An Over-Priced Gimmick?

Chris Hegstrom posted a link on Facebook to this article by Erik Kain on Forbes titled “Virtual Reality is Just an Over-Priced Gimmick.” Kain contends that VR experiences are nausea-inducing, too expensive, involve too much equipment, and the games aren’t cool enough.

The VR industry is in its infancy. And like any infant, it is developing its immune system. I remember when my own kids were infants and toddlers, when dropping them off at daycare was like dropping them into a petri dish. They were sick all the time, and as a result I got sick all the time. While momentarily unpleasant, these illnesses had a purpose. They were the necessary step to develop a resistance to various bugs.

Are the various problems Kain presents insurmountable? Are they so severe that they’ll kill off VR for good? Or are they simply necessary problems that can be fixed? Remember, VR has been declared dead in the past, notably in the nineties, and it came roaring back. Kain’s criticisms aren’t, in themselves, incorrect, but I think his prognosis is. It’s like looking at an infant with a runny nose and telling the parents to start planning the funeral.

Here’s my point-by-point second opinion of Kain’s article. Continue reading “An Over-Priced Gimmick?”

Weather the Storm with some Twisted Fun

There’s some thematically appropriate weather coming this weekend, a storm that’s likely to knock out power all over Puget Sound. Stock up on batteries, folks. The storm is coming at the tail end of one hell of a week for the VR/AR community. This was the week of Immerse and Steam Dev Days, where the new HTC controller called Knuckles debuted to much cheering and … Continue reading Weather the Storm with some Twisted Fun

The Hottest VR Company in Seattle Right Now is from Vancouver

Companies like Laborbot shared their products at the expo portion of the Immerse Summit

There’s a sobering moment when grand visions for the future give way to the reality of the work required to get there. Yesterday’s Immerse Summit at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center felt like that kind of pivot point. October, 2016 is awash in a lot of hype and hope for virtual reality, with big hardware launches affirming that this is the next technology that will transform civilization. How does an indie community continue to evolve in this ecosystem?

In the Pacific Northwest we’ve reached a period of critical mass–our community of creative and ambitious VR pioneers has knitted itself together in a web of relationships that’s going to prove incredibly valuable in the years ahead. Someday we’ll mark our involvement in this industry by whether we attended Immerse 2016.

At the same time, Immerse struck me as decidedly low-key and devoid of hype. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that companies that could have had a presence at the conference decided to sit it out. No Oculus, Google, Sony, or HTC, for starters. Perhaps as a result, there wasn’t much of the kind of corporate triumphalism you might expect at this kind of event. Continue reading “The Hottest VR Company in Seattle Right Now is from Vancouver”

Daryle Conners on VR

“They call VR the empathy tool–and I’ve seen that with my own eyes–people watching immersive VR documentaries and weeping, or stretching their hand out to help someone in the video. It’s an indescribable experience. The immersive experience is incredibly powerful. It can entertain us, but also teach us, train us, move our minds, and give us a totally new perspective. The reason that it is … Continue reading Daryle Conners on VR

All Aboard the Bullet Train Roller Coaster

Watching the Oculus Connect event at VREAL

Back in the late nineties, I found myself riding the dotcom roller coaster when I started a customer service job at Amazon, back when all they sold was books. It was my first corporate job out of college and I proceeded to jump from Amazon to, to Microsoft, to an online education startup, back to Amazon, then to Expedia, with a contract for Netflix along the way. I remember the excitement of that era, when CEOs would say things like, “If we can corner just one percent of the national market for Q-Tips, we’ll be a billion dollar company in a year!”

The reality industries right now remind me so much of the early dotcom era. Except this time it’s not just a roller coaster we’re riding. It’s a bullet train version of a roller coaster. Continue reading “All Aboard the Bullet Train Roller Coaster”

Human Beings and Androids

Amanda Knox

Within the past week I’ve watched two shows about how to manufacture narratives. Both dealt with power structures that determine the fates of unknowing participants in stories of violence and retribution. Both featured antagonists manipulating the outcome of pre-determined narratives in real-time, and both featured players in these narratives who choose to rebel against the story arcs that have been imposed upon them.

I’m speaking of course of Amanda Knox and Westworld. You’d think that tales of robot cowboys in a simulated Wild West and a documentary about a young Seattle woman  falsely accused of murder in an Italian town wouldn’t have much in common, but underneath the surface differences, both are concerned with fabrication. Both pose a question that feels right for our cultural and technological moment–what happens when the lies you choose to believe overtake reality?
Continue reading “Human Beings and Androids”

How Seattle and Vancouver Can Work Together on VR

Yesterday I reported on efforts to create a Cascadia Innovation Corridor between Seattle and Vancouver. I’m all for it. One hundred percent. But I think we need to understand what “innovation” means and how it happens. It makes for warm and fuzzy copy to say you’re pro-innovation, but real innovation can be a messy process that defies the plans of bureaucracies.

Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation is a terrific place to start when contemplating how to cultivate innovators. My main takeaway from this well-written book was that innovation happens when you get a diverse group of people together, give them freedom to screw around, indulge their weird hunches, and make it easy for them to accidentally bump into each other.

Here’s a passage that should give you a sense of Johnson’s argument.

We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the ‘natural’ order of things. But the truth is, when one l0oks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete. –Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation

In the dotcom portion of my career, I ping ponged among various startups that sold everything from online courses to vacation packages to tampons. The most hated meetings of that era for me were the “brainstorming sessions.” These would entail getting a group of people in a room to “think outside the box.” Usually there was a whiteboard that slowly filled up with timidly offered ideas, and a sweating manager who said things like “Come on, team! No idea is a bad idea!” I found these dispiriting sessions to be the least innovative and least creative wastes of my time, and believe me, I endured more than my share of early 2000s team-building retreats. Continue reading “How Seattle and Vancouver Can Work Together on VR”

Can Seattle and Vancouver, BC Work on VR Content Together?

Many times during my childhood in Skagit County, my family took vacations to  Vancouver, British Columbia, taking advantage of the favorable exchange rates and to enjoy the strange, parallel-reality candy bars available north of the border. I grew up watching Canadian television shows like Mr. Dress-Up and SCTV, spent high school listening to a Canadian classic rock station that played a lot of Neil Young … Continue reading Can Seattle and Vancouver, BC Work on VR Content Together?

Axon VR and Balancing Secrets with Community

This was not what I tried at Axon VR’s happy hour. I repeat: I did not try this.

Last night I attended a happy hour and demo at Axon VR, a haptics company headquartered a mini donut’s throw from Pike Place Market. They also have an engineering office in San Luis Obispo, which, incidentally, is where I once threw up in the parking lot of Hearst Castle (long story).

Before I did the demo we did a little shuffle over how much I was at liberty to write about here. I try to be as sensitive as I can about various companies’ proprietary information. So let’s just say I tried out this thing that they’re working on.

If you visit Axon VR’s website, you can get a sense of the tech they’re focused on developing. Haptics that convey pressure and temperature via such hardware as smart textiles and exoskeletons.

Of the various tech advances promised by VR visionaries, haptics seem the most difficult to execute. Though the tech I tried out at Axon’s office has a long way to go before it’s ready for the consumer market, they’ve clearly poured a lot of engineering brain power into it, and I hope they pull it off. They’re a talented crew of people working on something that could be quite transformative. Continue reading “Axon VR and Balancing Secrets with Community”