Top News

Virtual Reality is booming, and Vancouver is leading the way


At times, it seems as though virtual reality is to the layman what Dippin’ Dots is to the frozen treat industry: constantly billed as the next big thing, but rarely spotted outside trade shows and carnivals.

But the leaders in the immersive technology field are working on it. Next week, they’ll descend on Vancouver for the VR/AR Global Summit for an opportunity to network, gather information about the latest advancements and, most importantly, share ideas and collaborate on new ways to apply the emerging technologies.

The conference and expo, which takes place Nov. 1-2 at Parq Vancouver, is supported by the biggest names in tech, such as Apple, Facebook, and IBM, and will feature keynote addresses, panels and workshops with more than 1,000 representatives from dozens of major technology companies.

“It’s a way to bring together the solution providers and the companies that are looking to buy those types of technologies — bridge the gap and help them connect,” said Nathan Pettyjohn, founder and president of the VR/AR Association, a global community that serves as a conduit between industries, companies and universities to help move the immersive technologies forward.

Pettyjohn, who will speak at the summit next week, pushed back at the notion that virtual reality has yet to make a real impact on modern life.

“Depending upon the analysts you look at, by around 2023, most of them estimate between a $100- and $120-billion industry across augmented reality and virtual reality, and across consumers and entertainment,” he said. “There’s quite a large ecosystem that’s growing.”

Pettyjohn’s optimism is borne out by a spike in venture capital funding.

Much of that money is pouring into Vancouver, now the second-largest VR/AR ecosystem in the world after Silicon Valley.

Three years ago, Vancouver was home to around 15 immersive technology companies. Now there are more than 230, from major publishers like Electronic Arts (EA), Microsoft and Nintendo, to startups like Etro Construction, which aims to implement new technologies in the construction industry and has been growing rapidly since its inception in 2015.

Even celebrities see a can’t-miss moneymaking opportunity. Virtual reality gaming company Sandbox VR, which just expanded to Canada by opening a location Richmond, announced $11 million in funding from some big names in Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry, including Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry, actors Will Smith and Orlando Bloom, and former Disney President Michael Ovitz.

Sandbox works with VR and full-body, motion-capture technology for customers to become superheroes, space cowboys, and physics-defying fighters. The company describes the experience as the closest thing to the “holodeck” that exists.

“We believe that VR is finally ready to take off as a mass-market phenomenon in malls, where it can be optimized for a social experience,” said David Sacks, co-founder and general partner at  San Francisco’s Craft Ventures. “We chose the Sandbox team because of their background in game design; their VR experiences have a level of interactivity — with both the VR world and other players — that we couldn’t find elsewhere. We believe that Sandbox VR is poised to become the first VR experience for millions of consumers around the world.”

The funding brings the total investment capital raised by Sandbox to $83 million in 2019, which will facilitate the company’s expansive rollout with one of 16 locations opening throughout North America every other month in cities such as New York, Austin, San Diego and Chicago.

Within a few years, there will be a branded virtual reality chain in many of North America’s largest cities.

But if you’d rather pretend you went somewhere as opposed to actually going somewhere, home VR technology is becoming more affordable for the average consumer as well.

“We’re starting to see the prices of virtual reality headsets drop to get to a point where, for just a few hundred dollars, the average person can attain a really good quality VR headset now,” Pettyjohn said.

And it’s not just gaming.

“You’ve got training, you’ve got the education market which is using this, and even healthcare has been finding some really interesting uses,” Pettyjohn said.

Healthcare professionals are using VR in everything from pediatric surgery to physical therapy. Meanwhile, multinationals like Honeywell, which produces everything from tower fans to aerospace systems, has begun using immersive augmented reality headset displays to guide workers through production assemblies, or to teach them to perform complicated servicing tasks in real-time.

“They found an improvement when training new workers passively with traditional reading and watching videos and over three months, (trainees) retained about 20 per cent of the knowledge,” he said. “Then they tried augmented reality training… and they found knowledge retention went up to about 80 per cent.”

For anyone wondering when these immersive technologies will really begin to affect our lives, have you ever used a Snapchat filter? That beard of bees is a form of augmented reality. And the Pokemon Go craze is an AR experience — the blending of interactive digital elements, such as monsters, you can actually capture into a real-world environment.

Pokemon Go was the proof that this industry has real legs. In May 2018, it was estimated that the game grossed $104 million in monthly revenue and had 147 million monthly active players, making it the most far-reaching AR gaming experience to date.

“It’s actually opened the eyes to many people who probably don’t realize they’re using augmented reality, and it’s leveraging the hundreds of millions of mobile devices that are already in people’s hands,” Pettyjohn said. “Apple or Android phones are giving me the ability to detect where a floor is, where a wall is, where tabletops are. Combined with that, I can use geolocation latitude and longitude coordinates and plop a Pokemon monster right in front of me. It’s a great way in which people have gotten exposed to this technology.”

And this is just the beginning, Pettyjohn said. As industry professionals gather and exchange ideas, new ways to use the burgeoning technology are emerging daily.

“It’s only going to get better and better.”

hmooney@postmedia.com


CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email vantips@postmedia.com .

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories