success looks like. And once you know what that is, then start to look at the platforms that are available. See how many of the requirements they fulfill. You might find that an offthe-shelf solution works for your needs. Or you might find out that you need to perhaps take that off-the-

shelf product and add some customisation to it in order for it to work for your needs. The good news is that most of these platforms allow you to demo them for free. In the case of what we use for our platform, we took Zoom, YouTube Live and Facebook Live, and then had to add some customisation to it to meet our needs. What VR applications are you using for your meetings/hangouts? We have been using several platforms. We’re actually big fans of rumii. It has been a great collaboration platform for our needs. However, there are so many platforms out there. If you simply search for ‘VR collaboration’, you will quickly see all of the options out there. Does Vive Sync require avatars? Is there a way to use AR or MR to communicate with actual people? Vive Sync does require avatars but they are easy to create from your mobile device and the guide walks you through each step. It’s perfect for anyone who has never created or even heard of an avatar. Here a link for more info.

currently there but there’s many features in the works. Forum.vive.com is a great place to share your feedback, ideas and engage with us and other XR community members. You can find out more about Vive Sync from our recent virtual developer talks here. What is the future of Microsoft Mixed Reality? Will it be open for developers to build virtual worlds integrating their own apps and developments? Microsoft Mixed Reality is the umbrella term that represents the broad spectrum of the company’s software, hardware, and cloud offerings in the VR/ AR space. Each platform has its own affordances. I can speak to SharePoint spaces and our roadmap. We are built on the SharePoint platform, which allows developers to build extensible ‘web parts’ to integrate thirdparty apps. While spaces doesn’t support third-party web parts right now, it’s absolutely something we’ll support in the future. >>

For MR and AR capabilities, it’s not

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Are there any security implications around access to content? Of course. What we often tell people is your security is only as good as the ability to trust your end users. In other words, there are a lot of tools and security integrations you can use to protect your content. But as long as there is a screen someone can look at and audio they can hear, nothing is preventing them from recording it with screen software or their mobile phone. That is why YouTube gets flooded with mobile phone videos from conferences such as SXSW, CES and Comic-Con. You can put as many barriers to entry as you want, but you need to be mindful of this reality. How do we produce virtual events when all the performers and attendees are usually live? When thinking about virtual events you need to shift your way of thinking about the event itself. What we do in live events does not equate to what we do in virtual events. Most people think that because live events are ‘live’ then virtual events also need to be ‘live’. But that just isn’t true. The truth is that doing everything live is more costly in a virtual environment and just not always practical depending on your budget and resources. But you can record content ahead of time and then present it as simulated live or on-demand. Generally, the next question we get is, “How do you create interaction among the attendees and speakers?” If you really think about it, where does most of the interaction happen

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at a live event? Generally speaking, you interact with attendees during meals, receptions and coffee breaks. Not during a session. Also, while there is Q&A with speakers towards the end of a session, people will also exchange information with the speaker and follow up after the conference. Case in point, I’m responding to questions after we have done the webinar. So unless you absolutely need immediate interaction, there are still ways to facilitate conversations online around the content.

The point is not to make your conference like TED. The point is to focus on your speakers and content first. No amount of features or tools can compensate for bad content.”

However, there is one truth about both live and virtual events. Content is everything! If the content isn’t engaging, if the speaker isn’t great or if the quality is bad, that is what turns off attendees both on site or virtually. This is where you need to start in both types of events. That is the golden rule of engaging an audience, no matter what. And I can give a perfect example of this. One of the most sought-after conferences in the world, with some of the highest priced tickets, gives all of its content away for free. This online video content is on-demand with no interactive capabilities Here are some quick facts about TED: • It’s estimated that TED Talks on YouTube get three to four million views per day (more than 1.2 billion per year) • TED Global tickets start at $5,000 and can go as high as $250,000 for a five-year commitment to attend • TED-ED has more than 10 million subscribers and more

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than 1.5 billion views as of September 2019 You have to apply or be nominated just to go, which can take over a year before you get accepted

The point is not to make your conference like TED. The point is to focus on your speakers and content first. No amount of features or tools can compensate for bad content.


