Reasons for Optimism in a Downer of a Week

This seems to be a week of bad news for Seattle’s VR/AR community, with two developments of Debbie Downer-level magnitude. One, Bellevue-based Envelop VR has closed. Signs didn’t seem good at Immerse a few months ago, when Envelop, a sponsor of the conference, conspicuously reserved an empty booth. I have little information about the company’s closure so don’t feel qualified to offer much comment. I do want to say, however, as someone who has been laid off three times, that I hope Envelop’s former employees find new opportunities soon.

The second bummer piece of news is that the City of Seattle rejected a proposal to convert warehouse space at Magnuson Park into a film production facility. A number of passionate local film/VR professionals have worked on this proposal for over two years, and I imagine this comes as a tremendously dispiriting development. I’m sure they feel like this:

Continue reading “Reasons for Optimism in a Downer of a Week”

This is What Happens When a Class of Fourth Graders Gets Their Hands on Tilt Brush

I hosted my daughter’s fourth grade class field trip to CoMotion Labs today. Scobot and Tarik Merzouk were on hand to show the kids Tilt Brush and Google Earth VR. Their enthusiasm made my day; I find that watching kids encounter VR for the first time is way more fun than experiencing it myself. Scobot had two groups working in Tilt Brush create collaborative art … Continue reading This is What Happens When a Class of Fourth Graders Gets Their Hands on Tilt Brush

Seattle’s VR Community Reflects on CES

Last week the Consumer Electronics Showcase offered myriad glimpses into the future of VR and AR in that most apocalyptic of American cities, Las Vegas. A number of Seattle VR pioneers were in attendance, either to showcase their own work or to simply soak in the latest hardware and experiences. I asked a few people to share their impressions, and offer them here, lightly edited, … Continue reading Seattle’s VR Community Reflects on CES

Jam

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Steve Turnidge, Greg Reid (behind the drums), and Jamie Simmonds

Last night I hung out in the back room of an industrial sign fabrication plant in Ballard to watch four musicians jam–Steve Turnidge on guitar, Jamie Simmonds on a turntable, Nate Omdal on bass, and Greg Reid on drums. Despite having never played together before, they quickly found various grooves and sounded great. I sat back and enjoyed their improvisations. A long time ago I played in bands and this experience brought back pleasant memories of making noise with friends in windowless practice pads, albeit ones without cool lights and a smoke machine. Continue reading “Jam”

Compete Like Artists, Not Like Businesses

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These guys. How I love them.

One of my favorite stories about the Beatles is about how John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It was right before the band recorded the monument to the mundane and sublime that is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Having established themselves as the world’s greatest pop song writing duo, Lennon and McCartney kept pushing each other to go further. Paul delivered “Penny Lane,” which vividly imagines a neighborhood from his childhood, teeming with absurd characters and inside jokes. The song is both epic and buoyant, grand in scope and quotidian in detail, a  masterpiece. John must have felt both impressed and challenged, as he turned around and delivered “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a song equally rooted in the past, but committed to the interior landscapes of childhood, shot through with quantum states of self-doubt and moments of salubrious transcendence. The music itself is the result of much studio wizardry, including backwards tracks and the distinctive sounds of a new instrument called the Mellotron, whose cooing, tape-loop notes open the track.

In a Beatles biography I read a long time ago and whose title escapes me (sorry), it was observed that Lennon and McCartney competed with each other like someone climbing the rungs of a ladder. First one would advance, then the other. They spent their career being inspired by each other and then besting each other. This, to me, seems like a good metaphor for what’s happening in Seattle’s virtual and augmented reality industry. Continue reading “Compete Like Artists, Not Like Businesses”

2016: The Year Seattle Embraced Virtual and Augmented Reality

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Trond Nilsen addressing the September VR Hackathon

Ed: This post was made possible by the mad compiling and organization skills of Eva Hoerth and Kayla Didier.

As we pull the curtains on 2016, we’re coming to a consensus that this was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad year. We lost cherished icons and elevated a reality star bigot to the office of President of the United States. Terrorism, refugee crises, Brexit, and other calamities flowed through our news feeds amid fake news concocted by Russian spies, climate change deniers, and white supremacists. And yet a bright spot appeared this year, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, with the emergence of the virtual and augmented reality industry. Continue reading “2016: The Year Seattle Embraced Virtual and Augmented Reality”

VRStudios and the Real World

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VRStudios’ custom-made experience for Muckleshoot Casino.

In America, we tend to think of VR as an at-home experience. We’re imagine being tethered to a Vive or sitting on a couch with a PSVR HMD strapped to our face. Reports from other areas of the world, especially Asia, suggest a more social, public interface with virtual reality in the form of arcades and other sorts of installations. One Bellevue-based company, VRStudios, takes public VR seriously. They’ve established a track record of delivering impressive experiences that suggest where the future of arcade-style immersive tech might take us. Continue reading “VRStudios and the Real World”

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… Continue reading “Ugly Sweaters, Beautiful People”