Thank you for sharing your insight for travels and beyond. Thank you for also mentioning me and Pivotal Reality too! Hopefully we can meet again soon 🙂
What was Merging Realities?
Merging Realities was the world’s first full-day conference that you could attend in virtual reality and took place on April 26th 2018. It was hosted by Mike McCready and students from Lethbridge College based in Canada and made possible by Doghead Simulations‘ Rumii platform based in Seattle, Washington. I had booked my ticket well in advance as this was a big deal and I didn’t want to miss it! I’m based in Scotland and can only usually stalk event hashtags to learn about event outputs that are impossible for me to attend geographically speaking. The topic of this event just so happened to be all things virtual, augmented and mixed reality too. Winner! You also didn’t need to be the owner of a VR headset to attend as there was a WebVR version you could enter using desktop. Or there was the Twitch channel you could enter and simply ‘observe’ the event as it was being streamed live across the world. I used a combination of desktop for the VR event and mobile to watch the livestream. First thing’s first, had to register for Rumii and create my Avatar:
Why a conference in VR?
The event itself started late in the afternoon (UK time) so it meant I could attend at my leisure after work. In fact it was ideal! I was able to be there, explore, listen, learn and network. I saw some pretty cool role models ‘in the flesh’ instead of being static pictures on social media platforms. Then I was able to log out, pick up my kids, make dinner and complete some chores then log back in to the conference again. It was flexible enough to allow you to come and go as required meaning I didn’t disrupt any sessions. It complimented my life and time commitments without the need of booking travel, accommodation or hassle arranging childcare. I wasn’t tired from travelling, didn’t need to adjust to the different timezone or stress about pre-planning my route to get to the venue on time. I just logged in and I was in the venue and simply logged out when I had to leave again. Simple as that. #welcometothefuture
There was plenty of room for us all in the main conference areas – we had a choice of Lecture Hall A or Lecture Hall B (2 talks were happening at any one time). We weren’t able to see who was talking or the theme of the talk using the menu though. It didn’t cause any issues as you simply selected your choice of room and instantly teleported there. If you changed your mind you could teleport to the other just as easy by using the main menu. There was a sound alert when people entered/left a room though so I did feel a little embarrassed in case I put any presenters off by causing that distraction. But to be honest, as a participant, you barely noticed it at all. In fact it was quite an upbeat catchy jingle. I actually grew fond of hearing it! In addition to the 2 main conference halls you had 3 separate meeting rooms each for a specific theme (Health, Education and Business) and a Lobby. As a fan of Social VR I felt the scale to be impressive, the atmosphere to be relaxing and the graphical detail to be realistic enough for me to settle into my new environment quite quickly.
What did we hear about?
The first session was Immersive Computing at Google presented by Alex Katzen. It was interesting to hear Google’s take on the changing digital landscape. I was very impressed and inspired the more I listened during the session. Previously I knew Google were involved with Daydream but didn’t really appreciate just how involved they were elsewhere. Alex unveiled the Google & Lenovo Solo Mirage VR Headset too. We heard about their partner’s, their involvement, their propositions and Google’s vision for the future. Overall it was an excellent presentation, full of insight that I would have not been able to get had I not been at this specific conference. I was already loving conferences in VR – I knew I would but this was over and above my expectations. Not bad for only the first session… We had a full day of knowledge sharing left to soak up!
Meeting role models
Next up was Alan Smithson from MetaVRse who is an absolute role model of mine. If you are interested in VR and AR then I recommend you follow his LinkedIn posts. This would be my first time seeing Alan deliver a conference talk and I was mega excited about hearing what he had to say. His company MetaVRse is working in all sorts of interesting avenues meaning he has plenty of interesting stories to share with us. Alan’s talk did not disappoint. He not only brought amazing insight, inspiration and encouragement to the audience but he also brought with him humor. He expressed his love for the ability to throw confetti in the air using the Rumii platform and got clarification on how people could do it. (Only desktop users were able to by pressing the spacebar). Then we all had a lark about throwing confetti lol! It was so refreshing to see someone delivering a session and having fun with the technology as he did. This is what it is all about! He gets it. He wasn’t a white collared business man selling us a pitch. Alan was messing around with the functions that Rumii offered, he popped a spaceman into the audience to demonstrate 3D models. It was floating around us, a giant spaceman! The famous MetaVRse watch also made a 3D model appearance. He shared market trends, important numbers and even shared how he personally continually learns about this technology sector and from which resources too. For the finale of Alan’s talk he played us some Virtual Insanity music that we all throw confetti to. It was marvelous. The energy was through the roof. I ask you – have you ever thrown confetti at the end of hearing a world class presentation during a conference in the real world?