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The Kalmar AR app gives sales representatives the power to visualise the product on site and interact with the customer in a new way

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Do you want to know more? Visit: VRWorldTech retail archive


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A retail of two

technologies

A

s the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic continues to limit social interaction, retailers big and small, in every corner of the world, have found themselves suddenly without their most tried and tested means of interacting with customers: in store. With lockdowns in place and workforces furloughed, online sales remain their only avenue, with skeleton crews putting themselves at considerable risk to ensure that everyone has access to the most important items during this time of crisis. When the world moves past the pandemic and life returns to some semblance of normality, retailers will have fresh respect for online channels and how they need to interact with customers in the digital space. Even before the pandemic struck, retail was going through unprecedented change, says former IKEA head of digital transformation Michael Valdsgaard, who recently launched London Dynamics, a new company bringing a plug-and-play AR platform to online retail. >>

When the world moves past the pandemic and life returns to some semblance of normality, retailers and brands will have fresh respect for online channels and how they need to interact with customers in the digital space By Mark Dugdale

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Try out the London Dynamics platform for yourself at www.londondynamics.com

Valdsgaard says: “Retail is going through unprecedented change as emerging technologies continue to relentlessly disrupt the sector, changing the way customers shop and not making it easy for retailers that rely on the old ‘brick and mortar’ model to keep up.” This technological change is also affecting consumers, Valdsgaard says, by developing in them a fluency that is altering their expectations of an online experience. He says: “With the advent of social media tech firms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, shoppers have become familiar with the AR technology and how it can enhance their experience online.” >>

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With the advent of social media tech firms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, shoppers have become familiar with the AR technology and how it can enhance their experience online. Michael Valdsgaard Founder London Dynamics

“Similarly, shopping in the last few years has become a multifaceted experience where shoppers also expect a shareable and entertaining experience (coffee, cinema, etc) when on the high street.” “The challenge for retailers is to recreate those multifaceted experiences online in a way shoppers can access and engage with creatively and get inspiration from. AR helps brands to bridge that gap and create an immersive, non-intrusive and comforting purchase journey from customers where the buyers feel more in control. There is no other technology that will drive such a big change in ecommerce in the coming years—you will see AR growing in usage, sector by sector.” Valdsgaard knows what he’s talking about. During his time at IKEA, he led the team in 2017 that partnered with Apple to showcase the ARKit platform. The result of their partnership, IKEA Place, lets users virtually place true-to-scale 3D models in their own spaces. It remains one of the most widely used and solid commercial applications of AR.

His new venture, London Dynamics, offers solutions that let retailers “extend their ecommerce experience beyond 2D text, pictures and videos, and provide a more realistic, three dimensional ‘view in your space’ option”. The London Dynamics plug-andplay platform enables retailers to “quickly and seamlessly” integrate an advanced AR experience to any ecommerce platform. The solution works through mobile browsers, there is no need to design or make users download an app, and London Dynamics handles all of the complexity on its own platform. “Implementation is as easy as adding a picture to your current website,” says Valdsgaard. “Our solution therefore removes any barriers for brands or retailers, as we are doing the heavy lifting in the background. To serve high fidelity 3D content you need to master several disciplines, and serve the AR experience within a variety of different channels, including social media.” Most traditional retailers are now at the point in their own development

where they already have 3D asset creation as part of running their businesses, says Valdsgaard, so little education on the steps necessary to fully embrace AR is required. He continues: “For more traditional retailers, we hold their hands through this process and execute for them with our expert team overseeing every step. Our backend is also designed to be very user friendly, so it will take less than five minutes to learn how to drag and drop assets into our pipeline where we also serve the retailers an automatic quality assurance process. So big or small, advanced or not, you are in good hands with London Dynamics.” Having said that, 3D asset conversion and creation is “still a very specialised and manual process”, so London Dynamics is on hand to create true-to-life 3D models that are optimised for real-time use and are device agnostic. Valdsgaard says: “We are pushing the boundaries of that technology to automate as much as possible.” He continues: “More importantly, the viewing for end users on their devices has come a long way. Our latest reiterations are >>

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VRdirect Studio is a solution for designing and publishing VR content across all common platforms

some of the most realistic models with real time shadow and reflection of the real-life environment you place the product in, making them almost indistinguishable from real objects.” “Next up is occlusion (the capability to hide a digital object behind a physical one) to make it even more realistic when engaging with a product in a busy space.” Going forward, and despite the current state of stasis that the world finds itself in, London Dynamics is going to continue developing its AR platform to help retailers and consumers alike change the way they sell and buy goods. Valdsgaard says: “What’s certain is that we are going to constantly evolve our solution to ensure we offer something ahead of retailers’ expectations and continue to set standards that allow us to thrive in

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a very competitive market. We have some of the best developers and AR experts in the world, fuelled by tons of retail experience; we’re just getting started in changing the way people shop.” Of course, the pandemic hasn’t just affected retailers. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have suddenly lost their main means of communication and interaction with customers. This situation prompted Munich-based startup VRdirect to offer six months of free access to VRdirect Studio, a solution for designing and publishing VR content on all common platforms. The #stayathome licence grants a business up to 25 360° images and a 360° video, which can be combined in a single VR application. The licence makes it possible for a user to create a virtual walkthrough of a real showroom, with different areas capable of being represented by a separate 360° image and navigable

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VRdirect provides support for the production of 360° content and VR

via arrows in the VR application. Call-to-action buttons also allow customers to interact directly with the environments and storefronts. VRdirect also provides support for the production of 360° content and VR projects, and is offering a 15% discount on the purchase of the 360° camera ONE X from manufacturer Insta360. For exhibiting, VRdirect’s web player hosts dedicated content and is accessible via VR headset, smartphone and web browser. The web player can also be integrated with various websites. Commenting on the release of the #stayathome licence, Dr Rolf Illenberger, managing director and chief executive officer >>


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The great strength of VR in retail is that it allows a customer to experience what comes closest to reality, which is key for immersive marketing and subsequent successful sales. Dr Rolf Illenberger Managing director and chief executive officer VRdirect

of VRdirect, stressed the importance of businesses finding new ways to interact with their customers. He said: “In the current situation, the usual distribution channels are breaking away in many industries. With the #stayathome licence, we provide companies with the necessary tools to stay in touch with their customers and to present their products and services effectively.” Illenberger notes in a follow-up interview that VR had become a hot topic in sales and marketing before the pandemic. He says: “The great strength of VR in retail is that it allows a customer to experience what comes closest to reality, which is key for immersive marketing and subsequent successful sales.” A recently published whitepaper from VRdirect highlights this increased interest in VR and suggests ways in which businesses can use immersive technology to the best effect. The whitepaper suggests that VR can aid businesses at each stage of the ‘AIDA’ model, an enduring template for marketing strategies built >>

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around an acronym for the four marketing challenges to be met to land a sale: awareness, interest, desire and action. Each stage and the role VR can play in the marketing and sales process is discussed in detail. One element, desire, is particularly illustrative of immersive technology’s potential. In order to encourage a “a change in the potential customer’s mindset from ‘I like it’ to ‘I want it’”, healthcare and medtech company Beckman Coulter is using an information-rich virtual tour of its laboratory, developed by VRdirect using its platform, to showcase biomedical testing equipment. Viewers of the VR experience can see the equipment in operation in an ultrasterile environment that is not easily accessible, and have key facts about the company at their fingertips. This VR project supports sales divisions globally as well as onboarding new internal sales staff. Using VR at the ‘desire’ stage, after already using the technology to give

VRdirect released an all new software version in early March

Beckman Coulter is using an information-rich virtual tour of its laboratory, developed by VRdirect

a customer all the facts they need to make a purchasing decision, and have a favourable view and trust in the seller, provides the opportunity to interact with the product or service and reduce the chance of buyer regret. The whitepaper goes on: “Being able to demonstrate a product in its real environment and with additional information is the unique strength of using VR in this stage of the sales process. And this is where VR gives you a distinct advantage over a competitor who uses a traditional marketing and sales approach. Studies have consistently shown that the immersive nature of VR experiences make them more memorable than other ways of assimilating information. Moreover, the memories are reinforced with an emotional response that carries over into the real world and is long-lasting.” Illenberger plans to keep up the pace of development at VRdirect in the coming months >>

