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Joanna Popper

What do you think about when you hear the term, “virtual reality”? It's been part of the pop-culture and entertainment news cycle for a while, but still feels out of reach.

The Promise of Virtual Reality
The Promise of Virtual Reality

The Promise of Virtual Reality

Ep
84
May
25
With
Joanna Popper
Or Listen On:

How will VR shape the future?

What do you think about when you hear the term, “virtual reality”? It's been part of the pop-culture and entertainment news cycle for a while, but still feels out of reach. There are cumbersome headsets you need to wear, low fidelity images and poorly designed experiences.

Like or not, VR is on the cusp of changing our lives forever, which is why we were thrilled to have HP’s Global Lead of VR for Location Based Entertainment on the show, Joanna Popper.

A naturally curious person, Joanna’s always been intrigued by the fast pace of change we see on a daily basis. During her time at NBC from 2007 to 2015, she was at the epicenter of a major shift in how we consume television; moving from cable to video on demand and streaming services.

Joanna’s always got her finger on the pulse; with her eyes fixed on what’s coming next. It was only fitting that she land a job in one of the most innovative industries to come out in recent years: virtual reality and immersive computing.

While we shelter-in-place we can't help but think: how might VR change day-to-day life during something like this? Will it connect people and offer experiences that they could otherwise not enjoy, or will VR live up to the dystopian future we often see portrayed in films?

From Joanna’s standpoint and research, VR is not about plugging in and disconnecting from the world around us. It’s about finding new ways to learn, connect, and collaborate in an immersive format. While many people label VR as a product of a dystopian future, Joanna argues that couldn’t be further from what’s actually going on with VR.

In fact, many companies, such as those in the automotive industry, are already implementing the use of VR to review products.

While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, VR is here to stay.

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Episode Transcript

Greg:
Hello and welcome to The Futur podcast. I'm your producer Greg Gunn, and I have good news for you. Chris recorded a special intro for this episode, so you don't have to keep listening to me. Here's the man himself.

Chris:
What do you think about when you hear the word virtual reality? I think this has been part of the pop culture news, entertainment cycle, but it seems like it's father away than it really is, that there are cumbersome headsets that you have to wear, low fidelity images, and poorly designed experiences.

Chris:
So, it's for this reason that I'm really excited to talk to my next guest, who's all about virtual reality, about what the promises are, and how to use this in different applications. And I think especially during this time when we're all sheltering in place, self-quarantine, that virtual reality starts to make a lot more sense.

Chris:
I'm fascinated from the point of view of an educator, that how VR can actually connect people at great distances, to experience things that they otherwise could not experience. Take, for example, Jurassic Park. That was an amazing fantasy to be able to be amongst the dinosaurs. But now with VR tech, you can actually do that. You can go from the very big, like a dinosaur, a giant T-Rex, or actually zoom real down into the microscopic and see cells and things on an atomic level move about you, and interact with them in ways that you could never do before.

Chris:
So, as an educator, I'm super excited. And if you go on the opposite end of the spectrum, where you look at VR depicted as a dystopian future. For example, in the film Ready Player One, the world has kind of retreated into VR, because real life is much worse than that. That people in abject poverty can actually have an experience that is much richer and better than the reality that they live in. So, in that dystopian future, it depicts people living in slums, but while they're plugged into the virtual reality world, they're all equals, and everybody has a shot at a better future.

Chris:
Enough of me talking. I'm super excited to introduce you to my next guest, Joanna Popper.

Chris:
So, Joanna, can you just introduce yourself and tell people what it is that you do?

Joanna:
Sure. Thanks for having me here today. I'm excited to be here with you, and with all of your, all of the listeners. My name is Joanna Popper, and I am at HP, and I am the global lead of virtual reality for location-based entertainment, and I work on all of our go-to-market planning. I've been at HP a little over two years, and prior to working in virtual reality at HP, I was at NBC Universal for a long time. I led our consumer marketing for Telemundo, and I was at Singularity University for a bit.

Chris:
Wow, that's like a heavy title, global head of VR for location-based entertainment at HP. So, I have this question, this burning question. It's how did you get this job?

Joanna:
How did I get this job?

Chris:
Yeah, it's like, what got you here?

Joanna:
Sure, yeah, I'll definitely tell that story. I'll just start with defining what that means, because I'm not sure if everyone knows what it means. Location-based entertainment would be anywhere that we go out-of-home for entertainment. So, cinema, museum, arcade, family entertainment center, cruises, anything like that. Right now, and I don't know when this goes live, but right now most of us around the world are not going any places like that, unfortunately. But there has been a great deal of interest in bringing virtual reality into environments like that, to drive additional traffic, to drive new audiences, to drive innovation, and in some cases, cut costs.

Joanna:
And so HP has a whole suite of technology, virtual reality headsets, virtual reality computer backpacks. So VR, PC backpacks as well as desktops and laptops that all drive virtual reality. So, that's what this job is. It's working with our partners, working with companies all around the world, to make sure that they are using the best technology to create their creative and innovative fun experiences for family and friends that come into all these different environments.

Joanna:
But to go back, to answer your question, how I came into this job, I would say that it really started ... this journey probably started with my work at NBC Universal. And actually even prior to NBC Universal, I was at Wall Street in my first job and I was a McKinsey consultant and I had another marketing job. But in terms of my journey into this, I would say really started with NBC Universal.

Joanna:
And so, throughout my career I've always been working on what is emerging and what's next, whether it was emerging markets in Wall Street, emerging audiences at NBC U and Telemundo, emerging products. And at NBC Universal, I was there from 2007 to 2015, and that's a time that the way we all interacted with television content completely shifted, and the way that we distributed our content completely shifted; went from show up at 8:00 on a Tuesday, 7:00 Central, to watch your favorite show to we started watching on VOD and streaming and whenever, wherever that suited us.

Joanna:
And at the same time, the way that we marketed all of our programs completely shifted. And so, we moved from marketing tools, such as ... only television, radio, print and out-of-home and at events to a very broad assortment of different digital platforms to market our content, and to connect with audiences where they were. So, during that time we did our first SCO, our first SCM, our first VOD marketing, text message marketing, influencer marketing, all the social media platforms marketing.

Joanna:
So, I got really intrigued by that very fast pace of change that, what is next, how are we connecting with audiences, how are we telling stories, what's the way that we're bringing together storytelling and innovation with new platforms and new technology.

Joanna:
So, when I left NBC Universal, I moved to the Bay and worked at Singularity University, which is a company [inaudible 00:07:03] around training leaders on the future of science, technology and innovation, and while I was there, I had actually been exposed to virtual reality already when I was working with NBC U, and seeing the power of it and the immersion that you could have. But then when I moved into the Bay, I got really clear that that's what I wanted to do next. And I started doing these coffees; I called them my 30 coffees. I got really clear that the technology was super fascinating to me, that I wanted to be working on the cutting edge of what was coming, but I also wanted to be deep in, again, in the content and in the storytelling and working with the creatives on bringing that to life.

Joanna:
So, I started reaching out to people in the virtual reality space, and did, like I said, 30 coffees with people who worked in the field, and I went to all of the conferences and festivals, similar ones that I'd already gone to as a television executive or as a tech executive, but going with the intention of seeing as much virtual reality content as I possibly could. And really quickly into that, I got very clear, for a number of reasons, that I wanted to work in VR and immersive computing as my next role. And then pretty soon after that, I ended up ... kept getting asked to do talks and advisory and consulting, and really soon after that HP found me, and I've been at HP ever since. That is how I came to this role.

Chris:
I would expect nothing less than such a storied path and how you were able to transition from one thing to the next. But the thing I kept hearing from you is you seem to be a very curious person, looking for emerging things and very light on your feet as the landscape of television and how we consume content changes. So, VR seems to be the next thing.

Chris:
I have a bunch of questions. Now, I know a lot of what you're talking about is based on location. So, I know that we can't do that right now, and I want to talk a little bit about, since you brought this up to, because I think by the time this episode airs, we will still be sorting out life pre-, post-COVID and how to adjust.

Chris:
So, if we just take the location-based part of it, and just talk broadly about VR, what do you think this work-from-home, self quarantine thing might present opportunities for people who are developing things for VR, and how might they adapt to that? Can you put on your advisory, consultant hat, and say, if you're in the VR space, how might we adapt to what's going on, the new reality that we might be living in for some time?

Joanna:
Sure, it's very unusual times, requiring agility and flexibility and adaptation for so many of us all around the world. First, when I think about this, I think first and foremost, for all the essential workers, the health care workers, the government officials, the people working in grocery and retail, and people working to make sure that we all have our electricity and internet and construction, and all of those really essential workers who, in many cases, are even putting their own lives on the line to make sure that we're healthy and we're safe, and we all as a population have everything we need.So, I always think about them first, and I appreciate all the amazing work that they're doing, first and foremost.

Joanna:
And then when I turn to our space and what's happening in our space. When I started at HP, I was 100 percent focused on location-based entertainment, and that was true for about a year and a half. I would say about six to nine months ago, I started to work more broadly, just on our overall go-to-market, and just to take a step back for us, on why is HP in this market and what does it mean to us.

Joanna:
HP was actually founded 81 years ago. We were the first Silicon Valley company. We're really part of the history of and the foundation of Silicon Valley as we know it today. We had our two founders in a garage creating technology for Walt Disney for the movie Fantasia. So, it's a really beautiful legacy story around technology and computing, and really beautiful legacy story around media and entertainment, and working with the giant that was Walt Disney.

Joanna:
So, since then, HP's been very focused on inventing and reinventing technology, and moving through all of the different phases of computing, from the original phases to PC desktop and now we're in the mobile phase. So, we see, and most other large tech companies see the next wave of computing as being immersive computing. And we focus on immersive computing, AR, VR. We have heavy focus on data science and AI as well as 3-D printing. So, that's kind of where we see the future of computing going.

Joanna:
And so, what that means for us is that, for a company like HP that's been around and been a leader in so many things, for 81 years, it's really important for us to continue to grow, invest and focus on what that next wave of computing will be, to continue to be a leader in this field. And so, we've focused on the pipeline of design, create and experience virtual reality. And there's been five different industries where we see the most immediate need and traction, and where the ROI for virtual reality really makes the most sense now.

Joanna:
And those are location-based entertainment is one. Architecture, engineering and construction or product development is another. The third is health care. The fourth is education. And then the fifth is actually less of an industry and more of a vertical, which is training, enterprise training. That can be oil and gas, that can be first responders or military, really anywhere where the situation ... you get the ROI out of virtual reality training, because of, it's a dangerous situation or an unsafe situation or it may be a role-playing situation where it's more comfortable to do the training in virtual reality first.

Joanna:
And then what underlines all of those is that the retention you have in virtual reality is a lot higher. Because your body and your mind have the sensation of actually doing the activity, and we've seen really strong data that points to something like, that when you read a book, you retain five percent of what you read. When you listen to a presentation, you'll retain 10 percent. So, that means all the listeners out there have to decide which 10 percent of this they want to retain, because that's all they're going to go away with.

Joanna:
But when you do a virtual reality experience, that spatial interaction, the way it lodges in the memory is that [inaudible 00:14:35] actually done, contributes to a retention of about 75 percent. So, huge gains for businesses who are training workers or preparing somebody for going into the job. So, that's where our focus has been for HP, is working with companies in all of these different areas.

Joanna:
Now, moving ... so for us, location-based entertainment is a very, very important part of what we're doing, and we're rooting for them strongly and we're hoping, for many, many reasons of course, the situation passes as quickly and as safely as possible, and when safe, people are able to start going back to businesses and back towards our new normal will be in our new life.

Joanna:
That said, during this time, I think that some of the really underlying reasons that virtual reality makes sense, the way you can use virtual reality to learn, collaborate and connect, at a distance or when you're not in the same environment, but you can go into a virtual environment together, and experience virtual collaboration, virtual remote learning, virtual connection, the use case, the return on investment for those types of experiences, we had already been seeing it, and it's even further underlined right now, and becomes that much more relevant in the situation that we're in right now.

Chris:
Okay, I'm trying to process all that you just told me. That was a lot for me to take in.

Joanna:
Don't worry. Just take 10 percent. It's all good.

Chris:
So, I'm trying to circle back to the original question, which is, how might a company think about using virtual reality in an every day business, not at some giant enterprise level, because our audience isn't ... I don't imagine many of them being like that. And if I'm a medium-sized business, say north of $30 million or something small to medium size, how might I start to think about this, because I think a lot of people are imagining life back to normal, but I just don't think that normal will ever exist the way ... it will be the new normal, because it might take a couple of years for us to have a vaccine or a cure for this, and as soon as we have that, there will be the next flu.

Chris:
And I think if we're smart, we're going to be ahead of this and think, okay, if my business is exposed to the ability for people to come and visit me in person, I might start thinking about something different. We'll get out of this, but maybe this is an opportunity for me to develop a slightly different or adjacent business model that can fulfill the needs of the people I serve, but it's also kind of taking into consideration that the new normal might be, we can't gather in large spaces again.

Joanna:
Right. No, everything that you're ... it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, that's where I started to talk, but I'll definitely talk about that in a lot more detail. There's a couple of places, and the way we're thinking about, where does it make sense to experience a virtual collaboration in virtual reality? Say, versus, where does it make sense to do a Zoom or a Skype or House Party or Instagram Live. There's different formats, right?

Joanna:
And so, there's a couple of different places that we see that it really makes a lot of sense to use virtual reality versus another option. Here are three of them. One would be where, I know people in your audience have all different backgrounds and different companies and different industries, so there might be some that work for different people, depending on what they're doing.

Joanna:
If part of your job is to look at, to interact with, to create any sort of spatial or 3-D model, and/or review those models ... so, what would be examples of those? Some examples of those would be if you are in any type of product creation, product design, product review. So, that could be from automotive to I mean, really to architecture, engineering and construction, any one of those types of businesses. Real estate, or just anyone creating a new product that is going through creation or review right now.

Joanna:
And so there are some collaboration platforms out there, like Enscape, like Gravity Sketch, like The Wild, like Trezi, like Fayat, where either for product design and review or for architecture, engineering, construction, that you can go into virtual reality, you can create and then review the products. All automotive companies are doing this right now, taking the CAD designs, creating, reviewing in virtual reality. And so, by the time that you actually create the real product, you're able to greatly decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of that design review.

Joanna:
So, that's one bucket. And anyone who is creating a product and needs to have it reviewed, especially right now, that already makes sense, even when we're not in this environment that we're in now, but it makes even more sense. As an example, our internal product designers right now, in the past, if they were creating a new, the industrial designer team, creating a new product and reviewing that product, they would probably go into a behind closed doors, secret meeting. Nobody's allowed to bring their phones, nobody's allowed to take pictures, and review live what the product was, but now they can't do that. So, they're looking to virtual reality to be able to do that and have that same review, and even greater efficiencies than they could in another way. So, that's a big group that we see as a lot of potential.

Chris:
So, for people who are maybe a little put off by VR or don't understand it, I'm trying to visualize this in my mind so that our audience can retain more of this conversation. I imagine the lead engineers, the designers of a car, they're wearing headsets wherever they are in the world, so without even building a physical, clay model, they can look at something and really appreciate it from all angles, in different lighting conditions, and sort of get almost to that point in which it feels real to them and make design decisions based on that.

Chris:
And then they could speed up their design process and iterate, and pick out little things that they might not see otherwise flipping through a 3-D model on a computer, which is traditionally how these things are done, right?

Joanna:
Exactly.

Chris:
You mentioned a lot about, anywhere, now this is just trying to reach out to the entrepreneurs, the creators out listening to this, that anybody that needs to interact with a three dimensional thing, might want to start thinking about this and how you can translate your experiences through this 3-D immersive environment. I also think of it, just not for design and review, but for marketing.

Chris:
When you mentioned real estate, one of our clients, they're multi-billion dollar commercial real estate developer, and they're always looking for ways to talk about a space that doesn't quite exist yet, because they're developing it, most of the time, from the ground up, or rehabbing an old space. But they need to start lease the building way before they break ground, and so they're using traditional tools, two dimensional, photo renderings, those kinds of things, where as if they could just step into the space and look at it ... so I see tremendous potential if you want to use VR as a marketing tool, this is something you should be waking up to right now.

Joanna:
Yeah, that's a great example. We're working with a number of companies who do that. For example, high end apartment buildings that are not yet created, but they're selling them pre-construction. Many of them are creating a virtual reality experience to give people who are going to spend a million dollars, X million dollars on this new apartment. What does it look like? What does it feel like? And by doing that, they're even able to try it out with marble floors, with wood floors-

Chris:
Right. I love that.

Joanna:
... with red walls, with wall paper walls, try different things, and also get to check out the view from different angles, and it really gives them a way to imagine themselves in that environment in a much more real way.

Chris:
So, that would eliminate, I think, a lot of potential waste, and I also think about, when I want to go and see something, I have to get in my car, especially in Los Angeles, drive in traffic. Just by doing this, probably, if this were done at scale, it would reduce the carbon footprint. I could instantly be there. I wouldn't be consuming any fossil fuels. I wouldn't be contributing to carbon dioxide. There's a lot of benefits here.

Joanna:
Absolutely. And on that example, we actually ... we love to say that we drink our own champagne. And HP, we were building a new office in Houston and we hired a company called [inaudible 00:24:20] to build out what our office was going to look like. In that case, it wasn't a solid office. That wasn't [inaudible 00:24:27], but in a way it was to market the office to the employees, to show them, okay, this is what the office is going to look like, this is what it's going to be. And they took our HP headsets and HP VR backpacks, and people went to the construction site, and were able to walk around even in VR and see, okay this is what the hallway is going to be and this is where my office will be.

Joanna:
So, it was a really, really cool experience for them.

Chris:
Now you mentioned the backpack a couple of times. Is this an end-to-end complete solution to experience VR things?

Joanna:
The backpack ... for a lot of high-end virtual reality, especially heavy files, where serious pipeline workflows, like real estate and many training experiences, you still need to plug in your headset to a high performance computer. So, there are some programs and some things that work decently on a stand-alone headset, but definitely for a lot of training experiences and for real estate and product design review and some of the ones that we're talking about right now, you have to be plugged into a high performance computer, let's say.

Joanna:
And so, you can have a work station that does that. You can have a laptop that does that, but in cases where people want to be able to move around freely, like in that example I just gave of going to the actual real estate construction space and walk around to see where their environment would be, or if it's automotive and you want to have that experience walking around the car, walking around the virtual car, it makes a lot of sense to use a VR backpack to do that.

Joanna:
So, you have that experience of high performance computing, high-end headset, our HP Reverb headset is super high resolution and it's 2168 by 2160 per eye. We've had that out in the market for about a year and we just announced a new headset, that's going to be coming, and it's an exciting new partnership with Valve and Microsoft. We haven't announced a lot of details yet, but we just teased about two weeks ago this new partnership. So, lots to look forward to there. If people want more information, they can go to HP.com/reverb, R-E-V-E-R-B, to sign up to get more notifications and more information on that one.

Joanna:
So yeah, those are the types of, we're very focused on this high performance, high resolution, so when you're thinking about things like product design and product quality that we were talking about earlier, where you mentioned the lighting, it's really important that you have high resolution, so that the product looks the most realistic possible.

Chris:
So, just to kind of understand this and visualize this, is the backpack that you're talking about a very high-powered, for lack of a better term, laptop, where it's self-powered, there's no cords and that drives the display unit that's on your head?

Joanna:
Yes.

Chris:
And is it also a lighter headset now, because you're not wearing the computer on your head?

Joanna:
Yeah, the current Reverb that we have, it's only 1.1 pounds and it's designed ergonomically so that a lot of the weight is on the back of your head, where as some other headsets are either a lot heavier or a lot of the weight is on the front of your head. And so, if you're wearing it for a long time, it can hurt your neck or just feel very uncomfortable or very hot on your head and face.

Chris:
Yeah-

Joanna:
And so doing the combination with the backpack gives you that ability to work in it for longer and to have that free roam experience.

Chris:
And are there trackers that are also used in conjunction to define the space that you move through?

Joanna:
It depends on what you're doing. The beauty of the HP Reverb and the partnership that we have with Microsoft, the headset is inside out tracked. It's Windows mixed reality tracking, so you don't need to have external cameras or external bay stations. You can choose, if you want to, some people end up working with other systems, like OptiTrack or Vicon or something else, if they ant to track many other objects in the space, but that's on a use-case basis. If you just take, say an HP Reverb plus the HP VR backpack, you're good to go.

Chris:
Is this something that's available for purchase to consumer or is it a B-to-B model?

Joanna:
Is it available for purchase to consumer. You can go on our website HP.com/go/VR and they're there.

Chris:
And how much does a headset and a backpack cost?

Joanna:
The headset is ... there's two versions, but it's about $600 or 650, and then the backpack, it really depends on the configuration, and there's different prices at different moments.

Chris:
Roughly, how much is it?

Joanna:
It's around $3,000-ish roughly.

Chris:
So, is it $3,000 plus the 600, 3,600 or is it 3,000 total?

Joanna:
Yeah.

Chris:
So, about 3,600, you can get a self-contained unit and kind of experience something.

Joanna:
Yeah, and the backpack you can use as your ... you can set it up on your desk. It's really a very mini, high performance computer. So, you can set it up. It has a platform, a dock, that you can put it into. You can have it there running, doing all your regular, normal work, and then when you want to, you can take it out of the dock, and put it on the harness and use it as a backpack.

Chris:
Okay. So, that was point one. Can we hear point two and three?

Joanna:
Yeah, so point one was looking at spatial or 3-D models for design, review and marketing, for something that either is pre-visualization or doesn't exist today.

Chris:
Yes.

Joanna:
Point two would be where learning something in 3-D or spatial computing helps retain that information, and so that would be across education, across enterprise training, healthcare training. For example, on the education side, if learning about biology or anatomy or chemistry or physics in 3-D makes, contributes to the retention of that knowledge, then that's really helpful for educators and for students.

Joanna:
So, there's a company called Victory XR that has classes that they're offering in a platform called Engage, where you can go in and take an anatomy class. It also could make sense in a class, say an archeology class, where maybe even if you went to Egypt and you wanted to take a look at a tomb that you're discussing and learning about, you might not even be allowed there because it's too fragile at this point for a lot of people to go in.

Joanna:
But there's a variety of companies that have done 3-D scans of some of the tombs or some of these precious historical sites, and so in virtual reality, without having to fly to Egypt or fly to wherever the site is, you're able to go into a headset and have that experience from the comfort of your own home or your own school.

Chris:
Right. I could see this as being very powerful for connecting people across great distances, and make education a lot more affordable. I assume there's economies of scale. Once a certain number of people, like it hits mainstream, then the units and all that stuff will get more powerful and lighter and smaller and less expensive. Then you can go and experience things in the natural world that you might actually cause harm to it by being in its presence. Like I remember being in Egypt looking at the mummies. It's all under temperature controlled rooms. They can only let so many people in; you can only get so close, and it's a fairly limited experience.

Chris:
But if the fidelity of the image and the experience that you're having is close or approximation of reality, then we've kind of blurred that line, and we're getting there. I could also see this, maybe, removing the need for zoos.

Joanna:
Oh for zoos, yeah.

Chris:
Like keeping animals in captivity. We don't need to do that, if we can have this experience in the Serengeti or wherever else in these natural places, right?

Joanna:
Yeah, absolutely.d

Chris:
In the total comfort and safety of our own home, but really getting up close to animals or things that would be very dangerous for us to be around. Also not putting the animals in danger themselves.

Joanna:
Exactly.

Chris:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Greg:
Welcome back to our conversation with Joanna Popper.

Joanna:
I gave a couple different examples, for oil and gas, mining, first responders, military. So, our former Secretary of Defense said that he wanted to make sure that any soldier that we would put in harm's way had been in 20 bloodless battles before we would send them, to give them the best possible chance to come home safely. So, the way that he saw it and the way the armed forces saw it is what better way to create a bloodless battle than putting somebody in virtual reality for that simulation.

Joanna:
And so, firefighters, various police and other first responders, as well as armed forces, are all doing different types of training for de-escalate a situation, for active shooter and a variety of others, to create that most realistic experience that you can have without actually being in that live situation. So, those are some examples where safety and danger ... not exactly the same as a zoo, but another situation where safety and preparing somebody is incredibly important.

Joanna:
And then on oil and gas or mining, you don't want to send somebody onto an oil rig or down in a mine if they haven't been trained appropriately. And so again, virtual reality is a relatively cost effective and super efficient way to train people and have that very high retention I talked about earlier, and to have the experience of what needs to be done live as a memory, a muscle memory, so that when you are in the real live situation, you're prepared for it.

Joanna:
Even, I've heard of examples ... I was visiting with a company in Australia and they were creating, there had been somebody who had been burned in a kitchen, and they hadn't been appropriately trained on how to properly use the stove and the oven in a work environment, so they were now creating a virtual reality training, so people don't have to be around a hot stove until they're really well trained for it.

Chris:
Yeah, as you were talking there, my mind started spinning. It's like, when you're talking about firefighters or first responders or military applications, a couple things going on here. We know, because I get into this as well, any coach knows this. Through repetition you achieve mastery, and you don't want to be in harm's way 1,000 times, but if you can do it through the safety of virtual reality, chances are you're going to be less stressed in that situation and you're going to know because you've done this a thousand times before. I also thought about it for therapeutic uses, where somebody's had some traumatic experiences, where, through carefully designed programs, therapists could use this to kind of bring you back within a safe, controlled environment, and allow you to be re-exposed to it, to examine it and then hopefully to get over whatever it is that you're traumatized by.

Joanna:
Absolutely. There's a number of really interesting examples along those lines. There's [inaudible 00:38:29] who's in Los Angeles, who's working with veterans with PTSD. We put them back, but into virtual reality, into an experience, and identify the traumatic experience. What's put you in? Were you in a Hummer? Were you on the street? What type of day was it? What was the environment? Was it a town square? Was it a beach? Was it near a market? Were there other people with you? Works with the veterans, and of course, therapy and other work that they're doing, to put you back into the situation and identify the trauma, and then work back through with you.

Joanna:
Another really moving example from a doctor I've spoken to at [inaudible 00:39:19], and the doctor was working with somebody who had a fear of flying, and they worked with him, and the put him into a virtual reality headset, and broke down what's the process of flying? Let's put you in a headset and have the experience inside that headset of, we're packing for the trip. Now we're driving to the airport, and now we're parking. And now we're checking in and going through TSA. Now, it's boarding the plane, and by doing that, going into each experience in virtual reality, they were able to determine that the actual fear was a social anxiety that's happened ever since 911 every time this person gets on a plane, that he has the perception that people are looking at him in a certain way and that they feel uncomfortable with him because of his appearance.

Joanna:
So, they were able to identify that his actual fear wasn't a fear of flying, but it's the ... and it's a really, super sad story that, for however this person looks, he has this perception now that people look at him in a distressful manner every time he gets on the plane. So, they were able to break that down, find what the real issue was, which wasn't actually a fear about flying, but it was about that social perception and then work through that through other types of therapy.

Chris:
Great. So, what's point three?

Joanna:
So, point one was around using spatial models in product design or review. Point two was around using spatial or 3-D models in and around learning and retention and training. And then point three would be really anywhere that immersion, that interactivity, that connection, that feeling of presence can be achieved in a greater way in virtual reality than through another form of medium.

Joanna:
I don't know if you've tried out some of the virtual collaboration social apps like Alt Space or VR Chat or Rec Room or Big Screen, but in those, you're able, from wherever you are around the world, to go in with other people. You're depicted as avatars, and you can watch a movie together, you can play basketball together, you can play paint ball, you can play dodge ball. You can hang out at a bar, and right now, that's incredibly valuable, because right now we're only able to do Zoom calls or House Party calls or [inaudible 00:42:04] calls with people, and you can't play basketball or ping pong or many of these other things on those.

Joanna:
So, it offers you this ability to have a different level of presence and a different level of interaction. The avatars are fun and you get to decide how you look, and some of them are pretty realistic. You can make yourself look like you, and then other ones, you're choosing between a hot dog and a mushroom and a giant unicorn, and it's more of a fantasy, fun, what you're looking like. You can live out your inner unicorn or whatever that may be.

Joanna:
A lot of these are still fairly early stage. The connection of, you don't really have eye-to-eye contact and you don't have the emotive ability yet, that you would looking at each other one-on-one, but that's something that a lot of companies, HP included, is working on heavily, and there will be definitely great strides in that area as well.

Chris:
Again, as you were talking, I guess my imagination starts to run wild, and I really wanted to have you as a guest on our show, because there are going to be creative people out there, who this conversation may spark a brand new business model for them. And the more we can mine that, I think the better off, because sometimes it just takes a couple of steps to connect the dots. I was sitting here thinking, I have a fear of heights, and I did try a VR experience before, and it is really damn convincing I have to say. Even though the graphics weren't super high fidelity, as the scaffolding went up the building, I'm not sure if you've done this demo before-

Joanna:
Yeah. It's scary man.

Chris:
You go up the building, and you're like, oh my god. That sense of vertigo. And then the chain that holds you back breaks and then you look across and you're like, wow, I feel like I'm going to fall. And if you take that jump ... so things like extreme sports, I can imagine if they were to create a bungee jump or Olympic level skier doing something or snowboarder and you're able to experience things like this, that's pretty cool.

Chris:
I also think that, especially the travel and hospitality industry, are hit pretty hard by what's going on right now, and what's life going to be like after this, that a lot of the experiences of travel include sight seeing, and if you are a transportation company, airline, car rental, you have an Airbnb, maybe there are other ways for people to experience what they come to your city or country for that you can somehow create. I think there's a lot of opportunity here.

Joanna:
Yeah, there really are so many different opportunities, and I love the creative way that you think. You mentioned so many different things. You mentioned sports, you mentioned cruises. There's the Olympics, there is examples from all over the world. The German national soccer team, or football as they would say, trained in virtual reality, trained the goalies of ... think about it, as a goalie you, I think you have something like a 50 percent chance of choosing to go in the right direction when you have a penalty kick coming at you. So, if you can train your muscle memory in virtual reality by interacting with almost 360 [inaudible 00:45:31] of different players, maybe there's things that you can sense in their movements and their motions ahead of time, so that you increase that chance that you go in the right direction and then you have the chance of blocking that kick, right?

