Talon Simulations was making great strides in the location-based entertainment industry, until COVID-19 hit. Now they’re pivoting the technology to suit more training-based use cases, and CEO Brandon Naids is on the show to explain how.
Alan: Hey, everyone, welcome to the XR for Business podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Brandon Naids. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Talon Simulations. They are a provider of virtual reality experiences, but not just any virtual reality experiences. They have full motion simulators for entertainment and training. We’re going to dig into how these amazing simulators can push forward the reality behind virtual reality. So, Brandon, welcome to the show and thanks for joining me.
Brandon: Yeah, thanks a lot for having me, Alan. Definitely look forward to our discussion.
Alan: I’m really excited. You get to play with probably the coolest toys in the VR space. You have motion simulators for racing games, and it’s not all fun and games, but man, you must have a pretty cool office.
Brandon: Yeah, we definitely have a lot of fun here, and we used to take the simulators home for weekend testing, but kind of got to the point where we play with it enough at the office. [chuckles]
Alan: [chuckles] Do you have Thursday night is race night, and everybody shows up and they make bets on each other?
Brandon: Yeah, usually Friday afternoons, it’s a good time to decompress and have some competition. So it was a lot of fun.
Alan: And you guys are right in the heart of simulation country in Orlando, right?
Brandon: Yeah, we are. And that’s definitely been one of the main factors that we attribute to the success we have, it’s just being in the heart of the amusement industry, as well as simulation and training. It’s a big hub. And gaming technologies, so couldn’t have picked a better spot.
Alan: It’s true and I love the fact that you’re kind of right in the middle of entertainment or training, so that your teams can enjoy the gaming aspect and the fun, but then also the serious aspect and really bring this technology to businesses in ways that can improve their training and improve their safety, as well. So with that, this is the XR for Business podcast. But I wanted you to just maybe introduce Talon Simulations and kind of give us the elevator pitch, if you would.
Brandon: Yeah. So Talon Simulations specializes in dynamic and immersive experiences for entertainment centers and training institutes. We’ll create cockpit based experiences that we’re able to adapt for specific projects, or we’ll develop our own specifically for the arcade industries. We’ve put together a comprehensive turnkey, fully automated virtual reality arcade cabinet that we put together all the hardware and the software. And now we launched last year. And you’re able to just purchase it, plug it into the wall and run it, whether with a credit card or arcade card reader, or put in free play, whatever the business model is. And for our training products, they are a little bit more customized for each project. Or we sell just the simulators to different integrators, and they’re able to take our SDK and create their own experiences within Unreal or Unity.
Brandon: And those are really the exciting ones, because we’ll work with universities, or digital marketing companies, or military contractors, and all sorts of different scenarios have been developed with our motion simulators. So we’ve seen a wide spectrum of use cases.
Alan: All right. So on that, I’m looking at your website now and there’s people racing and stuff like that . What is the weirdest simulation that you guys have built?
Brandon: Well, I’m going to have to say the drunk driving one, because simulating impaired driving in virtual reality is pretty weird. And it feels weird, because it’s disoriented and it’s blurry and your reaction time is delayed. So we actually have a customer that has that simulation, they bring it around the country on what they call the Save A Life Tour to universities and high schools to simulate that, to help deter young people from making that as a decision. So it’s weird, but it’s also very rewarding use case as well.
Alan: Best use case, to be honest. If we can prevent people from doing that, that’s amazing. Oh, I love the use case. I was at the I/ITSEC conference and that’s in your backyard. I don’t know– what does I/ITSEC stand for again?
Brandon: It is the Interdisciplinary– uh…
Alan: Oh, “Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation [and] Education Conference.” The world’s largest modeling simulation and training event. And that was pretty cool, I got to drive a tank. Have you done any tank simulators?
Brandon: I have done a tank simulator, and the one that I find most memorable from there was a bazooka simulator.
Alan: Whoa, I remember seeing that, but I didn’t do it! Dammit. I should have.
Alan: You have these simulators and are you guys making the content, or do studios make it? If a client says, “OK, I have a backhoe or a tractor and I want to train people on it,” do they come to you and say, “I have this tractor, I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?” Or how does it work? What’s a typical engagement look like from an enterprise?