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as interest in VR in sales and marketing inevitably increases. He says: “VRdirect released an all new software version in early March, which takes VR content creation to the next level, so we will focus on enhancing this even further. In addition, we will see a web-version of our creator tool, VRdirect Studio, to enable even wider audiences to get started with VR.” For Oleg Fonarov, chief executive officer of Program-Ace, the Ukraine-headquartered company that launched in 1992, initially as a printing house, before moving into professional videos and video games and eventually software development, the value of immersive technology as a sales and marketing solution for a business in any industry comes down to effectiveness. He says: “In other words, how much profit it draws in comparison with other solutions. Retailers are very focused on immediate and shortterm improvements in revenue, so they often task us with shortening the steps users have to go through to place an order and creating a motivating environment for sales, encouraging consumers to quickly get what they need and move on.” “However, this approach does not always live up to expectations, especially if the company makes it a goal to play the long game and keep the user buying the service again in the future. Our company understands

AR and VR are effective for solving one of the biggest modern issues of the retail industry—they familiarise people with the product and remove a major obstacle for consumers— doubt whether a product is worth its price.”

Oleg Fonarov Chief executive officer Program-Ace

it, and has devoted a great amount of time towards learning how the customer thinks.” “As a result, we host our own business analysis department inside the company, so that we may not only accept the order and deliver an app, but also study the market and provide recommendations about how to best launch the product. With this approach, retail customers’ satisfaction, comfort, understanding of the application and the business behind it are all provided for, and retailers see these customers returning for the same product/ service again and again.” >>

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FurnitARe is a mobile app helpful to furniture businesses and interior design

Today, after 26 years in business, Program-Ace employs more than 120 specialists, who have developed more than 850 products for clients in many different industries, and picked up several awards along the way, most recently from IAOP (top 100 outsourcing companies) and Clutch (top 3 AR/VR companies). AR and VR are still very much novel experiences for the average consumer, Fonarov says, meaning that “even simple AR integration is impressive to buyers and influences their behaviour in a positive way”. He adds: “Furthermore, this is a relatively clear and simple way for people to create interactions in any environment. VR’s role is tougher to analyse because most people lack the proper hardware. This makes it suitable only to those retailers whose product is very

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complex, and purchase of which is preceded by careful examination of its every detail. Giving them a headset with VR simulation of the product addresses most concerns and minutiae of this process.” “Furthermore, I believe that AR and VR are effective for solving one of the biggest modern issues of the retail industry—they familiarise people with the product and remove a major obstacle for consumers—doubt whether a product is worth its price. We are in the process of building solutions of this exact type, which will help the vendor better connect to the customer, showcase their product in the most advantageous way, keep the customer interested, and eventually lead them towards purchasing.” Program-Ace offers several immersive technology solutions for sales, marketing and retail. Its first

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group is mobile applications that allow users to interact with a product when and wherever they want via AR. Fonarov says: “FurnitARe is one of our own products in this category. This is a mobile app helpful to furniture businesses and interior design. It utilises smartphone cameras and pre-prepared 3D models of real furniture to visualise it in different rooms and settings. This way, someone can see how a couch/ table/chair will look in their house before they buy and assemble it.” The second group is made up of VR tours and walkthroughs. “In these VR applications, users can explore real places like hotels without ever visiting it,” Fonarov says. “They just put on the headset, initiate the app, and start strolling through the premises at their leisure. With the right headset, anyone can easily check how your hotel room, pool, foyer, and other facilities will look before they book your stay.” Program-Ace also develops configurators for cars, interior, clothes and other products using web, AR, VR and MR technologies. Fonarov says: “This is an absolutely magical experience for people when they are able not only to visualise an object but also to change it and adapt for yourself.” Fonarov adds: “Users really like solutions like this and we call up all businesses to look at this field because now you have a chance to be unique in your niche, which will be impossible in the next two to three years when all major developers will have their own software to showcase the products.” >>


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‘SmartVu’—that is, the virtual assets developed on the Vuframe platform— is deployable on the web as easily as in store or at events, using mobile technology. Zeitler says: “Stick a tablet in there or give it to the sales staff—any variation or colour becomes ‘demo-able’ instantly.” “Think of small shops or stores or think of large and bulky products, there are often many problems of limited storage space. Therefore, a product presentation using AR, in which you simply place the product virtually in the room, is very helpful. This enables customers to choose between the retailer’s entire product range and for example, to virtually test if the new sofa fits in their living room.”

