The Idaho Virtual Reality Council Overview

The IVRC is Idaho’s first networking and education council for Idaho’s leaders and innovators interested in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.
The goal of the IVRC is to bring together people, technologies, and companies to create a thriving VR industry for the economic and social benefit of Idaho citizens and families. Networking events and educational seminars will help Idaho organizations to learn faster, cooperate on projects, and promote VR in Idaho.

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David: Welcome. My name is David Cleverdon with 360 Immersive.

Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Annie Morley and Chuck Westerberg from the Idaho Virtual Reality Council – or what we like to call the IVRC. Annie is the president; Chuck is director of operations and, also, education.

So, when we’re talking about virtual reality in Idaho, virtual reality is such a new technology; it’s innovation, it’s exciting, it’s new.

Annie: Yeah.

David: Can you tell you tell us a little bit about: What is the mandate of the IVRC? What do you do?

Annie: Yeah, that’s a great question.

So, the IVRC is a non-profit and our goal is to bring together people, technologies and companies to create a thriving VR environment in Idaho for the benefit of people and citizens in Idaho. And a lot of what we do – a big focus for us right now – is just evangelization of the technology.

So, not everybody has had the opportunity to try virtual reality. So, a large focus for us is getting the technology in people’s hands. We do that through a multitude of ways: We get the technologies in schools; we do a lot of STEM and STEAM nights. We also do different community events. We do talks with different groups in the community and that’s one of our main areas of focus.

We also focus from an education standpoint. We know there’s this wave of technology coming. We know that we’re going to need more developers in this space; more people with the appropriate skill sets. So, our goal is to help provide people with educational opportunities, whether that’s certification in Unity or just taking courses – intro courses – to the various tools that are used in virtual reality.

Networking is a big piece. We want to make sure that we’re networking companies and individuals that are working in this space because when we’re all talking and collaborating, we’re going to do better when we get feedback from other people.

And then, also, the IVRC works to help accelerate companies. So, we want to help a company that has a great idea, they’re almost there and there’s ways for us to hopefully connect them with the right parties in the industry.

So, those are really the four areas that we’re focused on this year.

David: That is like a huge job but it has to be extremely fulfilling.

Annie: Yeah.

David: I mean, this is an exciting new – I mean, it’s a brand-new industry.

Annie: Yeah.

David: Brand-new technology.

Annie: Absolutely.

David: So, Chuck, following up on what Annie mentioned from an educational standpoint, that’s part of really what you do. You get down into the nuts and bolts with the kids, with collegiate – you k now, colleges and –

Tell us a little bit about virtual reality and education.

Chuck: Yeah. I mean, so, all that’s been kind of all hands on deck with Annie and me and some of the other people at the IVRC but the reason we go out there to universities and schools is to:

1) Like Annie said, to evangelize the technology and let them know what it is. A lot of people say that they’ve been in VR but it’s usually been the mobile kind and they have the wrong idea of what that is. Or they might not know what VR is at all and so then, we put them in the high-end stuff; the stuff that will be in everyone’s homes in a few years, so that they get an idea of what that is. And then, when they get excited about it and they want to know, “Hey, how do I become a Unity developer” or “How do I develop games or technology for VR”, then we can point them in the right direction.

We also talk with educators quite a bit because they need to know what it is and they get excited about it and then, they want to create things that they can use to augment their curriculum inside their classroom. And so, we have a platform and resources that we can connect them with, so that they can take it to the next level.

And then, also, when it comes to employers, they also have to know that there’s use cases out there beyond just gaming because, if they’re not aware of the use cases, then they’re not going to realize that there’s things that they can do and jobs that they can pay for, so they can actually employ these students when they finish their education.

David: Wow.

So, you know – education is wonderful but we all live in somewhat of a business economy. You know, we deal with corporate.

Tell us a little bit, when it comes to more of a corporate perspective, what virtual reality can bring to businesses. And I’m gonna help you a little bit. I can think of two, right off the bat. I mean, VR is amazing for marketing; also, for training, which we’ll talk about a little later on. But tell us a little bit about a corporate perspective.

