Tag Archives: virtual reality

Mixing Virtual and Digital at Boulder Startup Week 2016

It’s not science fiction — augmented reality (AR) will fundamentally change how we collaborate. That’s why I was eager to check out a session with the Colorado-based ‘spatial computing company’ Occipital at Boulder Startup Week 2016.

The session, entitled Mixed Reality: Digital Meets Virtual, consisted of three presentations by speakers from Occipital as well as a Q&A after. It was a great overview into some of the more practical considerations in planning for a mixed reality world.

challenges of mixed reality

The challenges of a mixed reality

First off, Computer Vision Engineer Brandon Minor shared his perspectives on how mixed reality is actually a more challenging problem to solve than virtual reality (VR), because you have to account for dynamic input from the real world. This seems obvious as I write it, but it hadn’t been something I’d necessarily been conscious of before. I had been focused on not having to create an entire virtual world, when in fact a virtual reality space is a controlled environment, so the designer can selectively create constraints within the environment.

Although I went to a LOT of VR and AR sessions at SXSW, I have to say that the guys from Occipital helped me gain a much deeper appreciation for some of the considerations in designing and developing an immersive experience. In fact, that was called out as an intentional term.

“Immersion is key. Otherwise this is just a video game.”

What’s immersion?

Brandon shared his recipe for immersion:

  • Interaction and gestures
  • Realistic rendering
  • An understanding and utilization of the physical space

Hardware Engineer Evan Fletcher called out two considerations to create an ideal VR experience:

  • Experience-complete
  • Complete illusion

Basically: the individual shouldn’t come across any gaps in the experience, and there should be some realism. For example, you don’t walk through walls in real life, you shouldn’t be able to in a virtual world. This led to a conversation about haptics and the implications of a virtual reality system being able to do you harm if you do something stupid!

He did dig into some of the more technical limitations of designing an experience-that whole “speed of light” constant needs to be accounted for-which did little for me other than to drive home that this is an industry still in its infancy, for all the hype we’re hearing about!

Virtual realiy

Designing the experience is the most critical piece

The discussion reminded me of something I too often forget: Designing the experience is actually the most critical piece. Just because companies like Occipital or Microsoft Hololens and Google Project Tango are starting to release dev kits for AR doesn’t mean just anyone can design a great AR app. The focus needs to be on the problem to be solved, a deep appreciation of human cognition, and how we can present an elegant (immersive) solution. For this to truly take off, there will have to be a new wave of designers and developers who understand the nuances of this new interface.
Occipital makes both hardware and software, because they recognize the two complement each other. They don’t play along every level of the value chain yet, though, as they focus more on the development side: working with the sensors to create the 3D models. They aren’t digging into the consumer-side (yet?). That could definitely be intentional as they remain agnostic as they let the big HMD players battle it out.


The session wrapped up with some bold predictions from Occipital founder Vikas Reddy. Most notable was his prediction that augmented reality displays would get traction with consumers within the next 5–10 years. Sure, he has a vested interest in that happening, but given his time in the space (Occipital went through Techstars in 2008), he has watched the evolution of technology and consumer expectations and I’ll be rooting for him and the whole Occipital team to see if it all comes true!

ReadyTalk goes to SXSW so you don’t have to

sxsw 2016As I’m packing my bags for SXSW Interactive 2016, I’m eager to see what emerging technologies and fascinating people I’ll cross paths with this year.

Things have changed a lot since I first attended in 2009. I was a front-end web developer. Social media was gaining traction among individuals, but businesses didn’t yet appreciate the potential impact of this new communication medium.

I’ve attended the show almost every year since then, and have always left inspired and excited about how rapidly our world is changing. For some, though, it’s overwhelming to see all the hungry startups (and now corporate sponsors) vying for eyeballs and coverage. What do you need to care about, and which flash-in-the-pan ideas are just enjoying their 15 minutes of fame before petering out?

So I go to SXSW so you don’t have to! Check back on this blog (as well as my twitter feed: @afhill) for some of the cool insights and tech trends I’ll be checking out, and my take on what it means for how business and communications are changing.

Although of course if I’m given the chance to check out a self-driving car, I won’t hesitate!


A few of the sessions/topics I’m most excited about:

HAL to Her: Humanizing Tech Via the Power of Voice
Voice is powerful. Voice is human. From Amazon Echo to Cortana to a real life Star Trek communicator badge – technology has finally begun to find its voice. Hear from a panel of experts as they speak about how advances in AI and hardware will transform the way we interact with the people and devices around us.

For decades, sci-fi fantasies have outlined a voice activated future where people interact seamlessly with the world around them, not a future where we all stare down at screens. As we move into a more tech enabled society, come hear how screens will fade to the background as voice takes the lead.


