Princess Leia’s desperate holographic plea to Obi-Wan Kenobi might have been a vision of the far flung future in 1977, but today, volumetric capture is making that a reality. Using cameras and the AR cloud to map and replicate an object in three-dimensional space, volumetric capture has lots of practical use cases – Raj and Alan talk about a bunch of them.
Alan: Today’s guest is Raj Puran, director of client XR Business Development and Partnerships at Intel. Raj is a 25-year veteran of the semiconductor and software industry with Intel Corp. He is currently director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, focusing on growth areas of compute in virtual, augmented, and extended realities. Raj has spent the last four years of his tenure on building business opportunities, use cases, experiential marketing with partnerships in location-based entertainment, museums, education and other commercial XR segments. Prior to moving into business development, Raj has held several positions in I.T. systems, engineering, data center engineering, information security, network and cellular IP development, ERP business engineering, and Healthcare Solutions Development Budget leads opportunities for his customers and partners to utilize exciting and intense compute power in the immersive technology and XR landscape. Through a collective ecosystem of compute-focused processing, storage, sensing technology, data processing, content creation solutions, and new innovations in the area of wireless VR, AR, 5G, artificial intelligence, volumetric capture, and immersive sports available from Intel. To learn more about Intel, visit Intel.com. Raj, I’m very excited to welcome to the show. Thank you so much for coming on.
Raj: Alan, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to speak to you again.
Alan: It’s really amazing. The last time we saw each other was at the Mixed Reality Marketing Summit in New York City, which was a really amazing conference. It was kind of like an un-conference. It was in the basement of the National Geographic exhibit, where you could walk around and see all sorts of amazing things. And in the basement of this center was some of the brightest minds in XR Technologies getting together to discuss the marketing capabilities. And I know you have worked on everything from the marketing side to education side. Tell us, what are you doing at Intel to drive XR forward?
Raj: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for us is we are known as a PC platform company, but I think we’re bigger than that, obviously. We’re doing things in the area of volumetric capture. We’re working on a portable volumetric solutions like RealSense sensing solutions, which allows you to create really elaborate programs around immersive media and immersive experiences.
Alan: Let’s unpack that one thing. What do you mean by volumetric capture?
Raj: Volumetric capture has generally been where you place a subject or an object or a person in a series of cameras, right? So this is basically a room; an array of cameras are set up, and the subject is in the center point of that array of cameras. And essentially, a singular object is captured, and then it’s — utilizing point cloud and the camera data — you essentially create a 3D object, right? That could be a 3D rendering of said person, or object, or whatever that subject may be. And you are able to then utilize that; whether you utilize it in a 2D production or 3D production like VR, you can then utilize that to be used as holograms, or virtual characters, or so forth.
Alan: So being able to create recreate the Star Wars little hologram thing.
Raj: Absolutely. And that’s one of the use cases, right? So, holograms; a pretty exciting use case for something like that. But, you can also think of it as, if you wanted to create narratives or storylines, or if you wanted to create a series of interactions that somebody inside of a headset or an AR device could interact with, you would utilize volumetric capture capability to create that character. It’s the difference between, do you want to spend a lot of time rendering a 3D character? Now, in my personal, humble opinion, with the technology now today with 3D modeling tools and so forth, and things like facial mapping and all that that’s going on in the media industry, rendering that 3D person — much like we see in the high-end games today –is really exciting. And I think that’s really cool.
Alan: But it’s very expensive.
Raj: It’s very expensive. Very expensive.
Alan: You know, I met with a company last week that has a solution to drive the cost down, and to put it in perspective, you’re talking, like, for triple A game-rendered avatars, you’re looking at like $10,000 a second. It’s obscene.
Raj: It’s incredibly expensive. Now, I will say this, Alan; it’s not unlike those prices in volumetric capture, as well. Right? I think where we’re at today is, there’s these amazing technologies — like volumetric capture capabilities and the ability to render those as 3D characters and 3D objects — over time, what a company like Intel and perhaps others are trying to do is say, “hey, how do we package solutions, and how do we build silicon and technology that will allow anybody to essentially create said 3D object or 3D character? Why do we need a big studio, or a big stage to do that, when we can do that on a personal level?” So those are things, like our RealSense technology, that we’re working on that will one day allow everybody sitting at their desks to have a capture of themselves, to be able to use for things like 3D telepresence and so forth. And we’re already working in that space. We’ve done some things.
Alan: Yeah, I was going to say that these are things that you’ve been working on for years. The RealSense cameras are not new, by any stretch.
Alan: But they’re getting so much faster and better. I just want to talk about, I got the chance to see your former CEO at CES last year, talking about this volumetric capture stage. Can you talk to this crazy volumetric capture stage? And it was, what he showed was a fully-volumetric scene, captured by hundreds of cameras, meaning the scene’s going around… imagine watching the movie, but now, you can watch the movie from the eyes of the star, or you can watch it from a window, or you can literally move anywhere in the scene, very similar to when you see the football players, and they pan around the whole thing, so you can see the view of the quarterback; that kind of thing. And it was a million dollars for 30 seconds.
Raj: [laughs] It’s very expensive, there’s no doubt. But I think — again — these are early innovations, which is just really exciting, because they’re so powerful today. But I think definitely, where we’ve moved on from individualized volumetric capture is this capture of large footprints. Right? So, for example, you can pretty much set up in the living room. You could set up an individualized volumetric capture, where you’re capturing just a singular object, or a singular person. The large-format volumetric capture that we have at our Intel studios in Manhattan Beach is, essentially, this giant arena that is set up to be able to capture an entire scene, which includes the various props and the various characters and objects and so forth, to where you can actually — one time — capture a whole series of things in one take, utilizing a voxel technology. Right? So essentially the voxels are able to create depth and space between all the individual characters, so you don’t have to individually grab characters, and then put them into the scene. You can actually grab the scene in the format that the cameras are set up to capture all that information, and then once that data is fed into the point cloud, you can choose to utilize the entire scenery, or you can extract bits and pieces from it, to be able to create other scenes. So…
Alan: This is next-level Hollywood.
Raj: Yeah. What we’re trying to do today is to help the media and the Hollywood industry realize how they can utilize such said technology to do this new form of storytelling in the form of 3D immersive storytelling. So I think we’re helping them understand and learn and be able to utilize technology as we have with our True View capability, which is what we’ve been using in the sports arena for quite a while. Now, that’s available for 3D immersive filmmaking.
Alan: Let’s look at this as a practical use case. For example, as a business, maybe a business is not going to be making Hollywood-level videos that you can wander around inside. But maybe they want to use this for training — volumetric training of things. What are some of the use cases? I know the RealSense cameras — which are fairly small, they’re the size of a cell phone — these cameras are getting smaller, faster, better. Are people using these for also 3D asset capture? So, for example, I have some products that I sell on Shopify; I want to take them and put them into 3D and utilize Shopify’s 3D platform. Is that some of the stuff that’s being used now?
Raj: Yeah, very much so. I mean, my wonderful colleague, Suzanne Leibrick, has done some significant work around how you can utilize one, to two, to many of these RealSense cameras; to be able to capture an object in 3D and then be able to create an asset that can be used in shopping, or it can be used in training. For example, you can utilize a RealSense camera to grab a little bit of depth. So, for example, James George and his team over at Scatter has basically created this plugin that allows you to use a RealSense camera and create this point cloud version of yourself, for example, and inject that into a collaboration tool, or a filmmaking application.
Alan: Is it real-time? Or are they capturing and then–
Raj: Not all tools are real-time yet, per se, right? Some of them are.
Alan: But that’s where it’s going. That’s where the idea is, that you’re gonna be able to have two of these RealSense cameras, volumetrically project yourself into a business meeting, or a lecture hall, or something.
Raj: That’s a great use case. Right? And that’s the hope and the dream for us. And the capability certainly there, and there’s drastic improvements being made on the cadence on a daily basis, it seems like. But the whole idea is that, one day the pinhole cameras that we see on our laptops, for example, will be able to create a depth version of us, and inject that into — whether it be a collaboration experience, whether it be a training scenario, whether it be Twitch streaming and things like that — those are applications that you can use that for. That’s already starting to happen today. And again, over time they will continue to improve. But for the large-scale volumetric, let’s take a big company, right? Let’s say a big company that’s involved in oil and gas, for example, may want to do a very classic scenario example, where they have perhaps consequence training.
As you know, there’s many industries out there that have very hazardous experiences that the employees have to go through; that they have to learn about, so that they’re safe on the job, and they’re continuing to be safe with their fellow employees. And a lot of times, that’s not easily conveyed in a 2D environment. Merely looking at PowerPoint slides or even video is great, but going through the motion of experiencing that? Now, the last thing you want is as a major companies to have your employee go through a catastrophic training example in the real time. Right? You definitely don’t want that.
Alan: You don’t want them learning on the job when–
Raj: OJT is not really a good thing in a scenario like that. Right? On the job training.
Alan: We just got approached by a nuclear facility, and they want to train people because, if things go wrong… they have to be able to train for it, and they can’t, now. They train using paper-based or electronic-based learning.
Alan: And this is people experiential learning.
So imagine if you could create the entire rig, and virtualize that, and then have the people and so forth all captured within volumetric. Now, what you’re going to do is you can use a little bit of this large-scale volumetric — like we have at Intel studios — but you’d also take 3D rendering into account. And what you come up with is a very comprehensive package that allows you to do consequential training. Right? Or catastrophic training.
Raj: Which is really exciting. Being able to simulate hazardous environments without putting anybody in harm’s way during a training scenario or training exercise is the ideal situation. I’ve found one use case very compelling and very exciting, and I’ve talked about it numerous times. There was a division of the Coast Guard that was doing training on search-and-rescue simulations. They had a helicopter that was on a gimbal, and the SAR team — the Search And Rescue team — were wearing VR headsets built into their helmets, and they could simulate the environment in a very high seas environment. What would you do? How would the helicopter pitch in and so forth? I thought that was so fascinating, because the amount of taxpayer dollars that go into going out and doing training with the physical assets — with the physical helicopters and the physical resources — but also the danger that comes with–
Alan: The danger is real danger.
Raj: Absolutely. And these are wonderful human beings that — take into account — that they’re putting their life on the line to rescue others. Can we put them through training without putting them through those scenarios, and risking their lives in just the training aspect of it? I think there are just so many ways and so many implications of what XR, VR, AR — all these things — can do for the commercial landscape, especially around training and simulation. That is going to be amazing. I remember years ago — I think it was probably, I want to say about five years ago — we had a Unity session in our office, where we did Unity development basics, and we invited a lot of companies from the area in Austin to come to our office, and we would run a Unity training session around 2D/3D asset development. And at the time, there was an oil and gas company that had sent their employees over, one of them being their business guy, the other one being their developer. And they brought up an interesting use case, which — back then — was that they supplied tablets to their employees, their new employees, to play a game. And that game was, “what happens if?” so, you have this area where you have a major blow out; how do you utilize the blowout preventer, and things like that, at a refinery?
They said that the level of retention on the tablet was much better than the traditional video and PowerPoint training. However, their one biggest concern on that tablet was that it was so gameified, that it was, “do they take it seriously, or are they just playing a game in their minds?” Right? The employees?
Alan: Yeah… but I think people take their games very seriously.
Raj: Oh, they do. Without a doubt. I think it also becomes, do you make sure that you always win? Right? That kind of thing, which is always good in and of itself. But I think when you start to put things in a more realistic scenario — virtual reality, augmented reality; the key word there being reality — when you can virtualize the reality, to where people have more empathy, and a strong desire to make sure that they’re really good at what they’re doing, so that their fellow employees’ lives are not at stake. That becomes very serious at that point.
Raj: We really talk about life-threatening training, but training of all sorts can leverage this technology. It doesn’t have to be life-threatening technology. And I think one of the things that as we start to move into a time where a lot of people are starting to retire from the workforce, it all sorts of aspects of the workforce — from truck driving to manufacturing to you name it — there’s a lot of people retiring.
Raj: There’s various things where we need more operators. Unfortunately, in the time that we live in, Alan, certain jobs are not appealing anymore. Right? Because some people are looking for certain types of prestige in what they do as an employee. But there is such an important and necessary demand for people who have a skill and a trade and a capability; things like crane operators and heavy equipment operators. There’s sort of few and far between these days. And so, the demand has definitely gone up. But how do you get folks that make a pivot into, “hey, I’m going to go become this heavy equipment operator.” How do you get them trained very quickly?
Alan: I got to give a shout out, because we’re investing in a company right now called UP360, and they do exactly that. They’ve taken heavy machinery operating — their first module was an excavator. You go in VR and you learn how to run it; everything, from turning on the key, to turning on the fan, radioing, to controlling the bucket, and all of these things. And you have to go and scoop some rocks into a bucket. When I first did, I knocked out some people. So it… [chuckles] it allows you to safely make mistakes while you learn. But one of the things we’re going to do is we’re going to run my kids — my kids are 11 and 14 — and we’re going to run them through this training. We’re going to make them proficient in VR and then we’re gonna take them and put them on a real excavator.