Annie: Of uses?

David: Of uses.

Annie: Well, I think training, right off the bat, is incredibly important. So, if I can touch on that a little bit?

David: Yeah, absolutely.

Annie: So, being able to recreate, like, high-risk situations in a virtual reality setting can significantly cut costs to various agencies. If you are trying to train people on a haz-mat situation, how often can you really create a train wreck that has hazardous material spilling all over?

David: Right.

Annie: You can do that in virtual reality and use that over and over and over again. So, training, I think, is going to be incredibly critical.

Another application is that VR can really be used to save companies money and time when they are producing a product. If you are looking at producing a – especially a large object that is needing to be engineered. We were talking to an engineering and design firm here, locally, that has started putting their prototypes in VR before they actually go to a first edition or a first model of that. And what they found is they can make those changes there and save significant costs right there, before they’ve even had to outlay the money.

And then, another good case that I would talk about is in architecture and real estate. I mean, that’s incredible – being able to walk into a home, tour a home or even tour a house that you’re building before anything has actually been built. I mean, there’s an incredible amount of time- and money-savings potential there.

So, those are just a few off the top of my head.

David: Think about, for instance – I personally believe that we will all plan our vacations in headset, in VR, because we can go to that hotel; we can go to that resort; we can go to that beach, ski resort, whatever it might be, and feel like we’re there. And we can make those determinations on where we want to stay, what we want to do, all in VR – all from the comfort of our living room. And that doesn’t negate the fact that we still want to go there. We want to experience that.

Annie: And it probably makes you want to go even more.

David: Absolutely.

Chuck, what do you think from a marketing standpoint? We know that VR has huge potential when it comes to selling brands, to promoting goods and services.

Chuck: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s a fantastic tool. As you already alluded to – you know, if you’re planning a vacation, it’s a great way for the Hilton or whatever to show off their hotel but then, also give you a perspective, not only what it’s like to walk around in a room or out inside their courtyard or dining areas, but also: What does it look like in the surrounding areas, out on the street? What kind of amenities or, you know, is there a gym nearby that’s not inside there? Is there a great restaurant across the street? Is it a crappy side of town? All that kind of stuff, so that’s wonderful.

There’s also methods within the virtual reality headset and inside the game engines that you can insert advertising and market your product actually inside the headsets, which is something that people haven’t really been able to do before, and make those interactive and also tailor those to the individual user.

So, those are some really fantastic ways that people are going to be utilizing these technologies, not only to plan vacations, but to market products.

It’s also – when it comes to digital shopping – it’s a fantastic tool because, now, one of the biggest cost factors that companies that ship products have to take into account is returns. And so, they lose a lot of money having to pay for free shipping back or restocking whatever people buy.

Now you can go on your headset – you can go to Best Buy, you can go to eBay or wherever the heck it is – and you can pick up a physical object and you can actually see the size of it. If you had that in augmented reality, you could see that on your wall and make sure that it fits what that piece of furniture looks like in the corner of your living room. And you’ve made an educated decision before you actually click the “buy” button, which will dramatically reduce the amount of returns that these big manufacturers and retailers experience.

David: So, wonderful opportunities in many, many ways.

Chuck: Mm-hmm.

Annie: Mm-hmm.

David: We’ve already touched a little bit about training. I don’t want to get into that too much but let’s talk somewhat about the opportunity to help people learn from an educational standpoint, or workplace safety or first responder. I mean, technology seems to have such a potential to help people.

Chuck: Yeah. And, I mean, I like to – Not to cut you off but –

Annie: No, no.

Chuck: I mean, I like to talk about how – I mean, a lot of things I’ve read, when it comes to retention; generally, if you’re just reading something or hearing something or watching something, retention can vary between, like, 15 and 25 percent. But in a VR setting, especially if you start mixing in temperature and some haptics and different things like that – since you’re having your ears, your eyes and touch – that retention rate can jump up to as high as 80 to 90 percent. So, one, you’re remembering a lot more.

And we talk about experiential learning but they already had some great studies that went out there, that have involved people trying to learn juggling inside a VR landscape because they could slow down time and get used to what that was like to catch and then transfer the balls or the objects to a different hand. And by the time they went through that for a few minutes, then slowly sped it up, when they actually took their headset off and grabbed physical objects, they were able to juggle, having never done that before.

The same thing has been applied to crane training, where they put somebody in the cab of a Cat and those guys never been in there before. And after an hour, they could go out and get in the cab of a real excavator or whatever it was and they could, with about 80 percent proficiency, run that excavator after being in VR for an hour.

David: Well, we know that these type of simulators have been used for – in the military, in medical and aviation for decades. The difference that we’re seeing today – and it’s probably a very distinct difference – is what I like to call “VR for the masses”. It’s because you can take some relatively inexpensive devices, maybe anywhere from $35.00 to a couple thousand for a VIVE and the system to drive it, and you have a training tool. Where, before, we would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to get a full-blown simulator of military grade.

Annie: Yeah.

David: We call it “VR for the masses” for a reason: Because it can apply to almost everyone.

Annie: Yep.

David: Except not the elite few.

Annie: Yeah. Well, and then you have to get those people to that simulator that costs several hundred thousand dollars. So, that’s thousands of dollars, potentially, per person that you’re trying to run through that. So –

David: Absolutely.

So, this is all exciting. It’s wonderful. In fact, I think I want to get into VR right now.

Annie: Should we?

David: But let’s talk a little bit about the future.

Now, VR sounds like Star Trek but let’s go beyond Star Trek. Let’s talk about the future of VR.

Annie: Yeah. I think one of the most exciting things right now – that is on the horizon – will be the continuing changes to the hardware. Like, it is going to get better; it’s going to get cheaper. You’ve got these cords, sometimes, that are hanging off of you when you’re doing stuff. Things are going to be going wireless. So, just the changes that we’re going to see within the next 6 to 12 months are super-exciting from a hardware standpoint.

Chuck: Yeah. And, I mean, for me, looking into the future, I mean, VR right now is something that people do, other than real life. You know, they take a break and then they go do VR and they play a game and they have to go to a separate area and they have to put it on and they have to load the computer up and things like that. But in the next three to five years, it’ll start becoming less of something else that you do throughout the day and it will just be part of your everyday.

So, whether it’s incorporated in normal-looking glasses or less obtrusive glasses, there won’t be this big transitory period where people have to go from Point A to Point B to do VR; it’ll just be there with them all the time, augmenting everything that they do throughout the day.

David: And let me add a follow-up on that.

For the last 30 years, as the business community and individuals at home, we’ve worked within a paradigm of a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor. When we want to interface the internet – when we want to make buying decisions, we want to do research; whatever we might do within a computer or mobile environment tends to be those items.

You’re going to find that very soon, that will all go away; that our world – our business world or our entertainment – our world that we interface the internet, the internet community, will be here. I may tag my – I may be working on an Excel sheet, so that’s up here, and my calendar is here. And the devices are aware of the environment that I’m in, so I can move around and everything is completely lockstep to my movements.

Once we do that, that will take us into a whole new world – a whole new paradigm; that VR will certainly not go away but AR – and that’s really defining AR – will affect the business community and, really, the consumer community, when it comes to interfacing with the computers and internet, in a way we can’t even imagine.

Chuck: Yes.

Annie: Yeah.

David: And we’re all going to be a part of that.

Chuck: Yeah.

Annie: Yeah, it’s exciting.

Chuck: You’ll never die. You’ll be here with us always, David.

David: Thank you very much.

Well, on that note, we will just – We’d like to thank you for sharing a little bit regarding virtual reality, the Idaho Virtual Reality Council and with Chuck and Annie. And we will see you next time.