Get the Message! The Rise of Conversational UI
We’re all familiar with the worldwide adoption in text messaging, but in the past year we’ve seen a rush of new product/services that rely on person-to-person or machine-to-person interaction not through an app, but via text and voice. As designers we’re being forced to reconsider fundamental, desktop-induced assumptions about interaction models on mobile, which is already having a profound impact on developers, app stores, consumers, service providers, and retailers: How much can we expect machines to supplement human interaction? Are we sure that we want to interact with machines the same way we do with humans? When is it appropriate to replace a bot with a human, and vice versa?


Face Recognition and Online Identity
Biometric technologies are seeing widespread usage through social networking services (SNS) such as Facebook and Google+. These SNS are using face recognition to help users organize photos and tag the individuals in each photo, making face images more searchable and discoverable. Surprisingly, these algorithms are able to deal with images considered extremely challenging for traditional face recognition systems. The presentation will discuss how well online face recognition algorithms actually work based on in-depth performance tests, whether they are improving over time, their vulnerabilities and limitations, and what online face recognition means for privacy and security.

Ultimate Empathy Machine: 360 Storytelling in VR
The VR industry has seen explosive growth over the past couple of years, with companies like Oculus and Valve consumer VR headsets in 2016. While there a number of companies are tackling the VR hardware problem, there simply isn’t enough content to support all of these devices. 360 video is an efficient and effective way to create content for VR, and we’re seeing a new medium for storytelling emerge before our eyes. Join our panel of VR storytelling pioneers as we discuss the advantages, challenges, tradeoffs and techniques of working in this new medium. Hear from our successes and failures so that you may leave inspired to succeed in this new medium.


Crowdsourcing the Hyperloop
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies CEO Dirk Ahlborn will discuss Hyperloop as both a completely new transportation system and the revolutionary use of crowdsourcing to create an entirely new model for how companies can be made. In August 2013, Elon Musk published the original Hyperloop Alpha white paper detailing a new mode of transportation: a passenger capsule levitating in a tube that travels at 760 MPH. Musk asked other entrepreneurs to take on the project and JumpStartFund, a new crowdsourcing platform, took the project on with 100 engineers, becoming the first Hyperloop company, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) in November 2013. Today, HTT has more than 500 team members, including Fortune 500 companies, working worldwide to build the first full scale passenger-ready Hyperloop along a five mile stretch of the I-5 Freeway in California’s Central Valley. What does it takes to build a new mode of transportation? How will the Hyperloop change the way we live?


What’s interesting about these sessions in particular?

Our smart devices will are becoming even more smart, and will support our activities in an invisible way. We’re suffering (yes, truly suffering) with too many apps that perform similar activities, which adds to our cognitive load and decreases our productivity. As our devices begin to recognize us so that we don’t have to actively authenticate or direct them to do routine tasks, we can focus on more creative, meaningful activities.

Although VR is being primarily lumped in with gaming and entertainment for now, there is a lot of potential for it to shift how we collaborate. I view it as we approached social media back in 2009; it’s currently being dismissed as ‘consumer entertainment’ but companies need to be thinking about how it has the potential to shift consumer content consumption-especially given the companies that are making big investments in the space (Facebook, Apple, Google, etc).  Virtual reality has the potential for a much more immersive experience that could shift our entire paradigm of “conferencing” and “collaboration-as-real-time-document-editing” (although I believe that it will really shine in more emotional and engaging settings). This new media will require partners all along the value chain to be in sync: content producers, online storage and server providers as well as hardware manufacturers, but I’m confident that technology will be available – at a non-prohibitive cost – in the next few years.

And the hyperloop session? It’s about 85% a personal interest in the project, but 15% of me wonders if this ease of transportation could see a shift in remote collaboration. Web and audio conferencing really was bolstered by increasing travel costs over the past decade. As we see transportation changing (autonomous and on-demand lowering effort and cost), we may see a shift back to more in-person meetings.

And as much as any formal programming, I’m looking forward to exploring the event and seeing what unanticipated new products or services may surface.

Want to see what’s going on while it’s happening? I’ll be holding live blabs over on blab.im everyday at 9:30am Mountain (10:30 Central). Sign on to chat (video or text) about the event while it’s happening!


Friday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-readytalk-visits-sxsw-interactive-2016-friday-edition
Saturday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-readytalk-visits-sxsw-interactive-2016-saturday-edition
Sunday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-sxsw-interactive-and-virtual-reality-2016-sunday-morning-edition
Monday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-sxsw-interactive-and-virtual-reality-2016-monday-morning-edition
Tuesday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-sxsw-interactive-and-virtual-reality-2016-tuesday-edition
Wednesday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-readytalk-visits-sxsw-interactive-virtual-reality-2016-wednesday-edition
Thursday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-readytalk-visits-sxsw-virtual-reality-showcase-2016-thursday-edition
Friday: https://blab.im/andrea-hill-readytalk-wraps-up-sxsw-interactive-virtual-reality-2016-Friday