Event Recap: VR in Entertainment

Event Recap: VR in Entertainment

To kick off the summer Shockoe and industry experts took an in-depth look at the state of VR in the entertainment industry — from cinema and storytelling to gaming and beyond. We brought together Richmond industry professionals who are using this exciting medium to its fullest potential and pioneering the next generation of VR.

Mark Lambert and his team at VArtisans took a deeper dive into how they’re using Virtual Reality and 360º video to transport users to exciting locations around the world. VArtisans is a Virginia based team of 360 video and VR artists, programmers, and cinematographers brought together to explore new ways of storytelling in 360 video and VR. Mark has decades of VFX and film production experience, working on dozens of projects including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Polar Express, and Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. Over the last year, the VArtisans team has visited 14 countries to film both monoscopic and stereo 360 video. From Uganda to the streets of Paris, Rome, Tokyo and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, VArtisans are currently producing an array of 360 video projects as well as multiple art and experimental pieces. With each new project, they take the opportunity to explore new uses, innovating new techniques and concept improved methods to tell stories with this immersive format. Mark sees a huge audience potential in the rising VR & AR market and 360 video is the beginning wave. Since Google and Facebook added 360 support, usage of VR has taken a steep adoption from users worldwide. The technology, the language, and the experience will be evolving rapidly and VArtisans is excited to explore this world in it’s earliest stages.

Following the presentation, Robbie Ciszek, Tyler Rhodes, and Momin Khan of RVA Game Jams took the stage to share a day-in-the-life of a VR game developer. RVA Game Jams, a community project created in 2012 to bring together passionate video game developers and enthusiasts from the Richmond area. It has grown to be one of the city’s leading groups in video game development and emerging game technology. From development to hardware, they were eager to share more details from some of their latest projects and additionally, presented some of their latest work with the participating audience.

Top VR and AR Trends in 2018

Top VR and AR Trends in 2018

Last month, our CEO and I attended the 2017 VRX Conference in San Francisco. Billed as the conference “where the business of immersive tech gets done,” speakers and attendees included key individuals from companies such as Walmart, Ford, Qualcomm, ExxonMobil, and Wayfair. At Shockoe, we focus on developing enterprise applications, so we were particularly drawn to VRX for its dedicated enterprise track. We saw this as a great opportunity to review the current state of immersive tech at companies within our primary industry verticals (retail, logistics, manufacturing, and energy). In addition, we knew the conference would be a great way for us to network with other tech professionals from around the country and learn from some of the top talents in the industry with speakers and attendees from many of the major immersive tech organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Oculus, HTC, and Intel.

Based on our experience at the conference and our work at Shockoe in 2017, here are my thoughts on top trends for VR and AR worth watching in 2018:


Settling on a Name for These Emerging Technologies


One immediate takeaway from the conference is that the naming conventions for immersive technologies are still very much in flux. Almost daily, there seems to be some new acronym related to immersive media. For example, while at VRX we heard all of the following terms from different panelists and presenters: VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), MR (Mixed Reality), IR (Immersive Reality), and XR (Extended Reality). While the definition for VR is fairly clear, there’s still some confusion surrounding the differences between AR, MR, and the overall umbrella terms IR and XR. In fact, a constant refrain from presenters was “XR… or whatever we’re calling it now.”


Yet, this confusion is nothing new. As industry veteran Charlie Fink points out in this Forbes article from last October, the struggle to settle on names for these technologies has existed for nearly 25 years and it doesn’t seem that the matter will be settled anytime soon. At Shockoe, we refer to this group of technologies as Immersive Media, though we will often refer to each individual technology by its specific name. We see VR as creating a new reality that a user enters, AR as augmentation of the physical world via a handset device, and MR as an interactive, head-mounted display based augmentation of the physical world. As the industry continues to evolve, we’ll adjust our naming accordingly to meet the needs of our clients.


Understanding Deployment of Immersive Tech in Enterprise


If 2017 was the year of ideation and stakeholder sell-through for an immersive enterprise, 2018 will be the year of addressing the complexities of deployment at scale. While many companies are already investigating and quantifying the benefits of immersive tech in the workplace, few have begun the significant undertaking of deploying these solutions at scale throughout their organization. Ideation and creation are only the first steps. Moving forward, it’s imperative that IT teams understand all of the potential pain points and best practices throughout the delivery process. They must ensure hardware deployment, content management, and ongoing support are all factored into the equation.