Brandon: Yeah, after we are approached and we understand the project requirements, we’ll either be able to utilize an off-the-shelf software that we can license and integrate into the system, or we can help oversee the production of a custom scenario developed in one of the game engines. Or they can also oversee that separately, if they have internal software development skills and a team. So there’s a couple of different situations that we can help with. Either way, we are more of a hardware company and integrate software, and we will work with a team of partner software studios for when we do outsource that, and we really just determine the best means based off of that current project and what fits their needs the best.
Alan: What are the — I guess — the price ranges of these things? Are there different ranges? Is there one that has– maybe moves certain degrees, and then one that’s more aggressive? I know one of the simulators that I tried, I felt like I was on a roller coaster. The thing was flinging me around like I was– it was crazy. What sets your your hardware solutions apart, and what should people look for when buying these?
Brandon: Yeah, there’s definitely a variety of products out there. We’ve been, for the last five years, working on our specific two-degree-of-freedom, compact full-motion simulator. And our starting price point’s $10,000. So it’s definitely more expensive than most people can get in their homes, but still a fraction of the cost of what you get with level D full flight simulators that cost a million dollars. And we’re leveraging virtual reality displays that prevent you from needing to have a full projector dome and full scale replica cockpit, since that’s all now in the head mounted display. And we’re utilizing basic controls that simulate the different interfaces that you would have. And we’re able to get the price point down of these high fidelity simulations that were really only accessible to small percent of people. Now there is a level of simulator products anywhere from seat movers, which just move your seat around, but they don’t move your controllers around, and it doesn’t really synchronize with what you’re seeing.
Alan: Almost like a D-Box or something?
Brandon: No. So a D-Box is more of a motion simulator. They actually have the capabilities of mounting a whole setup cockpit on to a seat and feeling it. So really, we definitely have competitive products to D-Box. And although we’re still really friendly and if there’s ever a project that utilizes their actuators, we’re definitely open to integrating those. But there’s actually some things you can buy on Amazon, and so those you can get for a couple of thousand, but it’s not a full motion simulator. So we’re definitely on the low end for a full motion simulator. It’s synchronized one-to-one with what you’re seeing and what you’re feeling, which is going to reduce any VR sickness that you might get in a static rig or a poor motion simulator. And it will queue up with the acceleration commands that are coming from the game engine in real time to another software called Actuate, which is basically the middleware between the game and the simulator. And you’re able to customize that. So that program allows you to customize profiles and the amount of motion you’re getting in each direction. And right now, we’re also finalizing the launch of a few new products, with more degrees of freedom that is perfect for more advanced aircraft, like helicopters as well as boats, because of the heave axis. So once you get to three DOFs and you’re able to lift people up and down, you simulate the butterflies in your stomach, which is a key component of helicopter simulations and driving in the water, because you get a lot of those sudden up and down feelings.
Alan: Oh, neat.
Brandon: Definitely excited about that. And our six-degree-of-freedom simulator, which will be a compact, full motion simulator comparable to a level D flight simulator, but a much smaller footprint, still integrated with VR head mounted display. And it will be as real as you can get. And–
Alan: How much would that be?
Brandon: Well, we’re working on the pricing, but it’ll still be within the tens of thousands. So you won’t be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars now.
Alan: Well, when you say tens of thousands, to put it in perspective, the military simulations that I saw were in the millions, so tens to hundred X price drop. So if people think $10,000 sounds scary, or $30,000 or $50,000, no, it’s not scary if you’re able to train people on a multimillion dollar piece of machinery. I think it’s well within the price, because just having the ability to train people on that machinery could be impossible or expensive or just not available.
Brandon: Exactly. We’re trying to train people better and faster. And those are really the limiting factors right now, especially with pilot shortage, both private and commercial and military. So it’s important to be able to train people better. And if we can train them, get the throughput increase faster by having more of these systems available, then it’s going to increase throughput and allow for us to catch up a little bit. So, those are our main goals.
Alan: So what companies are currently deploying Talon Simulations’ motion simulators right now? Can you speak to any specific ones? And is there any data around the work they’re doing? You don’t– you actually don’t have to be specific about the customer, you can just maybe generalize, but are they seeing better results? Are they seeing– what are the results that people are getting when they’re using this for training?
