Ugly Sweaters, Beautiful People

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Last night at HBO’s downtown digital team offices, Seattle’s VR community gathered for one last 2016 meetup, with ugly holiday sweaters in abundance. Organizers Eva Hoerth and Kayla Didier read a list of community milestones and accomplishments, from Pixvana releasing their Spin Studio VR creation tool to Axon VR‘s $5.8 million round of financing. Beyond the successes of individual companies, however, the most striking accomplishment had to be that Seattle, without a doubt, has become the world’s center of virtual and augmented reality.

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The Christmas tree on Eva Hoerth’s sweater could be converted into a slice of pizza. How virtual!

Judging by the eleventh-hour frenzy of Facebook chatter, many more people wanted to attend last night’s gathering than were allowed by the 150-person limit. I chatted with Dave Thek, a tech and advertising professional from Nashville who is considering relocating to Seattle, and Lucian Copeland, founder of Nullspace VR, a haptics company that moved from Rochester, New York to downtown Seattle in order to be closer to where the VR action is. When you talk to recent transplants, you start to realize that what we have in Seattle is rare and growing. And it’s near impossible to overstate how directly the camaraderie and inclusiveness of this self-organized community of VR pioneers translates into more companies, more jobs, and more opportunities for all.

AxonVR treated revelers to their big metal box full of haptic surprises. I covered their September open house and gave them some gentle ribbing for keeping their product so close to the vest, so it was gratifying to see them close out the year celebrating the biggest round of financing ever for a haptics company and showing off their technology, which creates sensations of pressure, heat, and cold as you place virtual objects in your hand.

I’ll be posting Eva and Kayla’s list of 2016 Seattle VR/AR community milestones before the new year. As we gathered for one last 360 group photo, the mood was amply celebratory, with an abundance of hope and optimism for the wonders to come in 2017. In a very unreal year, virtual reality in Seattle feels like the most genuine thing going.

More pictures after the jump…

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Axon VR’s haptics system.
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Snapchat Spectacles-wearin’, cowboy hat-sportin’, ugly sweater enthusiast Shawn Whiting.
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Jordan Kellogg with a horrific case of static cling.