Despite the sheer volume and variety of immersive technology tools available to businesses looking to enhance their ‘real’ and online propositions, Germany-based Vuframe founder and chief executive officer Andreas Zeitler says that ease of use and easy deployment are key requirements today. He explains: “Bootstrapping an AR/ VR based solution even in 2020 is hugely complex—especially if you don’t want the end user to be left behind UX-wise. With developments such as Industry 4.0, IOT, commoditisation and the rise of new competitors across the globe, the way organisations develop new products is faster and more agile than ever before. In order to keep up, companies must be able to act quickly and easily to adapt their marketing and sales strategy to the current state of play.”

Program-Ace also develops configurators for cars, interior, clothes and other products using web, AR, VR and MR technologies

Vuframe’s platform, which Zeitler launched in 2015 after spending a decade working in the games industry and with AR and VR, is a digital sales enablement tool that helps businesses transform their sales processes with the goal of showing products virtually. Zeitler says: “The core USP of our platform is the secure and automated transformation of existing CAD/3D files into secure, small file size, photorealistic models. Those models can be displayed in AR or VR and thus support sales teams in customer meetings or or directly in retail. All current technologies are supported— ARKit, ARCore, WebXR, OpenVR, etc,—basically one shoe fits all, no coding required.”

He continues: “SmartVu is easy to create and can be edited, updated and shared at any time with just one click. However, data security is even more important for us and our customers. With CAD 3D files in particular, we make sure that no intellectual property and knowhow leaves your company by accident just because you used your CAD blueprints in an AR/VR scenario.” There are also data and analytics to be had from developing and deploying SmartVu. Zeitler says: “The Vuframe platform can be used to evaluate how often a SmartVu has been viewed and shared. If you integrate a contact form, additional links or a chat to the SmartVu, this data can also be evaluated—it’s lead-generation driven by 3D and AR. With a virtual product configurator, you can even see which product variations are >>

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SmartVu is easy to create and can be edited, updated and shared at any time

particularly interesting for customers, and you can therefore better respond to individual requests.” In the current environment, as trade shows are being postponed or cancelled, and retail locations closed, planned exhibitions face being mothballed without a way to put them in front of customers. To combat this problem, Vuframe is developing a virtual showroom solution. Zeitler says: “Important sales channels are currently inactive or lost. For exhibitors who have already planned their booth, the virtual showroom offers a good alternative to showcase products anyway and thereby win new customers. Retailers can show products in a virtual store and generate sales. That’s the basic idea. However, a much greater advantage

SmartVu is deployable on the web as easily as in store or at events, using mobile technology

of this is that a lot more people can be reached with a virtual solution, 24/7, 365 days a week. For example, the people who have no opportunity to be on-site for an event or currently cannot leave their homes. Apart from that, a virtual showroom is not limited in time and enables companies to present their latest products during the whole year.” Zeitler adds: “We think there’s enormous potential in virtual showrooms both for retail and for events. And the current situation is pushing a lot of companies to realize they have basically been asleep when it comes to new technologies. Our platform is a turn-key solution which can be deployed within days and provides a clear, long-term benefit and return on investment. Maybe that’s why business is booming right now.” >>

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With a virtual product configurator, you can even see which product variations are particularly interesting for customers, and you can therefore better respond to individual requests. Andreas Zeitler Founder and chief executive officer Vuframe

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This sales and marketing project is focused on the users, how we can support and empower them in their daily work. Anders Ribbing Chief executive officer of Vobling and head of enterprise at Bublar Group