Brandon: Yes. So they are definitely seeing some results on whether it’s for young driver training or self-driving car acclimation and scenario-based situational awareness. They’re just seeing an increase in the effectiveness, compared to basic classroom training. And recently we’ve acknowledged this study that was done by PWC and a few other organizations to compare VR training to classroom training for soft skills. And they’ve had these really good metrics on how much faster that they’ve begun training, and how much more confident they are, and more focused they are. And so we’re trying to reach these same metrics with our platform as well. I mean, they’re saying four times faster than classroom training, four times more focused, 275 percent more confident. So we’re actually at the beginning stages of more concrete studies that will validate that training in virtual reality with motion based system as a haptic device, along with a new feature that we’re implementing, which are haptic hand tracking gloves that now allows you to interact with your objects. You’re going to be able to train better, you’re going to train faster. And we want it to be that much significant of a difference compared to what you would do just by looking at a regular computer screen or PowerPoint presentation.
Alan: It’s funny, we have to do studies to prove what we know inherently to be right. What’s next, then? You have a new product coming out. And how are you finding with these COVID times? Obviously, your out-of-home entertainment business has probably taken a bit of a hit. Are you finding that things are picking up, or are people getting back to work on this stuff? What’s going on in that field?
Brandon: Yeah, so the last few years we really have been primarily focused on location based entertainment, and that has been impacted pretty hard by the pandemic. And at the beginning, when all of our customers that have entertainment centers shut down, we realized that we want to refocus our efforts back on our roots, which have always been training. Our very first prototype was a flight simulator and we’ve always done work with the military and for training. But it hasn’t been our primary focus. So we have reshaped our efforts back into that realm. And it’s a tricky industry to guide through. But we’ve made that pivot back in April and we’re starting to get some more traction back. We just got a project for the Air National Guard and there’s a great research opportunity with the Air Force that we’re pursuing. And we also just got awarded a Unreal– or an Epic MegaGrant to develop in Unreal, basically in collaboration with BeBop Sensors who makes these haptic hand tracking gloves. So we’re really excited to start creating that scenario and test the effectiveness. And it definitely aligns with a lot of the work that the military is looking to develop in the near future.
Alan: It’s interesting, I interviewed Gijs Den Butter from SenseGlove. So haptic gloves are getting– they’re getting the notice.
Brandon: They are. So it was in 2015 I/ITSEC, I believe, maybe -14. We had a prototype simulator there. And the number one feature request was hand tracking and interacting with your instruments. So we’ve been following the developments of gloves for the longest time and the tracking just wasn’t really there. And LeapMotion never really satisfied what we’re looking for. And then– then they got acquired. And so we’ve been really excited to find a company for us to partner with, that also has a proven track record with the military and is excited about making these developments. So it really is the next logical step forward. You got to simulate as many senses as you can to make it as realistic as possible. And we’re excited to validate how effective a training device these can be.
Alan: Yeah, it’ll be really interesting to see in, let’s say, 12 months from now, not only the traction that you guys have built up, but also the case studies and the real numbers and the real data. I think they’re going to be completely in your favor. I had the opportunity to try the HaptX Gloves at I/ITSEC and man, having haptics, the feeling of force feedback and touching things. It really did complete the immersion and having motions it’s being able to drive. It just– I don’t know, it just feels right. It just feels amazing. I used to have a racing seat in our office and it didn’t move, but it was pretty cool, we had a sub-pack. It was kind of like, yeah, it was like a glued together version. So what is the best game to play on your system? Like, what is your go-to game?
Brandon: Well, I come from a background of amusement industry jobs as I, before we started the company, I was at Universal Orlando and always a big roller coaster enthusiast. So our roller coaster simulator, we integrate with no limits too, so pretty high powered roller coaster simulation that’s very realistic. And I always enjoy testing out new roller coasters. And there’s a great community online of people that design their own, that we can just download and plug and play into our simulator. So that’s always a lot of fun. But as a gamer, I’m not the most avid gamer like my business partner is. But we do like to play EVE: Valkyrie from time to time on it, and that is–
Alan: Cool! Oh, that would be super cool.
Brandon: Yeah, the space simulations are pretty intense and somehow the motion in zero gravity seems to work. And we’re really excited, too, about the new Star Wars: Squadrons coming out.
Alan: Oh, man. Argh! I need to fly an X-Wing.
Brandon: Yes, sir. Finally.
Alan: Finally! Come on, man, I just want to fly an X-Wing! How hard can it be?
Alan: What else do you want to share with the community before we wrap up?