While immersive enterprise deployment is similar to the deployment of mobile technology (also a relatively nascent technology in certain industries), both offer unique challenges that must be considered. The primary consideration is hardware. From AR capable phones to room-scale 6-DOF VR headsets, immersive technology requires a significant investment in hardware for many companies. Furthermore, the logistics of large-scale deployment of these devices is challenging. As such, a clear solution and deployment roadmap that balances capital investment and ROI is crucial.


Once the hardware is accounted for, another significant factor is the content pipeline that is critical to interfacing with immersive experiences. Integrating with existing infrastructure, content management systems, and APIs can often prove overwhelming if not correctly managed, particularly if there are a large number of 3D assets to be implemented. Having a successful pipeline also means maximizing the efficiency of assets (reducing polygons, simplifying textures, etc).


Post-deployment, operational considerations become major factors in the adoption of these new systems and devices. It is critical that organizations train their IT teams to handle the complexities of immersive tech deployment, both for device management and for troubleshooting the new use cases. Organizations that address these factors will increase chances of successful deployment and adoption of immersive technology in 2018.


Integrating AR into Retail Applications


With the 2017 introductions of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, 2018 will likely be the year that spatially-aware augmented reality truly enters the mainstream. Given that the current install base for AR capable devices numbers in the tens of millions, the only thing limiting adoption is recognition of use cases and the time needed for the design and development of related applications. It’s crucial, however, that these new apps are addressing actual user needs and solving real organizational problems.


With that in mind, perhaps no better AR use case exists than presenting accurately sized and scaled objects in a spatially correct environment; e.g., Will this sofa actually fit in my living room, and what will it look like? In my estimation, 2018 will see the rise of AR integration into a wide variety of retail applications. From furniture to clothing to groceries, being able to pre-visualize an item in context prior to purchase will be hugely beneficial. Indeed, many major retailers have already integrated AR tech into their apps, the most noteworthy of which is Amazon. In 2018, this tech will shift from a “nice-to-have” feature to a “must have” for retailers to remain competitive.


AR and MR for Data Visualization in the Supply Chain


While the most commonly cited use case for AR is for retail applications, there are some exciting possibilities for AR and MR data visualization throughout the supply chain. For example, Microsoft’s MR Hololens headset is beginning to be used to show real-time overlays on factory and warehouse floors, allowing foremen to see the flow of goods in real-time and manage processes using hands-free interactions. While the technology is still very experimental and expensive, the potential efficiency benefits are massive.


Until MR headsets are a more realistic and affordable option in supply chain operations, AR has significant potential for an affordable and portable visualization option. Assessments and overlays can be easily implemented to increase efficiencies and promote a three-dimensional view of data and/or processes. Just as AR adoption in retail will grow significantly in 2018, enterprises will use AR improve the efficiency of their data management.


Adoption of VR for Training


One of the most prevalently discussed use cases for VR at VRX 2017 was the anticipated adoption of VR corporate training in 2018. Walmart spoke to their success using VR to train employees for scenarios such as Black Friday, as well as their ongoing efforts to train for common management/customer service simulations. Training company StriVR discussed their use of VR training for multiple NFL teams and the benefit of being able to avoid significant injury while still retaining information. Because virtual reality has such a significant amount of experiential presence, it has the potential to form memories the same as if we were to literally experience something. As such, per StriVR, it’s possible to increase retention from 20% with written material to as much as 90% with an experiential material. This kind of efficiency gain will be huge for large organizations looking to improve their training processes.


So when does VR training make sense for an organization? Generally, virtual reality training is most beneficial when standard training would be:

  • Dangerous: Certain equipment or work environments necessitate carefully considered training tools that mitigate the potential for user injury
  • Expensive: Repetitive or expensive tasks that would be prohibitive for training can be repeated at a fraction of the cost
  • Impossible: Certain scenarios are literally impossible to test in current conditions (e.g., going to space, deep-sea exploration, etc.)
  • Rare: Other significantly important scenarios are hard to replicate outside of controlled environments


Look for organizations to significantly adopt VR into their training programs in 2018.


The Emergence of Social VR


It’s often said that the “killer app” for virtual reality is going to be social; after all, Facebook clearly acknowledged the potential of the technology when they acquired Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. While social immersive tech is likely to be adopted more rapidly by consumers than businesses, there is a significant interest in its role in streamlining the efficiency of communication for enterprises. While current teleconferencing and online meeting methods allow for more flexibility than ever, the future of off-site communication likely lies in a world where employees have a sense of presence despite lacking true physicality. Being able to not only see someone but also interpret their facial gestures and body language while moving through space will give business communication a new form of digital intimacy, allowing businesses to improve efficiency while significantly decreasing travel expenses. Look for these applications to make their way into the enterprise in 2018.