(Video provided my Neil Singh – thanks again for the permission to publish it in this blog)
Sadly this was when I hit my break from the conference so I could turn back to my family and home duties for a while. My avatar was able to stay in the conference but I had changed my status to ‘away’ meaning I wasn’t visible to anybody there. Thanks to twitch, I was secretly watching whilst washing my dishes though ;o) I sadly missed Steve Bambury’s session, which was another I was looking forward to attending in advance. (I have since been informed that Twitch have kept videos of the conference that you can still watch. I will post the link in the comments of this blog for you).
Mesmerised by Immersion
The following sessions covered a mixture of design, technical detail and engagement. We listened to insights and saw more 3D models that are being used commercially. Listening to the various AR and VR examples proved to me that there are people out there making this technology work for them using profitably business models. I would have liked to have heard more about that subject. How are creatives making money in this industry not as one offs but by producing consistent revenue? It is a common question in the field and one that nobody seems to want to share their detailed answers to. (This is not aimed specifically at any of the presenters who showcased their work during their Merging Realities talks, just a general observation and a personal frustration).
The presenters I listened to were:
Immersion/Engagement presented by Connor Gottfried
Challenges & Opportunities of a VR game startup presented by Lloyd Summers
Inclusion presented by Rosalina Hernandez
Looking to the Future
Next up was the magnificent futurist Cathy Hackl to share some forward thinking thoughts. She shared some amazing video clips, as well as some current use case studies along with stories of the future world. Having heard many a person claim to be a futurist cover old ground on what has been previously said I wasn’t sure that I was going to hear anything that I hadn’t heard already on this topic. But I was wrong. Cathy blew my mind. She didn’t just blow my mind with a one off little golden nugget of intel. She had me hanging on every single word. I’ve taken notes to revisit pretty much all of the examples she shared to gain better understanding for myself. I want to be able to digest and reflect on the use cases and explanations of spatial computing that she shared with us. So if like me, you don’t want to miss any fascinating industry use case then follow Cathy on social media. (As well as subscribe to this blog obviously… shining the light on user case studies is the purpose of the Suzanne Showcasing VR blog afterall!). Cathy was asked plenty of questions and did a tremendous job to close the amazing full day VRAR conference in VR. What a blast!!!
In summary we heard from highly respectable individuals from the VR AR industry. We heard about content creation, designing, coding, modelling, engagement, platforms, headsets, partnerships, user experience, user engagement, market trends, self development & learning, challenges & opportunities, inclusion and preparing ourselves for the future. We met with like-minded people from all across our wonderful planet and I am proud to have represented Scotland. I love the map above that shows where everyone was attending from. A real mixture of people, all with the same common interests. It was absolutely superb! Let’s do it all again next year! Hopefully see you there next time 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read through this article and share the experience of the World’s first full-day conference in VR. In the words of Alan Smithson, ‘Awesome guys, thank you so much. Have a good one. Bye guys. Thank you’.
(For those of you interested, I will post Neil Singh’s blog that covers the full account of the conference to help fill in the gaps that I didn’t manage to cover with my own experience. I’ll also post a link to the Twitch account for Merging Realities so you can see if for yourself too).
Until next time my friends!
Suzanne Showcasing VR
You all know me by now and know I am a complete virtual reality idoliser, if not, where have you been?! So when I first read that a virtual reality racing car centre was opening close to my home I experienced instant fan girl syndrome…
Thankfully they heard my plea and invited me along. Now the time has come for me to share that marvelous experience with you all. Where to begin? I won’t lie, I was giddy just standing outside looking in to the place! As soon as I stepped in I felt as if I had travelled into the future, past and present all at the same time. I think it was their Matrix colour scheme and the build up of sheer excitement that transported me into this mesmerising moment of euphoria. Time stood still in there.
The place looked the business. It wasn’t like any traditional ‘arcade’ I had ever visited. This looked and felt upmarket. The details were well thought out. The colours, the branding, the chairs, the headsets, the steering wheels, the pedals, the sounds, the smells, the works. Everything looked and felt shit hot! There are 11 chairs for racing drivers to race simultaneously in a race of 23 drivers in total (the other 12 are AI/computer controlled racers). Spectators from large groups who attend who don’t make the 1st cut of racing drivers can watch the action live on a TV screen. It genuinely looks like you are watching the F1 on that tv except it’s your mates or co-workers! It’s so awesome! The technology used has the ability to target any dramatic battles for positioning or overtaking as you would expect in real life races too. Adding to the realistic experience.