Kalmar, the Swedish arm of Cargotec, provides solutions and services for cargo handling in ports, terminals, distribution centres and heavy industries. It turned to Vobling, the enterprise-focused subsidiary of Nordic XR company Bublar Group, and visualisation technology to demonstrate the functionality of its forklift trucks without the need for the customer or the product to be physically present. Alexander Engsund, digital business developer at Kalmar, says: “First of all, with a global and diverse sales setup, whatever tools we develop have to be easy to access, extremely user friendly and available on- and offline. Secondly, it of course has to support and optimise the sales process in some way. In our case, with long sales cycles and big, complex products, everything that can be done in a costefficient way and helps shorten the sales process while creating a unique, comforting, buying experience for the customers are in our interest.� The result of the partnership with Vobling was the Kalmar AR app, which gives sales representatives the power to visualise the product on site and interact with the customer >>

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SPOTLIGHT / RETAIL

in a new way. As Engsund puts it: “Showing our added value and creating a unique buying experience.” He continues: “There are a number of questions that are hard for our sales team to answer in a way that is understandable without having the product in front of them, especially when it comes to our larger machines. For example, when discussing turning radiuses, with the AR solution our sales representatives can simply show the customer the turning radius, at site, instead.” “AR and VR will help our customers in their decision making process and help them evaluate solutions in a whole new way. By leveraging this technology, sales teams will deliver highly immersive and interactive product demonstrations that remove uncertainty and instill confidence in purchasing decisions.” Anders Ribbing, chief executive officer of Vobling and head of enterprise at Bublar Group, stresses the ease and efficiency of AR as a key factor in Kalmar’s decision to deploy the technology for its products in the forklift segment of its business. Ribbing explains: “AR technology enables the visualisation of complex and cumbersome products to customers without having to bring the actual product. All you need is a tablet or a mobile phone to be able to present the actual product and highlight its features. AR is simple to use and brings a lot of benefits to the sales process through powerful visualisation.” Kalmar has proven to be “a very innovative company with a good

knowledge of immersive tech”, Ribbing says, meaning their partnership could focus on the sales and marketing aspects of the project. He says: “This sales and marketing project is focused on how we can enhance existing processes by userfriendly solutions. It is important to focus on the users, how we can support and empower them in their daily work.” Engsund adds: “After running a test programme with sales for a bit more than a month, the feedback has been very positive. They could instantly see the value of the app and had several good development ideas on how to make it even more valuable and helpful in the customer interface. The exciting and challenging thing with this feature is that it will of course never be finished and there will be

The Kalmar AR app gives sales representatives the power to visualise the product on site and interact with the customer in a new way

constant developments in place. We are extremely excited about the potential this has in our industry.” Ribbing says: “We are currently evaluating the sales force input from the test period. The general feedback is very positive. We are looking at new features and capabilities as well as adding more products to the application.”

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INTERVIEW / HAPTICS

Meet: Interhaptics Interhaptics is a tech company specialising in 3D interactions and haptic feedback development tools for XR By Mark Dugdale

VRWT: W hat

is the

background of

I nterhaptics ?

Eric Vezzoli: Interhaptics is a tech company specialising in 3D interactions and haptic feedback development tools for XR. On 13 February 2020, and after three years of research and development and several successful proof of concepts, Interhaptics has released a beta of its suite to the public. Our mission is to give consistent, realistic and immersive tools for XR creators to increase the value of the final product and reduce development time. We are a small company, yet we are composed of very talented people. Our team is a combination of haptics experts and 3D interaction professional developers. We have also collaborated with different universities specialising in haptics and interaction technologies for >>

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INTERVIEW / HAPTICS

Training scenarios and experiences developing using the Interhaptics suite

XR applications. It is thanks to our team and these collaborations that we can today deliver Interhaptics and share it with the rest of the world.

VRWT: W hat

is your

solution and what problems does it solve ?