2018 and Beyond – A Snapshot

  • VR software revenue will reach $17B by 2020, surpassing hardware for the first time
  • VR headset price decreases have led to more consumer adoption in 2017. This trend will continue into 2018
  • For investors in immersive startups, the expectation is that ROI will be slower than traditional tech startups
  • The highest potential for growth in immersive is in enterprise applications
  • Mobile graphics are currently ten years behind desktop and 20x lower quality. But…
  • The future of immersive tech is mobile. Why and how?
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip will have significantly advanced immersive capabilities
  • The NGCodec will compress data by 99%
  • 5G networks will allow for graphics processing in the cloud
  • All of this will combine into device-agnostic experiences that are streamed to any headset, which will only be limited by screen resolution


In Summary


2018 is poised to be a breakout year for immersive technology, particularly in the enterprise space. While consumer and entertainment immersive will continue to have a significant role, it is likely that corporate adoption will push the next wave of XR growth. As companies identify use cases and learn to navigate the complexities of VR, AR, and MR deployment, they will begin to reap the benefits of these new methods of interaction and visualization. Overall, the outlook for 2018 is very bright, and we’re looking forward to pushing the limits of this technology here at Shockoe.


Interested in continuing the discussion or investigating how emerging technology can improve your organization? Get in touch with us here.

Understanding the Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Understanding the Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

On December 6th, we continued our panel series, this time focusing on the Manufacturing Industry, specifically Industry 4.0.  Joined by Phil Naglieri (Director of Technology at Shockoe), Mason Brown (UX LEad at Shockoe), Mike Upchurch (Chief Strategy Officer at Notch), and Will Middleton (CEO at Cloudy Data Systems) we explored the results of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – including predictive maintenance, improved decision-making in real time, anticipating inventory based on production, and improved coordination of jobs and people.

We are currently in the Intelligence Age or Age of Information – The Fourth Industrial Revolution, revolution measured around manufacturing, but really on the impact of everything around us.  The one we are currently living is characterized by data, analytics, and the merger of technology with the physical, digital and biological worlds.

To get the full interview, check out our YouTube Channel

A Brief History of the Previous Industrial Revolutions
#1 – Agrarian to Industrial (Textile and Industry) & Steam:  This revolution took place in during the 18th and 19th century.  It was a period marked by the creation of the iron and textile industries as well as the Steam Engine.

#2 – Electricity, Assembly Line, Light Bulb, and Telephone:  The second revolution started in the late 18 hundreds and lasted through the beginning of WWI, this revolution was marked by the creation of the combustion engine, the light bulb, the telephone, and the assembly line.

#3 – Nuclear Power, Computers, Computing, and Internet:  About half a century later, and really the only revolution any of us lived through is the third revolution, which appeared with the emergence of a new type of energy whose potential surpassed its predecessors: nuclear energy. This revolution also brought with it electronics and the internet—such as the transistor, microprocessor, and computers and the world wide web.

Question and Answer with the Panelists:

Can you give me some insight into the following statement:

“Manufacturing workers are retiring in droves, with an estimated 2.7 million jobs being vacated by 2025. At the same time, the growth and advancement of the industry is expected to create an additional 700,000 jobs for skilled manufacturing employees over the next decade. As a result, manufacturers are scrambling to fill this knowledge and skills deficit with the next generation of workers — millennials.”

Answer (Phil):  Mobile is essential to Manufacturing Companies, who are not naive to the process of hiring new generations to fill the roles left by aging workforces as we’ve seen happen in the recent past, Mobile brings a sense of familiarity and allows for quicker adoption.  Not only will employers onboard new employees quicker, it will allow them to streamline their processes better.

Question:  AI and machine learning are getting a lot of press so can you tell us a little about it?  Specifically, as it relates to Manufacturing, where possible

Response (Mike):  At a high level, think of AI and machine learning as that you are using machines to do what a human would do if they had unlimited time and capacity.  So for example, let’s say you are the production manager at a plant and you are trying to improve yield.  You’d look at a bunch of process and machine data in reports, make changes and then evaluate the impact of your change.  Machine learning will do the same thing except use math to look at thousands of variables and their interrelationships.  The other thing to know is that 80% of the work to use machine learning with be data acquisition and management.  To be good a machine learning, you have to be good at data.  Finally, the process is iterative and exploratory.  For example, a project might start with a question like, “of the 3,000 points of data we capture, what combination of factors cause defects?”.  To solve it the data scientist will try different sets and types of data as well as different models to figure out what combination yields the optimal insight.

Question:  With the recent addition of bitcoin to the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, bitcoin and blockchain are in the news today more than ever. How are these different and is the hype really worth it?

