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”

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”

1500 Strong

Yesterday the Seattle VR/AR Facebook group grew to 1500 members. That’s almost enough people to fill the Moore Theater. That’s a lot of brains. If you were to connect all those brains together in a massive super brain you’d get–give or take–1,500,000,000,000 neurons. Who are all these people interested in VR/AR in Seattle? I’ve been fortunate to have met a number of them, and what … Continue reading 1500 Strong

The Lay of the Land

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Morning at CoMotion Labs. It’s still early.

I’m editing a directory of Seattle VR/AR companies and organizations for the Seattlevr.us community website. I’m positive that I’m missing some key players, so if you’re reading this and don’t see your organization listed, please contact me posthaste.

I think we can all agree that the Seattle VR scene is vibrant and growing. In the past week I’ve heard from people in LA and Helsinki who are well aware of the bubbling cauldron of immersive tech that’s happening in Puget Sound. As I write this, groggy developers are stumbling in to CoMotion Labs looking caffeine-deprived. Most everybody in this coworking space has kept the Husky-purple signs that were posted on our desks for the recent open house. Looking around the room I can see names of companies that I haven’t yet spent enough time getting to know: Timbre Interactive, Hocus Focus Productions, Fearless 360. Most days I feel that I can’t possibly keep up with everything going on in this industry in Seattle. Continue reading “The Lay of the Land”

Eva Hoerth Wants to Know About Your VR/AR Community

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This is what Eva Hoerth looks like all the time.

One of Seattle’s most engaging advocates for virtual and augmented reality, Eva Hoerth, just posted this open-ended Q&A on Facebook, asking for feedback about building local VR/AR communities. I just filled out the questionaire myself, and thought I’d share my answers here.

What inspired you to go from enthusiast to community builder?

I went through grunge and the dotcom years and saw how creative economies emerge and bloom. Last spring when I attended my first VR meetup in Seattle, I felt the same way I used to feel in the mosh pits of the early nineties and on the customer service floor at Amazon–that something momentous and world-changing was just getting started. I’ve done community building projects in the past, and I’ve found that much of what motivates a scene like ours is expanding the sense of what’s possible, empowering the amateur enthusiasts to understand they have real influence over the direction of the industry, and cultivating a DIY attitude. I was inspired by the sheer diversity of people attracted to immersive media. Getting to rub shoulders with architects, computer scientists, musicians, game designers, filmmakers, and so many other fascinating sorts of people is massively appealing to me. Continue reading “Eva Hoerth Wants to Know About Your VR/AR Community”