Eric Vezzoli: Interhaptics is a development suite designed to build and create 3D interactions and haptic feedback for 3D applications in XR. We built Interhaptics as a universal tool that XR developers can use to deploy interactive content cross-platform to any VR gear, controllers or haptic devices. Interhaptics consists of two development modules: Interaction Builder and Haptics Composer. Both are powered by the Interhaptics Engine. Interaction Builder allows developers to easily build, design and apply complex interactions with or without haptic feedback for VR and AR content. Haptics Composer allows users to create four different haptic perceptions with the ability to design, test and iterate haptics in the same environment. >>

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INTERVIEW / HAPTICS

Haptics Composer allows users to create four different haptic perceptions with the ability to design, test and iterate haptics in the same environment

Interhaptics modules fill a big gap in the market today. The main problems it addresses are: • Reducing the development time and cost invested on interactive content and asset creation for high quality content. You can save up to 90% development time for interactive content • The world of haptics is new for most people. We provide tools and documentation to easily use these powerful technologies • We break the verticalisation of content creation process by allowing developers to create portable and consistent interactive content between platforms The use of Interhaptics is not limited by the type of industry or project, however, we see a significant demand for a suite such as Interhaptics in industrial applications. Interhaptics plays a great role in simplifying the creation of professional procedural training, marketing content, assembly simulations, collaborative tools and

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serious gaming, to name a few. For example, this demo was created in a short time and packs inside realistic interaction to show the correct procedure of replacing a vintage car wheel.

VRWT: H ow

receptive are

your clients to immersive tech ?

H ave

they embraced

your solution , or is education required to demonstrate benefits ?

Eric Vezzoli: It has been only two months since Interhaptics released its beta version to the public, and the amount of enthusiasm we received from the XR community is remarkable, especially in terms of the Interaction Builder module. The VR community is aware of the importance of having a flawless immersive experience, and the difficulty of ensuring a userfriendly tool with a high content quality solution. Interhaptics has been used in verticalised solutions for Fortune 500 companies around the world for

VRWORLDTECH.COM

the past three years. We developed, in partnership, a collection of believable and realistic haptics professional training scenarios for electrical maintenance procedures, which are now used daily and distributed in nine countries by our customers. Since 2017, Interhaptics has enabled the quick creation of high quality procedural training scenarios, deployed at scale on the first XR device generation. In 2020, Interhaptics supported the conversion of a full training portfolio to standalone headset in a matter of days, keeping the same high quality of interaction and pedagogic capability. We understand that haptic technology is a quite niche part of the tech world. The main users of the Haptics Composer module, haptics-focused parties, are very interested in our technology. Either they are investigating how to incorporate our tools to create virtual haptic properties, or they manufacture haptic devices and are working on bringing their hardware to the VR world using a software bridge. Both needs can be supplied by Interhaptics. People who are not really invested or not familiar with haptics and its spectrum may >>


INTERVIEW / HAPTICS

not be fully convinced by its use yet, but it is also our mission to promote haptics to the world.

from our developers. We strive to directly support our beta testers and future customers.

expanding to the AR realm and we are working to bring Interhaptics to Microsoft Hololens 2.

VRWT: W hat

VRWT: W hat do store for 2020?

VRWT: H ow

do you offer to

help you clients get the most out of your solutions ?

Eric Vezzoli: Since Interhaptics is new, we have created—and we’ll continue to create—and publish tutorials, ready-to-use demos, as well as full technical documentation that will help our users and maximise the potential of Interhaptics. We highly recommend going through the documentation or/and the tutorials to fully grasp the use of Interhaptics. Our Discord channel is available to obtain real time feedback directly

you have in

Eric Vezzoli: Interhaptics is completely operational on any windows-based VR device, therefore, our team is currently working on deploying Interhaptics on Android VR devices (Oculus Quest and HTC Vive Focus). In addition, we are

can interested

parties get in touch ?

Eric Vezzoli: Our team is 100% invested in answering all questions and inquiries from users or the XR community. We can be reached directly through our contact form on our website, social media platforms under @interhaptics or directly by email at info@interhaptic.com.

The use of Interhaptics is not limited by the type of industry or project, however, we see a significant demand for a suite such as Interhaptics in industrial applications.

Eric Vezzoli Chief executive officer Interhaptics

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VRWorldTech Magazine: Issue 3  

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VRWorldTech Magazine: Issue 3  

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