Response (Will):  I have been heavily involved in the bitcoin and blockchain space for over a year now and recently became the chapter leader for the Government Blockchain Association Richmond Chapter. Bitcoin and blockchain have been a wild ride this year and the hype is most definitely worth it. The technology provided by the blockchain and the decentralized value exchange of bitcoin are both extremely transformational and disruptive.

Blockchain is one of the underlying technologies behind bitcoin. Though public and private key cryptography, it allows different entities (i.e. an organization, a person, or even a machine) to prove that it is the owner of some data stored on a public database. In Bitcoin, the user can prove they are the owner of the account that sits on the public ledger.

Question:   Earlier you talked about machine learning can you tell us how it’s being used in manufacturing?

Response (Mike):  There are three common categories of use – predictive maintenance, improvements in things like yield, capacity, and quality, and systems optimization.

Using machine learning for predictive maintenance has proven to reduce downtime, in some cases as much as 50% and increase machine life by 20% to 40%.  An example would be predicting part failure and fixing the issue before it happens.
Improving yield/throughput/capacity and quality – studies have shown a wide range of results.  In some industries, the increase can be in the 10% range, but in others, like semiconductor manufacturing, where they are already good at yield, the results can 1%.  However, in that business, a  1% improvement in yield is worth $100M.  This is accomplished by looking at the end-to-end process and understanding not only how each machine contributes to defects, but also the interdependencies of each machine to each other as well as environmental factors; such a factory temperature fluctuations.
As for systems optimization, think of looking at the entire process from sales through manufacturing and delivery. An example would be using 1,000 variables and 10,000 constraints to figure out how to optimize system performance.  The company that did it raised earnings 50%.  Quite dramatic.  A lot of simulation is used here.  An example would be that large oil and gas companies have simulations of their entire plant so they can do things like see how changes in maintenance schedules affect the entire system using software and then optimize the schedule before doing any physical changes.

What are the challenges?

  • Data
  • Security – fog/edge/local, not cloud
  • Operational – ready to adopt?
  • Finding talent

To get the full interview, check out our YouTube Channel

How technology leveled the playing field among drivers

How technology leveled the playing field among drivers

Most people may agree that there are two types of drivers – the confident and the not so confident. With the help of technological advancement, the automotive industry is leveling these playing fields, making it difficult to categorize drivers. One of my favorite commercials in the past year is the State Farm Safe Driver which depicted a female receiving a “safe driver refund” check. State Farm not only showed off their refund policy for their Safe Driver program but highlighted that it was a female who got the refund instead of her husband who was helplessly confused possibly because of the oddly popular female driver stereotype.

Technology has always been able to make our lives easier. Safe driving is not excluded from the list of the daily tasks positively affected by technology. Today, the “not so confident” drivers can rely on an array of technologies to not only make us a tad more confident but ultimately safer drivers. So just how is the automobile industry leveling the playing field? We cannot answer that question without taking a high-level look at how automobiles have evolved in recent years specifically with a technology in mind.

First, there are the navigation systems. Ten years ago, having a navigation system in your car cost about 10% of the price of your vehicle. Instead, drivers relied on printable directions from sources like MapQuest to get from point A to point B. Reports show that printed maps were a huge distraction for drivers resulting in safety concerns. If you think texting while driving is a major distraction, try reading a map while driving. Today, the majority of new cars have a navigation system—usually a touch screen—that comes standard. Additionally, the navigation has been voice-enabled meaning drivers don’t even need to look at the screen for directions.

After a few more technological leaps came self-aware cars. It’s mind-blowing to know that your car has a sense of self-awareness. Augmented Reality allows cars to visually project directions, dashboard gauges, and more, in front of the driver’s view eradicating the need to look away. The windscreen of cars is now a massive digital screen with endless opportunities. The navigation, the voice commands, even the auto parallel parking really leveled the playing field for various drivers. AR is usually considered to be a live view of the real world, onto which extra data – usually pulled from the internet – is layered or superimposed. In recent years, we’ve seen more automobile brands incorporate AR to their offerings with a promise to make drivers less distracted, thus being able to focus more on what’s on the road ahead. I’ve driven recent models of a luxury automobile equipped with AR used to project the dashboard gauges, current speed, maps, directions and other basic dashboard-like information onto the windscreen. The informative data had the amount of opacity not to impair the driver’s view of the what is on the road while at the same time keeping head and eyes straight ahead, nullifying the need to glance away to a navigational or any other screen(s). Once this becomes mainstream, one may argue we will have no need for street signs, since of course pedestrians will be wearing Google glasses with similar AR technology available.