Brandon: You know, I think virtual reality is getting a lot of press as a buzzword over the last few years. And with Facebook purchasing Oculus and all of the developments they’re doing and recently having all of these major announcements on their plan for it, I think it’s definitely going to be something that we hear more of. And people will start being able to use it more, whether it’s at an arcade or it’s at their job. And I think it’s a really powerful technology. So I really want– and I’ve said this since we started the company, it’s all about providing people the best first impression possible with VR. And honestly, for some people, this isn’t even their first impression, because the last couple decades we’ve had VR try to break into the mainstream and the technology wasn’t there. So there’s definitely some reluctance in adopting it. But it’s proving to be a powerful tool, immersive technologies in general. So we’re excited about AR and everything that there is to occur with advancements with both of those. And I just think everyone needs to kind of give it a chance. And if you don’t have the best experience first time around, try it again, because there’s definitely great apps out there. There’s great resources that it’s going to be really powerful for, whether it’s just training, or education, and learning history, performing surgery. It’s just amazing. And we really look forward to seeing it implemented more and utilized in these different industries.
Alan: Indeed. There’s so much goodness coming, with the announcement of the new Quest 2 at $299 with double the resolution and better battery life. Just everything. Everything across the board is better, and it’s cheaper. It’s– this is VR’s moment to really blow up. They even decreased their pricing for their ISV program, their service provider business program. It went from $1,000 to $800 now. It comes with the full service and everything. So I think it’s really coming along. Can somebody program something, let’s say, for example, for Quest using your systems as well? Would that be possible?
Brandon: Yeah, it is possible. Although our simulator is PC based, as far as the motion goes, you can definitely use the Quest as a display tool as well.
Alan: We could just use the link cable, I guess.
Brandon: Yeah, you can use the cable. And if you do it wirelessly, it just needs to be synchronized properly. So for us, we’re trying to maintain an enterprise edge and utilize some of the PC based headsets. So we mostly use the VIVE ProEye at this point, and we’re excited for the Varjo and XTAL and all those more advanced headsets, because we want to be able to provide something that you wouldn’t necessarily get at home. Although now the stuff you’re getting at home is already really incredible. [laughs]
Alan: That’s the thing, right? You’ve got Varjo, and they’ve got the human resolution VR headset that’s $10,000. And it’s– if you’re designing a new car or a new plane or something, you want to have that fidelity. You can’t not have it. But they’re cramming more pixels into the consumer ones almost as quickly. It’s amazing.
Brandon: Yeah. And now with these new line of GPUs as well, I mean, this is such an incredible time to be a part of this industry and it isn’t slowing down. If anything, VR is really taking off more this year. It was definitely getting a lot of traction with location based entertainment. And I do see that coming back where people will have their headsets at home and playing games, but still want to show off their skills at arcades, in competitions and tournaments and things like that. So I definitely do see that bouncing back. There’s definitely just– it’s going to find out where it’s going to end up and who’s going to utilize it. But it’s already been– I mean, the industry’s already been growing quite a bit the last few years, and it’s only going to get bigger and better.
Alan: Yes, I completely agree with you. What problem or challenge in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies and why?
Brandon: Well, I’ve always wanted our mission at Talon to be saving lives and changing lives. And what I mean by that is I’ve always seen people’s faces when we give them demos, especially if it’s on a race car or rollercoasters, their face lights up. And it’s– I’ve never seen smiles and excitement this big. And I operated rides at Universal. [chuckles] So this was amazing being able to get thousands of people at this point and see their reactions to VR experiences. And then for training, we want to train better. We want to save lives. We want people to get better at what they’re doing. We want them– we want to show them that if we can deter them from drunk driving, and texting and driving, and start adopting self-driving cars, I mean, that’s one of the whole research projects one of the universities is testing, is to try to get people familiar with self-driving cars and feel more comfortable adopting that, because it is so, so scary and futuristic and is already happening. This technology is already changing lives and saving lives, and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to play a small role in it every day. So it’s really exciting. And I look forward to seeing many more years of adoption and having an impact.
Alan: That’s incredible. Brandon, thank you so much for joining me today. And how could people find you?
Brandon: You can find Talon Simulations on Facebook at TalonSimulations, LinkedIn talon-simulations-llc, BrandonNaids. You can connect with me on there. And you can follow us on Instagram and just keep a lookout for all the new updates that we have coming for you at the end of this year.
Alan: All the new new. Amazing.
Alan: Well, and I’m assuming the website as well, talonsimulations.com. Well, thank you very much for joining me and thanks everybody for listening. This has been the XR for Business podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Make sure you hit the subscribe button. And if you want to read these episodes instead of listening to them, you can do that as well. We have a transcript of all the podcast episodes at xrforbusiness.io. Thanks again and have a great day, everyone.
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