Lunch and Learn: Virtual Reality with DenVR

A few Friday’s ago I had the pleasure of hosting a “Lunch and Learn” with my colleagues at Cognizant Accelerator in Boulder. I brought my team from DenvVR,  Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh, who run the VR artist collective to help show the amazing potential of virtual reality.

Bud Anin Aminof with Cognizant at the DenVR Lunch and Learn

Goals

  • Share with the team about the history of VR and the tech
  • Introduce DenVR, how they leverage this technology and use it in new ways
  • Share use cases of how VR is being used today by multiple industries

The Day

DenVR at Cognizant Accelerator w/ Morgan McIntosh, Ben Tyson, Anthony Catanese

We brought in our HTC Vive room-scale setup with our main gaming PC rig.

Throughout the day, people could book up to 15 mins of time to try out the Vive with 1:1 guidance and explore a list of apps. (pro-tip: we used Calendly.com to book everyone). In total there were  32 people who had a chance to try it out first hand. The apps we used were:
Google Tilt Brush
theBlue by Wevr
– Google Earth VR
QuiVr
SUPERHOT

The Talk

[During the talk Morgan painted in Tilt Brush while we projected her view on to the main wall. ]

A year ago I found myself at this odd little bar in LoDo Denver called the Syntax Physic Opera where my friends Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh were throwing a party….a VR art and music party. Ben has an infectious way of inspiring people to try off the wall stuff, he used his powers to get me to travel across the country (Jacksonville, FL to Denver, CO) to see what his new group, DenVR, was up to.

What I found was a sold-out show of people from all walks of life: a ton of college students, parents, grandparents, a conductor of the symphony all watching one of the first VR art events of its kind happening. At the back of the venue, I watched and overheard someone with excitement saying, “Is this where the VR stuff is?” ….nobody knew what this show was about, but the room was full of amazement. My hope is to bring that same feeling I had to you.

Today’s Lunch and Learn will introduce you to the DenVR team, get a brief history of VR, and get into the fun stuff of what’s happening today in this world.

1. What Are We Talking About

There is a lot of “alternate” reality hardware and software players in the world today, which makes it confusing to navigate. Companies are all pushing for their version from the Google Cardboard to Microsoft Hololens to the Oculus Rift. Apple has even jumped on board with the release of IOS 11 making nearly every iPhone from 5s to X capable of augmented reality.

{Great article to explain Virtual vs Augmented Reality: https://www.foundry.com/industries/virtual-reality/vr-mr-ar-confused }

There is a big debate about which of the technologies will win. Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality…the fact is they are completely different tools and each has its place in the world for both.

The screw did not displace the nail.

Today we are talking about room-scale VR. This allows a user to experience the application with more freedom than ever before.

Room-scale VR – photo provided by SteamVR Room Setup

Vive’s blog does a better job of explaining it:

“360° Roomscale VR leverages positional tracking technology allowing you to use a play area of up to 5 meters diagonally across as a stage to walk inside the virtual environment. By being able to seamlessly move around, your state of presence is heightened letting you feel fully immersed in the virtual world you’re exploring.”

We’ll dig into the tech in a bit. First, let’s talk about how we got here.

2. History of VR – The Beginning

Since the earliest parts of human history, we’ve used pictures and drawings as a way to share experiences. Throughout the early 1900’s as moving pictures and photography were becoming more accessible, there were many experiments to draw the audience deeper into the artist’s world.

In 1935 Pygmalion’s Spectacles was release and is considered one of the earliest representations of VR as we think of it today. It shares a story of the lead character using hardware to have a fully immersive experience of a world not in reality.

A bit more detail on the origins and history of Virtual Reality.

3. First Wave

The first wave of consumer products hit in the 1990s. They typically had 3 traits. They were terrible experiences, very expensive and had zero adoption. But…who cared! They were awesome.

I was in my teens all throughout the 90s. It was my formative gaming years with consoles galore and PCs breaking into the market.

Nintendo had always led the way in creating deeper gaming experiences with the Power Pad and later with the cool but not so great Power Glove. One of those attempts created the Nintendo Virtual Boy. I remember as a kid wanting one of these so badly. They would bring you right into the game. When I finally got a chance to play with one, I found myself staring inside a headset with only a red LCD screen. It felt like my eyes were bleeding.

Growing up in Florida my family spent a lot of time at Disney’s Epcot, especially at the Innoventions section of the park.  During one of our visits, there was a blank door on the outside of the building that had a queue set up in front of it. We had never seen it before and we went to Disney…A LOT.

We spoke to the cast member and they asked if we would like to test out an experimental attraction that only a few others have tried. Heck yes! we would. I was 11 at the time. What I was about to experience was one of the first people to test Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride for the new digital theme park Disney Question. It was awesome and mind-blowing to be a part of. (more details on the ride/park). Down the rabbit hole, I went… real VR.

This is the same attraction Randy Pausch worked on while he was an Imagineer.

During the late 90’s there was also a handful of movies that helped propel the movement forward (all but the Matrix were all pretty bad):

During the mid-2000’s things on the VR front began to wind down.

5. History of VR – Second Wave

2011 and 2012 the surge of new energy re-entered the VR world with the release of the book “Ready Player One” that inspired the immensely successful Kickstarter of the Oculus Rift.

Years later in 2016 while on a road trip with my wife, we went to Cedar Point and got to experience the new line of VR…while on a roller coaster. Yeah, VR while riding a roller coaster. At Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH they were testing out the tech on their Iron Dragon roller coaster. It was an amazing concept. During the First Wave, the hardware was used to mimic a roller coaster. Now the hardware was to enhance an existing roller coaster!

6. The Technology

So, what’s changed? What technology has made it possible for VR to make a comeback?

This part of the talk was more of a conversation with the team talking through the lighthouses that enable room-scale, controllers, headset, and PC specs etc. Here’s a good overview: http://www.realitytechnologies.com/virtual-reality  

If you were to compare VR to video game consoles, the Vive (in my opinion) is about where the Nintendo64 was when it was released. It shifted all future platforms. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but it will be around for a while.

7. Why is VR Here to Stay – Empathy

The immersive experience of VR is unmatched with any other tech that I’ve experienced. When you’re in the virtual world, your mind believes it’s in the place, situation, or interacting with the person/thing in front of you. It’s weird…

Note: At this time we had a volunteer (a pro mountain biker) come up and try at Richie’s Plank Experience – https://youtu.be/ImbhUHhWmSM

 “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

Let’s talk about Empathy – where the magic happens.

During this part of the talk, we covered companies that are leveraging the immersive experience of VR to…

  • Training employees – KFC has a bizarre training game, the US military with Homeland Security developed simulations to help teachers respond to school shootings
  • Presentations in court cases – Lawyers have used 3D modeling and headsets to build cases. In High Impact in Denver is a great example: https://highimpact.com/
  • Bringing people home – DenVR partnered with Project Worthmore to bring refugees back home for an evening using Google Earth VR.
  • Prototyping – Companies are able to create super fast rapid prototypes, like Keanu Reeves who uses it to build custom motorcycles (yeah…him!)

7. What’s Next?

  • Screens are getting better – 4k per eye will be the standard soon
  • Wireless all-in-one systems (with Inside-out tracking) will be a big part of this year (Oculus Go)
  • Streaming VR – 5G network will 100x download speeds allowing multiple 4k streaming capabilities (AT&T is testing in 12 markets this year)
  • Expanding past the current hardware – companies like Neurable are trying to use brainwaves to help control the environments of VR. It’s the same tech people use to type on virtual keyboards and move artificial limbs.

The hardware is interesting, but the questions that the technology creates is even more interesting:

  • Such as… what is the future of storytelling? Directors have limited control what the user decides to look at, they’ll have to use techniques from full world games (Fallout)

What questions does VR create for you?

Anthony Catanese photo by Joe Valley

Ball Park Music – Whipping Boy

Google Tilt Brush Music Video