Joanna:
That's one example on the sports side. And then the other one, the U.S. Olympic Team, trains their slalom athletes in virtual reality, and this was a crazy fact that I learned from, I think they were the technical director or the Director of Technology from the U.S. Olympic Team, that people who participate in slalom, they're only able to actually take the slalom ride three or four times a day. I guess it's too taxing on your body to do more than that. So, if you think about that, somebody who's in the Olympics, they're training their whole life; they spend hours and hours and hours, but actually on a daily basis, you can only do your actual sport a few minutes a day. And so, what is the training that you do the rest of the day?

Joanna:
So, doing that training again and again and again in VR doesn't have that same physical impact on your body, but you're improving your skills the whole time. And football would be another one. Athletes are only allowed, and particularly in college or high school level, how many hours are you allowed out on the field, how many hours are you allowed in the sun? So, that's another place that is really relevant. So, you talk about those examples, those are great examples.

Joanna:
You talked about cruises and far away destinations. It's a little bit almost similar to the real estate example that we talked about earlier and even the example you talked about, you went to Egypt. What better way to show somebody what that tour is going to be like than put them into a virtual experience so that they get to feel what it's like and get inspired and hopefully are more likely to decide that they want to go on it.

Chris:
I remember the exhibit to see the Mona Lisa, the line was crazy and it was just packed. And then finally when you get up to it, and you could barely get up to it because the room is packed, you have to stand behind a rope that's six feet away from this tiny painting, and I imagined the Mona Lisa being much bigger than it is. And you see it, and it's behind five inches of glass, so what you're seeing is not even reality I think. So, if they were able to scan this one time, right, scan it, and then create a virtual exhibit that you could actually put on your headset, walk up to really closely without fear of damaging the art or the art being stolen, you can experience something like this. I'm a big believer in this. Art has the ability to change you, to change your experience and to change your outlook.

Chris:
So, if more people were exposed to art in all forms, even let's say the orchestra or the symphony, whatever it is, it's like, wow, we could be there at a fraction of the cost it would take, because you can produce the content once and experience it many, many times over.

Joanna:
Absolutely. The Mona Lisa does exist. You can actually already go see it in virtual reality. It does exist.

Chris:
Oh it does! Okay.

Joanna:
It does yeah. It's called Mona Lisa: Behind the Glass at the Louvre.

Chris:
That makes a lot of sense. So, in the virtual reality version of it, is there no glass now?

Joanna:
I'm going to guess there's no glass.

Chris:
Can you really get up close to it?

Joanna:
I don't know why they would put the glass there. I don't know-

Chris:
Right. It's either they're trying to recreate reality or give you an experience better than reality.

Joanna:
Exactly.

Chris:
Like you still have to fight the crowd. You know like, "Hey excuse me. I'm trying to get closer to it."

Joanna:
Yeah, that's funny. I've seen the David in VR too. I've seen the David in real life and then I've seen it in VR. But although you know what's funny, I think I had to wait in line to see the David in VR also, because ...

Joanna:
I mean you could download it at home on a headset, but I went to see it at a conference or at an event, and I definitely had to wait in line. But I didn't have to fly to Italy, which for better or-

Chris:
Yeah, at least you saved yourself some time there. But I also think live performances, like Cirque du Soleil, concerts, could benefit from using VR technology to create an experience that's augmented beyond what you can experience in reality. Because I know a lot of bands get really creative with their stage show, and the theatrics and the lighting and all that kind of stuff. Imagine if you capture that and add things to it in a three dimensional way that would go beyond anything that you could experience in real life.

Joanna:
Yeah, those are all great ideas. There's definitely been a lot of bands who have been on the cutting edge of creating experiences for their fans to feel like they're up close and personal, or different angles, or just a much different level of access than they can have in regular life, now in virtual life.

Chris:
I also think about the fantasy of flying and that would be so amazing, just to be able to fly. This is a childhood fantasy of mine. You know, oh gosh, if you could just fly, because a percentage of my dreams are just me imagining flying, and that would be really cool.

Joanna:
What percentage?

Chris:
Probably about 10 percent of my dreams, especially when I was a kid.

Joanna:
That's significant.

Chris:
I would invent weird things to just jump on and fly. It was both thrilling and exciting and trying to maintain the ability to stay off the ground.

Joanna:
Do you know what that means?

Chris:
I do not. Do you?

Joanna:
Neither do I. We'll have to look it up.

Joanna:
You know, there is an experience here in LA, Two-bit Circus, which is not currently open, but hopefully it will open again soon, once the state and city mandates are lifted, and they have an experience there called Birdly where you climb onto this contraption, and you put your arms out like you're a bird, and you put the headset on, and then you fly, and you actually flap your arms and the whole thing.

Chris:
Wow. So, I have two quick questions for you, because I'm being mindful of time here. We're coming to the end of the hour, but I've seen these theaters open up, these virtual reality theaters, and I'm thinking, is this any good? Have you been to any of these things and is the rendering, the fidelity of the images superb? Or are we still kind of in that phase of getting there, and not there yet?