Nothing compares to BEING the driver though! I’m a gamer who’s played racing games before and would class myself as ‘decent enough’ at them so I was feeling up for the experience. When I approached the seat, saw the equipment and listened to my tutorial I felt a little out my depth. It felt like I was about to step into a car, even before the VR headset has been touched. I was given a racing driver balaclava to wear – this was getting seriously exciting! I had eaten a Ginger Nut biscuit and put on anti-sickness wristbands – I was told to expect to feel the G-Force and movements when racing thanks to the seat motion as well as VR visualisation. The seats are fully adjustable to the customer’s height to help with that real life experience further. The steering wheels are also adjustable for the same reason. Your foot pedals are exactly as you would expect in a gear controlled car.
Screechy Wheel time
I was sat in my seat, balaclava on, strapped into my harness (eeeek!) and ready to go post tutorial instructions. I pulled the headset on and immediately brimmed ear to ear. I could see my VR hands clutching the VR steering wheel in front of me whilst holding the real world steering wheel. I looked and saw the car’s dashboard, the mirrors, the road in front of me, the side windows, the passenger seat, the rear seats, my lap. This was cool and as you would expect in VR but still cool. However, when I was given that green light, applied the accelerator and experienced the sensational rumble of my hasty take-off I was in hysterics. I was like the child who longed to be tall enough for their first big rollercoaster ride, finally being tall enough to take their seat and whooping down the first steep drop my friends. I couldn’t help myself! Trying to keep control around the bends that I was driving way too fast for, shuddering over the chicanes with my ass cheeks knowing I was off course along with my eyes thanks to the 20 degrees of seat motion at a speed of 20 degrees per second! The belief that I had to make time back up for going off the track slightly, the determination to do better on the next bend to win the race in a new world record time to match my new pro racing driver persona! Except only to spin wildly out of control at the next bend and feel the full G-Force throwing me about in my chair thanks to the realistic motion matching my competitively aggressive driving style and I don’t even know which way is forward anymore. Slip my headset off, quick check, yes it’s ok, I’ve not really damaged a Mitsubishi Evolution VI. Headset back on, finish the race with the sounds of my engine roaring a little less furiously than before. Race over. “How was that? Ready for the Porsche 911?”
The hardware and software are absolutely in sync with each other. The chair, the steering wheel, pedal, visual and sound all provide a realistic immersive experience. There’s auto-drive function for when you pull into the pit-stop – acting as an ideal time to swap drivers if your group is larger than the 11 seats can host at the same time. Just a tap on the shoulder to let you know to pull in next time is all it takes communication wise to make that happen.
This is the sort of gift I could buy my husband instead of a race track experience and know he was going to be alive at the end of it… With over 50 cars and tracks to choose from you can’t go wrong! In fact, the selection of racing tracks are marked out EXACTLY as they are in real life and encourage local Knockhill drivers enough to become regular customers! John, the owner shared a story of his friend visiting in a real world Lamborghini looking to try out VR Simulators VR Lamborghini and said afterwards, “wow, it’s just like the real thing!”. His brother sat in the real world Lamborghini and said, “wow, it’s just like VR!”.
I would encourage you to go try it out for yourself, girls this is one you will enjoy as much as the lads, I promise! Don’t worry if you don’t feel confident as you can activate auto-gears so that all you need to do is accelerate, steer and brake. There are green and red arrows to guide you on when you should brake too. You’ll receive a full brief of equipment and tutorial – no driving license required for VR races either! Not forgetting that you are in safe capable hands of the staff. There’s even a podium winners celebration at the end so you can truly enjoy the winner’s bragging rights!
Like many others I had asked Santa for a Disney Lenovo Start Wars Jedi Challenges for Christmas last year. Having saw the online ads I was intrigued and desperate to try it out. But turns out the first lesson for any Jedi apprentice to learn is patience. Damn you Yoda for being so right!!! I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I watched those ads or how many times I spoke about it to friends, colleagues, strangers or anybody that appeared to listen about how cool it looked, about how awesome it would be to try it out. So why am I telling you this now? Well, my friends, almost exactly 2 months after Christmas I got my sweaty little palms on one and the time has come to share it with you in all its glory! That’s why!
From dreamer to Jedi apprentice:
From watching the ads I wondered whether the actual game-play was going to be as realistic as they appeared to be. Or whether it would be gimmicky. What would it actually look like? Well I am delighted to report that once you start battling, it absolutely is like the graphics shown in the above Lenovo ad. The product uses Augmented Reality so you are still able to see your natural surroundings as you play but the in-game characters also appear in the surroundings with you. How cool is that?! You can frantically battle AND avoid your cat #gameon! So when you look at those ads, you think to yourself, how cool would that be, how incredible that you can be a Jedi and battle with a lightsaber followed by a little giddy laugh – am I right? Well. There’s something that you won’t be able to fully appreciate until you try this out for yourself. The battles are freakin AWESOME! Your lightsaber (an exact replica of Luke Skywalker’s by the way) VIBRATES during battle when you connect with an opponent thanks to it’s haptic technology. I’m not kidding when I tell you that playing this leaves me feeling absolutely pumped full of adrenaline. Every. Single. Time. I have excitement and fear of facing those iconic Imperials, Praetorian Guards, Darth Maul – Darth Maul is the first ‘boss’ you will face. I wasn’t prepared for that so soon. It was EPIC! I totally whooped his ass though thanks to breezing through my lessons – ‘ I’m at one with the force, the force is with me’ don’t you know…
Solo or Social?
Is Jedi Challenges a one hit wonder? I don’t think so. My family and friends took turns to play it and were all absolutely hyper, even when we were ‘patiently’ waiting for our turn to come back round. It was so much fun playing it but funny when watching others too. I’ll be honest, I enjoyed watching my husband’s form as he battled away. His past martial arts experience shone through and it was pretty hot. It sparked conversations about Star Wars and future predictions amongst the group. So is this a solo or social game experience? I vote it can be both. Although in the words of the Laughing Chewbacca mask lady, ‘this is mine!’ and I’m not sharing it. Well, not too often anyway ;o)
What does the Augmented Reality look like?
This is the first AR product that I have tried other than handheld mobile apps that are also fun including Pokemon Go. This felt closely aligned to VR though as you did feel the sense of being immersed except you were in your own surroundings. However, the focus is most definitely not on those surroundings, believe me! Dodging laser bullets, lightsabers and remaining alert to your battle strategy takes your concentration away from seeing your furniture. Be warned, you do have the sense that your surroundings is the layout for the game though so don’t underestimate the power of the dark side! I battled a stormtrooper who popped out from a corner wall of my room – it genuinely took me by surprise as I found myself questioning how he got there seeing as there was no doorway in real-life… ha!
Jedi Challenges Kit details:
The AR headset is a good weight and comfortable enough to wear – although I think that you would need to take frequent rests during lengthier periods of play. The recommended age to play is 13 years old. It is compatible with most mobile phones – you insert your phone into the headset to view the content from a Jedi Challenges app. The lightsaber is the hardware showstopper – an exact replica Luke Skywalker’s. It feels light enough to swing about but sturdy enough to feel ‘authentic’. We’ve all held a pretend lightsaber and yeah it’s still felt kinda cool but this one feels AWESOME! Aside from the real ‘fricken laserbeam’ (Dr Evil) of course – although you do see the full lightsaber effect through the AR headset. Did I mention it has haptic technology in it? Well, yes it does, so when you strike your opponent the lightsaber vibrates to let you know you’ve connected with them. The final touch is the little beacon which is the sensor – this helps with the distance/depth perception, the alignment and connects all devices together so that they can interact with one another leading to a more realistic experience.
It comes with hours and hours of content and has actually been updated at the start of this year so that you can have dual battles now too. It encourages you to move as you do battle so it is important to have a large clear area free from obstructions whilst playing. There is a lightsaber sync method to help you get back on track after you’ve been lunging around. Together the hardware and software form the full Jedi Challenges experience.
There are only approx 30 Jedi Masters in the entire world – a Jedi Master is someone who has successfully completed all the content and levels within Jedi Challenges.
In a Lenovo poll at the end of last year only 35% of people said they would choose Star Wars Jedi Challenges instead of a ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop. I was one of the proud 35%!
Plans for the future?
Ok, what I am about to tell you may be the real game changer for you should you not share my enthusiasm for Star Wars. The hardware is the hardware and the app is an app. Once you have the hardware, you have the hardware. Though there’s room to innovate the app or build a new app… What else does the Disney franchise own that would be so much fun to play with using this existing hardware? I can think of 2 more that would blow my mind, can you? Being Hulk from Avengers and unleashing his massive green fists could be fun… How about facing Lord Voldermort from Harry Potter? Not forgetting Lenovo’s ability to replicate, how about using a Dumbledore or Potter wand to complete the package? Would that sway you to join the 35%?
That’s exciting enough to turn even the darkest of forces to the light…
Special thanks to Lenovo for making my dreams come true and so much more!