Alan: And see if they can manage it.
Raj: That’s spectacular. I mean, you want to make the mistake I made, right? Which is, I live on a fairly large swath of land here in Texas, and I needed to move, rocks and I needed to grade my property. So I just went down to the local place and rented a Bobcat and had it delivered. And of course, you know, I’ve never been on a Bobcat before, but I thought that if I can–
Alan: How hard can it be?
Raj: I can run my zero-turn mower; it should be pretty easy. Needless to say, I think it cost me an additional $3,000 that I had to go pay somebody else to correct my mistakes. Right? So, moral of the story; if you’ve never been on a Bobcat, make sure you go through some form of training prior to that. So, had I had a VR simulator, I probably saved myself a lot of money. So, trial and error.
Alan: Yeah. Right? It’s funny, because — I think it was Ryan from VRScout — he went and did the crane training about two years ago. He went in and they trained him in VR on a crane simulator, and he went through the whole training — spent about an hour in VR — then they took him outside and put him on a real crane. And he was able to operate the real crane within the safety guidelines. Within one hour of training.
Raj: It is amazing what is coming out of the use of technology in the immersive space. Immersive tech like VR, and even gaming. We actually have very young Grand Prix racers who are now… I can’t even remember the young man’s name — who was a video gamer, and he ended up racing for Nissan and LaMonde.
Alan: I know; it’s crazy.
Raj: It’s fascinating, the adaptation that we can make–
Raj: –from a video game to the real world.
Raj: Yeah. Yeah. So, they called it Virtual to Real Racing, which is what Nissan was doing with their GTR series, and yeah, it’s just fascinating, man; I can’t get over
. I think that’s an area that will start to see things like motorsports definitely take advantage of this and utilize the simulation environment a little bit more. I think the difference was that people were using simulation, but they were very expensive, grand-scale, at-the-facility deployment. Versus today, you can go buy a wheel and a headset, and you can set up in your living room and suddenly, you’re getting a feel of how a Formula One car — or a Formula E, or a LaMonde-type vehicle — would perform.
Alan: We actually have a racing car at the office. A racing simulator.
Alan: Because why wouldn’t you?
Raj: Of course, I think I have space in my lab for one now, so who knows? I’m nearing that milestone, myself.
Raj: There’s a ton of different technologies that Intel is working on that kind of power the back end of this stuff. And, they’re maybe not focused around the headsets and stuff, but you guys even dabbled in the headsets and built a reference design.
Alan: What are some of the new technologies that Intel’s building that are going to enable immersive computing, or spatial computing, and really unlock the value for enterprise clients?
Raj: When we start to look at… and this is an interesting place for us, right? As a company, we have always created some of the key and core technologies that go into an end device, or an end product. In the case of the previous product — Alloy — that we did as a reference design, that was one of the few times we’d actually created a fully-hatched device to be used as a reference design in the VR space. And it was great. And we learned a lot of things from it. We learned a lot. We had some key learnings and some key takeaways from that. What we found was that, for us as a business, hitting all those other touch points was far more important. Right? Making sure that the folks that were creating the content and the experiences were better served; making sure that the development of cloud delivery mechanisms and cloud technology was going to serve the community better; and also, increasing the compute capability for really high-end renderings and so forth — and delivering it fast — was also necessary. But I think one of the key areas that we’re going to see advancement in, that’s gonna be super important for the XR industry, is going to be around 5G.
Alan: I literally just wrote — as you were talking, you said, “increased compute for rendering — I wrote “5G” and put a box around it.
Alan: And you just said 5G; let’s unpack this. What can people expect? Because all the telcos are investing a ton of money in building these 5G towers, bringing 5G. We’re gonna have phones that are 100 times faster. What does that mean?
Raj: You’re going to be looking at a pipeline that’s so necessary for the throughput. I think one of the things that we tend to forget — because there’s always races to the bottom, and there’s always this notion that we need to make it smaller and faster and so forth — in the case of XR, one of the things that tends to get lost in small packaging, right? Whether it’s small network, or small device, is the fidelity and the intensity of which we need to consume these content. We’re actually trying to replace our current reality. And not replace it in the sense that… it’s more of an augmentation. It’s, “my current reality doesn’t serve my need to go do something. I need to be in this augmented or this virtual reality. And in order to do that, I have to have that capability served to my headset device.” Right? Today, the highest fidelity is attached to the PC. We know that; the highest fidelity is attached to the PC. There’s devices coming out that are going to untether — and obviously, we’ve done work to deliver that content wirelessly from a PC to an HTC VIVE headset — but universally, across the board, we want to be able to pick up a device and have that content either wirelessly transmitted from our local endpoint — such as a PC — or wirelessly delivered to our headset, like we’re seeing with Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Even though there’s a gate on fidelity today, we don’t want that gate to exist down in the future.
So what we want to do is increase the pipe, right? Increase the bandwidth and increase the capability, so that you can pre-render and deliver things to the headset at a very fast pace, and at a significantly wider bandwidth, so that you don’t have those issues with fidelity any longer. Now, for us, that isn’t just about XR; that’s across the board. That’s gaming. That’s media, that’s data. Everything we want to be able to do, we want to be able to do it untethered. Now, I have a fully-gigabit network in my home, and I am wired to utilize that. Now, I’ve got expensive equipment that I’ve put in my home to be able to give me up to a gigabit on the wireless. But again, that pipe is still small, compared to what our needs are going to be in the future. And as we start to grow on those needs and there’s a dependency on those needs, to be able to make decisions at a faster clip, to be able to see things like artificial intelligence work on our behalf; those are technologies that are going to require significantly larger bandwidth. And as we as humans have a higher demand for fidelity — not just in XR, but in our sports and our TV watching and our films that we consume — having all of that, without having to plunk down a bunch of wires anywhere and have it on the go. My favorite thing to do is, if I have to cover Boston and New York, I love taking the train, right? Because I can sit and work. I can see the scenes and so forth. I wish I had the bandwidth. If you look at where we are on… the one thing I absolutely hate doing is trying to work on an aircraft. Right? It is daunting, because you’re sitting there waiting for things to
. But if you think about it, Alan; that speed is what we used to operate on on a daily basis.
Alan: I know! I tried to explain to my kids the dial-up modem. [imitates dial-up modem, laughs].
Raj: So you’ve seen the evolution of where we’ve come, from where we were, on the bandwidth and the speed and the availability. And that’s just going to exponentially have to get larger and faster over time.
Alan: But the crazy thing is, unless you have to experience that kind of slow-moving data, unless you have to actually experience that — again — we just take it for granted, that things just should move really fast.
Raj: Yes, of course.
Alan: Today’s kids being raised now are handed an iPad when they’re three years old, and they expect to have access to the world’s knowledge instantly, wherever they are, whenever they are. And so one thing that I don’t think people really think about is, when we moved to a AR glasses, or when we move to devices that we wear on our face for spatial computing, we have to collect as much or more data about the environment we’re in to be able to protect the data in context to the world. And people forget the collection of the data is as important as the projection of the data.
Raj: I think that’s critical today, right? Because we are still in consumption mode as we go about our day-to-day business. Now, it’s not until we sit down somewhere and do something that the data is bi-directional. I think for the most part, in our day-to-day lives, it’s uni-directional; meaning that, we consume if we demand it. As devices become part of our fabric, in that they collect data and they send up data and process it for us in real-time and bring some result of that data back to us, the bi-directional nature of data and how it gets processed and consumed is going to change significantly over time. And I think that as we start to get into this more and more spatial computing, where we are reliant on XR glasses and some form of augmented information being projected — whether it’s from the phone to the glasses. And let’s not forget, sometimes it may be that our phone is going to be the end point and then it will just render into our glasses and so forth. And I think that’s probably more in the near future than the glasses itself doing that as a standalone.
Alan: Yeah, I think so as well. Companies like Magic Leap and Hololens, those are great devices where most of the compute is done on the headset… well Magic Leap is actually done on a pack that’s wired in. And that pack doesn’t necessarily — it’s just an android pack — so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a standalone thing. It could be your phone. And I think nobody really knows what Apple is working on. Maybe you do, but…
Raj: I’m certainly not privy to such information. I wish I was that special, but I’m not [laughs].
Alan: But I’m certain they’re working on a pair of glasses that you wear them, and your phone is the compute pack. Because why would we make something that’s completely standalone for the foreseeable future, we’re still going to have phones in our pockets? So why not leverage the power of that? And with 5G and being able to use this cloud compute, or edge computing, meaning you now have the ability to have high-powered rendering farms at your disposal through the cloud.
Alan: You don’t need to have the rendering on your phone. You need of the rendering availability to you.
Raj: I always loved, there was… I can’t remember the exact commercial, but there was a commercial that talked about moving at the speed of business.
Alan: I love it.
Raj: And I love that slogan, “moving at the speed of business.” Because we’re going to see an evolution in how business is conducted. I think one of the key things was, as I’m sitting here in my office and watching UPS deliver the package I ordered yesterday from Amazon. You and I, when we were younger, Alan, and we used to go through a catalog and order something; we used to wait days. Days on days on days. Sometimes, we’d order that video game, and it would take almost a month to get there.
Alan: You checked the door every day.
Raj: Yeah. I remember, with my own money, I bought my very own skateboard, and I was just… it took three weeks to get to me.
Alan: Uhg. Painful!
Raj: And those three weeks were probably the most painful three weeks ever, as a youngster who was so into this sport of skateboarding, I just wanted to be like my buddies who had gotten their rigs already. And it was just like, waiting those additional three weeks was just insane. But now…
Alan: Now, if it doesn’t come this afternoon, we’ve got problems!
Raj: I have five kids, Alan. And it was funny, you were talking about the speed at which they consume on their iPods. I remember when the local-area AT&T had severed a line or something, and it was a two hour downtime for them to quickly get that back up and running. Those two hours, it was hilarious to watch my kids just squirming, because it was two hours of no Wi-Fi connectivity. We’re progressing. We’re moving on. We’re becoming a part of a symbiotic relationship between technology and man, which hasn’t always been there. I think it’s gotten better over time.
Alan: I was at a talk recently, talking about the relationship between technology and humans. We talk about the fact that it hasn’t always been there, but it really has. Clothing is a form of manmade technology.
Alan: We take it for granted, but would you walk out to your house naked? No. It’s the same with your phone now. You wouldn’t out of your house without your phone. It’s just, we’re adding more layers of it. And the internal combustion engine; try going a day without one.
Raj: Yeah, and look at where that’s going. When we look at the speed and efficiency that electric vehicles are now providing. One of the most fascinating things to me was to sit down with the folks from Formula E. They’re the electric car racing series, and they were talking about how they utilize blue algae from the ocean to create the power that drives the cells. So they’re trying to be the most highly sustainable program to create electric fuel for these race cars. And when you look at their entire chain of delivery of fuel, the dependency on these fossil fuels are — other than what’s coming out naturally from the ocean — is changing rapidly. We are in a time and a space in our existence that is unlike anything we have ever seen. And it’s doubling at a rate that we couldn’t have imagined years ago. Right? And so we’re seeing a lot of these technologies, and XR is such a huge area in that space, because it serves such a great purpose for anybody in the design space of things like this. Right? You can virtually design and test and put into practice some of these methods utilizing XR today.
Alan: One of the examples that HTC VIVE was promoting when we had Alvin Wang Greylin on the show was talking about how a Bell helicopters designed a brand-new helicopter in six months. And that process normally takes four years.
Raj: It’s crazy. I mean, it’s insane what you can do. I mean, you look at concept cars. I have several friends who worked in the automotive industry, and when you model a concept car — just to do the exterior modeling — it’s all done through clay, traditionally. The interior modelling has been 2D designs. There’s never been a marriage of that exterior clay model and the interior 2D designs in a visual medium, other than building the car itself. Right? And there hasn’t been a marriage of that. Today, you can now concept the entire vehicle — to the point where you can open the door and sit inside of it — and you’re in a headset. You’re not actually in the vehicle. I think that’s a very telling story of where this is moving onto.
Alan: Elizabeth Baron from Ford was on the show, and she was saying that every executive around the world views every new car in VR before it goes to production.
Raj: I mean, it’s there. It’s happening. It is a viable tool for the industry. Look at the building industry. I mean, I love what somebody like BDX is doing. And they’re right here in my backyard here in Austin. They’re a visualization company for a vast array of homebuilders throughout the United States. And they were like, “hey, VR is the thing, man. It’s something that we have to embrace, because builders aren’t going to put up every model in their portfolio of homes everywhere.” Right? They’re going to build one. They’re going to build two. They might do a row of homes and build three or four. But their portfolio consists of over a dozen different models. How do you sell a home that your customer may be on the fence about — no pun intended — whether they want to buy that house? They’re concerned about the build and construction and function for their family. What if right in the sales office, you can just walk them through that house? Right? They won’t physically do it, they can virtually do it and get a good look and feel of what their new family home would look like, and be able to have an easier approach to making that decision. That’s an invaluable tool for the sales team and for the sales force that’s looking to close a deal, and it’s the same thing for the building & construction industry, for major buildings. I mean, you look at the rate at which right here in Austin, the skyline used to never look like the way it looks like [now]. Ten years ago, there were small buildings, maybe five, six storeys at max. And now the skyline is dotted with these big highrises.
Well, how do you go through and look at a schematic, or an architectural diagram and say, “yeah, you know what, I’m happy with what I’m seeing.” And then as the construction goes on, there are numerous function and cosmetic changes that have to happen. There are so many companies working in the AC visualization space that allows architecture teams to be able to convert their renderings into 3D models that buyers can go through and be able to see stadiums, for example. I was just in Vegas at the Experiential Marketing Summit, and as I was driving to it, I was seeing the new home of the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders going up. And I thought, man, how great would it be? Or has it been we? I don’t know per se, but what if the owners and the administrative staff at the team could see what their future stadium would look and feel like, even with people in it?
Alan: What’s it gonna look like at 50 percent occupancy versus a hundred percent?
Raj: How do you maximize your throughput on concessions? I think one of the biggest things we’ve seen in stadiums in the past is where a lot of people just don’t get up out of the seat to go buy goods and services, because it’s just kind of like, “OK, well, this is gonna be a nightmare to go through and then come back and get to my seat.” What if you could actually run scenarios and figure out where would be the best placement of stores and concession stands, to maximize the dollar input coming from fans who really do want to go get a hot dog and a beer or something like that? Right? But they’re not willing to do that because it’s just too inconvenient.
Alan: There’s so many ways you could use technology even like to go back to… I’m not usually promoting products specifically, but the RealSense sensors having a one RealSense camera over each of the vendors could give anybody the ability to say, here’s the shortest line up to get a hot dog.
Raj: Yeah, exactly.
Alan: “I want to get a hot dog. Okay, well, here; go to this lineup, because this one’s only got two people. This one’s got 50.”
Raj: Can you imagine if, again, that symbiotic relationship between the technology sitting at the concession stands and you, the user, because it’s feeding you real time data to your phone? It’s the inconvenience that we’re up against now. Right? It isn’t that there isn’t enough concession stands. It’s that there are more people, and there are more people enjoying a ball game or an event or so forth. And so, as that continues to grow and as people put on more events and those events continue to grow in popularity, you’re going to get more people to your location. And again, location-based VR is another area where the more you have growth in these concessions, you want to know, hey, “if I go there today, will I ever get a chance to participate, or will it be too much of a burden to go and buy a souvenir or a hat or some food or whatever it may be?” We’re starting to see that and in theaters, too, now. Right? You can now go on an app, pick your seats before you even get to the theater, and in some theaters you can even preorder your food and have it delivered right to your seat when you get there. I mean, that’s insane. It’s cool. It’s exciting.
Alan: It’s pretty cool.
Raj: But it’s happening. Right? And it’s happening at that pace. So–
Alan: What kind of world do we live in?
Raj: Those things like 5G, AI, RealSense; all these things are going to play a factor in how we move into the experiential economy even more.
Alan: Let me ask you a question. My personal mission in life is to inspire and educate future leaders to think and act in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way. And I got into VR and AR because I saw an opportunity to educate — to democratize education — and to create new types of education. We don’t… math and science and geography, our school systems do a great job at teaching those things. But where they fail is in basic success principles, such as mindfulness and gratitude and positivity and purpose, and also things like financial planning, management, communication skills, marketing, sales. These are all fundamentals to successful people. And I see these technologies as a way to hyper-accelerate that. You guys have done a lot in education; in fact, you just won an award, the X-Awards, which is experiential marketing awards for best mobile marketing tour. Maybe you can talk about that? It was the tech learning lab, and talk about what you guys are doing in the education sphere, and how Intel is bringing this technology to the students and what that looks like.