Joanna:
When you say VR theaters, do you mean Dreamscape or The Void or Zero Latency, places like that, Two-bit Circus that I just mentioned, places like that around Los Angeles or do you mean something else?

Chris:
Yeah. I think there's one in Third Street Promenade and there's one in Century City.

Joanna:
Yes. So in Third Street Promenade, it's called The Void and they have really cool experiences, Avengers and Star Wars and Ghostbusters and Jumanji, and then Dreamscape in Century City has also really amazing experiences. They have one around How to Train Your Dragons and then they have a couple of other really cool ones. One that you go called The Blue where you go scuba diving and ... they have a scuba diving one. They have one that's kind of a Raiders of the Lost Ark experience, adventure one, and then they have another one where it's almost like a Jurassic meets Avatar. You're in this natural world and it has a beautiful environmental message. And Dreamscape actually uses are HP Reverb headsets.

Joanna:
So yeah, the quality is really good. What's great about them is the teams that are behind them are really strong storytellers, with really strong backgrounds. In the Dreamscape, for example, it's Walter Parks, who's an Academy Award-winning producer, from Minority Report and Men in Black, and many other great films. And then they have, the CEO is Bruce Vaughn, who was the chief creative officer of Disney Imagineers for 25 years. So, they're bringing together really strong ... they have Spielberg as an investor as well as three or four of the big Hollywood Studios. And Void has a similar, very strong background of creativity. They even have a magician who's one of the co-founders. They use tricks of magic.

Joanna:
And they do a lot of work with Disney and accessing Disney content and working with ILM, so definitely in all of these companies, they take the technology and use the technology to create amazing experiences for you to go to with your family and friends and be incredibly entertained and immersed and blown away, and just have a really fun time. So yeah, when they reopen, you should definitely go.

Chris:
Yes, I will. You've convinced me. I was a little reluctant. I've used these headsets before. I wear glasses, so wearing something over my glasses is never a fun experience for me. But you've convinced me. I'm going to give it a try and see how immersive this is, because it has the potential to be truly one of the most deepest ways you can experience something outside of doing it.

Joanna:
Absolutely. And actually in the Dragons one at Dreamscape, you definitely get to fly. The How to Train Your Dragon.

Chris:
I'm going to do that one, and finally get to experience that when I'm awake.

Joanna:
I know. 10 percent of your dreams since childhood is an awful lot of dreams. We need to get you flying.

Chris:
Well, in my childhood, yes. I don't know why. I was trying to get away from something, I think. But here's the last question for you. We've been talking a lot about what people are doing, the potential, the tools that you need to experience it, but what about development tools? Are the tools there? Is it really hard, expensive, difficult to make content that is suited for virtual reality?

Joanna:
Is it hard to make the content? Compared to making a YouTube video? You certainly need additional skills, but there are different roles you can have in the content creation process. You can either have a computer graphics, CG content that runs off either Unity or Unreal, and I think those companies have done a really good job of making their tools accessible. Especially even during this time, I think Unity is offering some free tools for people to brush up on their skills during this time. So learning that skill set is really important.

Joanna:
And then, if you're using some more live action, 360 content, then you're creating that pipeline to build the content. So, it's definitely somewhat of a different skill set, but people come into virtual reality from animation, from gaming, from engineering, from traditional television and video production and bring their skill sets to this new field, and make themselves that much more employable by adding on a deeper skill set and preparing themselves for the future. So, I think using real time tools like Unity and Unreal are really important for the future of media and entertainment, and learning about interactivity and some of the important things that gaming brings into the world.

Joanna:
So, I would say that for anyone who is working in this field, starting to gain those skill sets now is incredibly important for longevity and [inaudible 00:56:56] future for yourself.

Chris:
Okay, I lied. I have one more question for you. Is that okay?

Joanna:
Okay.

Chris:
What is the future VR the next couple of years? Look into your crystal ball and tell me what it's going to be like.

Joanna:
Well, I said it earlier, we see this as the future of computing. So what that means is today, where most people are probably staring at their phone, listening to and staring at their phone or a tablet of some form, we're in this mobile era. Or maybe not staring at it, but they have it strapped to them or ... but there will be a point in the not-too-distant future where computing moves away from where we are today, staring at these little bricks, to smart glasses, where we're interacting with the screens that become in front of our eyes through smart glasses. And glasses are powered maybe by a phone, maybe by edge computing, maybe by wireless. There will be lots and lots of continued advancement in this area, but that's where we see this industry going. And you'll be able to have the experience that you would have today inside a virtual reality headset with some sort of smart glasses that will be fashion forward as well as functional.

Chris:
Great.Thank you very much.

Joanna:
You're welcome. Thanks for inviting me.

Joanna:
My name is Joanna Popper and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks so much for joining us in this episode. If you're new to The Futur and you want to know more about our educational mission, visit thefutur.com. You'll find more podcast episodes, hundreds of YouTube videos and a growing collection of online courses and products covering design and business. Oh, and we spell The Futur with no e. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Stow and produced by me, Greg Gunn. This episode was mixed and edited by Anthony Barro, with intro music by Adam Sandborn.

Greg:
If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor and rate and review us on iTunes. It's a tremendous help in getting our message out there, and lets us know what you like. Thanks again for listening and we will see you next time.

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