Distractions are said to be the number one cause of accidents in recent years and reducing driver distraction has been one of the major goals of the automobile industry. First, we were given Voice Recognition which meant I can tell my car to “take me home” and navigational guidance to my configured home address would be started automatically and now instead of glancing away to a screen, I can now see the directions, current speed and a whole lot more right on my dashboard. This is the kind of technology that invigorates us at Shockoe.

We started 2017 with a focus on Voice Recognition, Augmented and Virtual Reality and I must add that it feels great to be a part of a company that has always been on the cutting edge of technology but even better, a company that is always ahead of the curve on the next big idea in this ever-changing industry. So when you’re using your enhanced car windows that allow you to to zoom in on places and objects of interest that you are passing, when the back seat of your car appears transparent while reversing so you can see everything around you, just remember, Shockoe will be right there with you, working with those same technologies that are turning us all into confident drivers.

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Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality… Confused Yet?

Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality… Confused Yet?

There are exciting new worlds being created, recreated and explored as we speak. There are digital worlds being developed from the inspirations of Earth and beyond. For those of us not able to travel to places like the polar ice caps, the Sistine Chapel, Rome, the Pyramids of Egypt, Mars, or other places we may not be able to visit in our lifetime, this is our chance. Now, we have the opportunity to visit them from the comforts of our very own homes.

Our mobile enterprise company, Shockoe.com has recently branched out into the brave new world of Virtual Reality (VR). In this ambitious new venture, there are many things to consider. First, let’s break down the different branches of the digital realities.

VR provides the user with a digitally created 360 degree world using a type of headset, whether it’s utilizing Google cardboard, an Oculus or one of the many other options of headset viewers. Augmented Reality (AR) uses our mobile devices and overlays digital images over physical reality (ever heard of Pokemon Go)? Lastly, and my favorite, there’s Mixed Reality (MR).

MR might be such an advanced technology, that we likely won’t see this catch on until VR and AR are more of a regularity. MR is the ability to use virtual reality inside of our physical world. For instance, a doctor performing surgery on a patient could use a virtual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray scanner over their patient, providing them with an accurate view inside their patient’s body. Mind-blowing, right?

Now that you have an idea of the different realities being created, let me tell you that there is nothing more exciting than having the opportunity to design the User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) for these exciting realities. When starting the conversation of UX for VR, it’s easy to get a little carried away. The possibilities seem endless (because they are), which is why it’s important to focus on what’s best for the user, what makes the most sense for the user to do in order to see and navigate our experiences. What does the client want to provide their users?

These questions are seemingly simple, yet necessary. A UX/UI designer needs to know what type of VR they are designing for. Is it for a headset alone, headset with camera sensors, or headset with gloves? What are the limitations of this experience? How far can the UX/UI designer push these limitations while still maintaining a fulfilling, yet positive user experience? What can I designer do to keep users returning to their fascinating VR experiences and even share them with others?

shockoe_vr_coneoffocusUsers with solo headsets can only use their Field of View (FOV) or Cone of Focus to make their selection, not their hands. While this might seem limiting, it’s not. Keep in mind that this is VR, where the user can turn in any direction they choose and explore a new world by just putting on a headset. Making a selection through vision is quite simple. A UX designer could use a countdown, various loading animations, or status bars. They can even invent something totally new and intuitive that hasn’t been thought of yet.

Making a selection is one thing, navigating these new worlds is another. There are a lot of different things to consider when navigating in VR. For one thing, it’s somewhat similar to navigating our physical world in terms of our FOV. We all have our own, some of us more or less than others, and the Cone of Focus is how designers segment the FOV.

The UX designer should focus the user’s primary actions within the initial area of vision. When we look directly forward, by just moving our eyes we can see approximately 90 degrees within our central vision. Everything outside of that is our far peripheral vision and should be designed accordingly by placing only secondary and tertiary user actions within these areas of vision, such as motion cues or exit options.

These are extremely important limitations to know when designing the UX for VR experiences. These degrees of vision define how the UX should be envisioned and implemented. Without making the user work too hard to explore their new digital surroundings, the UX designer must take into account the Cone of Focus for all primary actions without taking away from the extraordinary experience of VR. Thus, making one consider the visual placement of UX design by measurements of FOV degrees throughout the app.

While all of this information may seem overwhelming, it is also very, very exciting. Designing UX and UI in 360 degrees is a phenomenal opportunity to learn, adapt and innovate in this amazing new digital age. At Shockoe.com, we are on the edge of our seats with excitement about being able to provide our clients with the intuitive experiences their users want through innovative technology that VR offers.

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