Game Over – Virtual Reality Feature

When you think of Virtual Reality (VR), the chances are you think of computer games and/or science fiction – of teenagers in bedrooms wearing face-hugging goggles, or fantastical futuristic Hollywood adventures. The truth, however, is much more practical. While virtual reality technology certainly has found a home as a new frontier in gaming and a much-loved plot device in films, its real-world application is far-reaching.

From real estate to medicine, from design to marketing, from training to tourism, plenty of industries are taking advantage of the opportunities virtual reality has to offer.

Why? Well, if you’re an architect, it makes sense to be able to build a virtual reality version of your design to show your client; if you’re selling real estate, it makes sense to use the power of a VR walk-through; and if you’re selling cars, creating a virtual reality showroom that can showcase every conceivable make and model of vehicle is a very cost-effective and innovative sales tool.

That last example is one that MTA Queensland members may remember reading about when it was debuted last year by Llewellyn Hyundai of Ipswich for the launch of the i30. That VR project allowed users to ‘try before they buy’ and experience a showroom filled with rich features that showcased the i30 and all of its functions and even included a 360-degree ‘test drive’ along the streets of Sydney.

Developed by Queensland-based company Immerse Enterprise and its Managing Director and founder Lex Van Cooten, the Hyundai VR experience was a remarkable one, and one that highlights how technology will disrupt the traditional way of doing business.

“The i30 wasn’t available on the market at the time and Virtual Reality was used as a teaser to get pre-sales for the product before it was actually available,” said Lex. “They used VR to make it more accessible.

“Their target audience of mums and dads are finding it harder to get themselves and their kids to a car yard to physically go for a test drive and this technology allows a business to be a part of their customers’ day-to-day world. More manufacturers are showcasing cars in shopping malls and the idea of a VR set-up like Hyundai’s is so that mums and dads can save time and still have that ‘hands-on’ experience on the way to grabbing their groceries.”

The Hyundai i30 project, and indeed Virtual Reality itself is just one of the technologies that Immerse Enterprise uses to help clients reach and engage with potential customers. The company also produces 360-degree video footage, and develops applications using VR’s close cousin, Augmented Reality (AR) – a technology that combines VR with the real world in the form of live images digitally enhanced with computer generated-graphics and which is commonly used on mobile devices.

“What we do is create immersive content, and we work with clients to develop virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video content” said Lex.

“We develop projects for various sectors and they have included real estate pre-visualisation work where we create a VR experience that allows investors, other stakeholders and potential buyers to walk through a development project and engage with it before it is constructed. They can open virtual doors, turn on virtual taps and, in one of the projects we are creating for a futuristic high school development, even write on a virtual chalk board.

“Another client, BUPA, were looking for a way to develop more engaging training for their staff that would also deliver better outcomes. We designed 360-degree video content that allows employees, no matter where they are in the world, to use a headset and effectively be in a store watching a customer engage with another staff member in a specific scenario, allowing them to learn from those interactions.”

This type of content, and immersive technology in general, clearly has enormous potential across every industry and Immerse Enterprise is at the cutting edge of creation and delivery.

Established in 2014, the company has benefited from the passion and drive of its founder, who saw the possibilities of the technology while a business student at the University of Queensland.

“I was fairly entrepreneurial and had an interest in technology,” said Lex. “As I was coming to the end of my degree I researched other tech such as 3D Printing and drones, but it was VR that really stuck out and interested me. So, I started to learn to code and began to create my own VR experiences.”

From that early start, the business now has nine employees and contractors, it services its growing client list from offices in Ipswich and Brisbane and, in mid-May, will be playing an important role in the Myriad festival.

Immerse is involved with the flying car project being developed by NXG3N Robotics and its founders Nathan and Neil Luu. As part of MTA Queensland’s presentation in the Myriad Garage exhibit, the flying car project will include not only a real-world, scaled-down version of the vehicle, but a full-scale VR version with which people can interact. It is the perfect example of the business application advantages available with VR technology – illustrating the potential of an idea before that idea physically exists.

“For the Myriad flying car project, we are going to help with visualising it on a one-to-one scale,” said Lex. “We will have VR systems set up at the Garage site and you will be able to put on a headset, have a virtual walk-around of the vehicle while also viewing the interior, inspect it from every angle and check out its blades, door and panel features, the underside – every detail.

“The project is an awesome opportunity. It allows us to showcase our skills but also is an opportunity to tie the technology together in with industry through MTA Queensland and clearly demonstrate what is possible.”

While VR and AR technology has been around for a while and has often been talked about as being on the cusp of being a feature of our everyday lives, it’s not quite there yet. That is partly due, said Lex, both to businesses realising its potential but not yet utilising it, and the distribution of the created content.

“The biggest challenge ahead for companies is incorporating the technology into their plans and really rolling it out seriously,” he said. “And distribution is key. YouTube, for example, allows 360-degree videos to be uploaded to their system, but that does not offer the user the best experience of that content. Similarly, there are a lot of VR headsets available that use cheap lenses that, again, do not offer the best way to experience the content.

“We encourage clients to invest in good VR hardware and use it, as Hyundai did, to give potential customers the quality and seamless experience it was designed to be.”

Though the average man on the street may not have access to top-end VR hardware systems as yet, and their first exposure to VR or 360-degree content may not be as creators intended, the fact that there is affordable hardware available, and content can be accessed, proves there is a desire to see it and a desire to make it be seen – all of which indicates that the technology will, one day, be as much a part of our lives as the internet, smartphones and electric cars.

For Lex, the time when every household has a VR set-up and accepts it as an everyday tool is just around the corner.

“It’s a generational thing,” he said. “We spend a lot of time educating people on what VR and AR can do and it will likely be the next generation that pushes it into the mainstream. VR is different – there’s no mouse and keyboard in that world – and I think it will be from 2020 to 2025, as the baton passes to a younger generation who are more open to adopting this new technology medium, that we will see it really take off.”

In the meantime, if you’re walking through your local Westfield and you see a VR set-up somewhere in store, take a moment and give it a try. Going for groceries will likely never be the same.

You will be able to see the work of Immerse Enterprise and enjoy a full VR experience at the Myriad Garage, part of the Myriad festival that runs from May 16-18. Entry to the Myriad Garage is free.

4 May 2018