Raj: One of the great things about my job and what I do at Intel is, we’re very purposeful about things. Right? We’re very purposeful about unlocking capabilities in the technology. And then sometimes, in that process of being purposeful of unlocking capability, we run into happy little accidents, or happy little explorations that we’re like, “huh? That’s really not what we thought of.” And so we should do something about that. So in this particular case, I’m going to go back a little bit. We had been approached to look at AR and VR for our SSD technology called Octane. This is much faster than your traditional SSD technology. And the whole idea was, can we go to a museum and scan — or do something — with photogrammetry for example, of one of their artifacts or paintings? So we put out a feeler to a couple of friends that we had, and it just so happened that Smithsonian American Art Museum was one of those that responded and said, “hey, let’s talk.” And so it started off as we were going to do a workload analysis and proof point on 3D rendering through the Octane, SSD, and how fast we would see the difference between the two. Previous generation versus this new Octane SSD. OK, put that aside. We began to walk through the museum with then-director Betsy Brown and deputy director Rachel Allen, and also head of digital and so forth, Sara Snyder. Anyway, the three of us — myself photogrammetrist Greg Downing, and my producer friend Peter Martin — the three of us were walking with the three of them, and what we got was a very one-on-one education about the museum, and about individual artists, and about curation, and about the process in which the museum puts things together. It was very educational. Suddenly it pivoted from, “hey, we need to go prove this technology out,” to, “we now have this story, this very important information about the museum. How do we then put that in to… how do we make that subject matter? How do we make that the experience that is enriching?” Right? So what we wanted to do is say, “hey, this is more about about enrichment than it is about proving out a workload. We can do that as a byproduct.” That was no big deal. But being able to enrich the user was far more important.
So then we embarked on this journey of trying to move the Smithsonian American Art into this place of exploring XR and exploring AR and VR and so forth. And what came out of that was a very amazing campaign around this curation called No Spectators. As we started to explore and unpack how people utilized the content to learn — how did they learn about the curators? How did they learn about the museum? How did they learn about the art and artifacts? — we found that when anybody got inside the headset, the retention of that information had a high value and they would come out of it and there would be a big smile on their face. “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. And I can’t believe it was able to come to me.” The next step in that was, well, why don’t we take this on the road? Why don’t we take these museum experiences? Why don’t we find some other educational experiences — which we found with our partners over at VictoryVR, Steve Grubbs.
Alan: He was on the on the show!
Raj: Yes, Steve’s a great guy. Right? And Steve’s so gung-ho, man. He’s so excited about this space and what he’s doing. I love heroic people like Steve Grubbs. Because they go, “look, I’m doing this. I know this is important. I know this is necessary and I’m going to go for it.” And so we partnered with him and we also partnered with HP, which provided all the equipment, as well as HTC on the headsets. We also had Oculus participate, which was great. “Who’s this wonderful…? Hey, we are Switzerland. Let’s go do something together, to really educate teachers and students about what VR is.” Right? It’s not just about playing video games or looking at 360 videos. It’s so much more than that. We really partnered in with Infinity Marketing, who’s been our great agency partner on bringing to life crazy ideas and activations. We wanted to hit up 16 locations we wanted to get to. I think we went to 12 schools. We went to four affiliate museums of the Smithsonian Institution, and we did truck stops and we brought out hundreds of kids and teachers and principals and administrative staff and really just opened up this truck. It was this big cargo container truck that sort of transformed into this tech lab. And we ushered a ton of students and teachers through it. And not only do we show them experiential enrichment through the museum type experiences, but we also gave them hands-on learning tools, like being able to dissect a frog.
I think one of the great things that one of the teachers came and told me was, “we have to do the frog thing because it’s so necessary for our science classes. But 1. it’s expensive to get the frogs, and 2. its smells. And the kids hate it. We hate it. But the virtual one was so much fun and so close to the real thing that a lot of them were asking, hey, how can I just replace this? Even if all I did was replace the frog dissection in my science class, it would be worth it.” Right?
Alan: Yep. And there’s so much more that can be unlocked in the school systems using this technology. When I say we’ve only scratched the surface, it’s literally like, there’s so many things that can be brought into a classroom. You can bring the world into a classroom.
Raj: In this particular instance, while VR was the center point because we did have quite a few workstations out there that are doing — by the way, a shout out to HTC, because had it not been for their new Base Station 2.0 capability, we wouldn’t be able to have the number of headsets that we had inside of a truck; wouldn’t have been possible.
Alan: The crazy thing is, Alvin was telling me that the new Base Stations that are coming out — Base Stations, for those people that don’t know, are the outside sensors pointing into the headsets to triangulate where each of the headsets is — they’ve got these new sensors that can detect up to 40 headsets simultaneously of the VIVE Focus, which is the standalone unit. It doesn’t require a computer. So you can have up to 40 people in a warehouse-sized space, and the space that they pick up is like the size of two football fields. It’s insane.
Raj: Yeah. Could you imagine doing training for big corporate-type environments, doing simulation for corporate-type environments — doing warehouse training, for example — if you want to get a team of people spun up on how to run and operate and maintain a warehouse. This is the thing, Alan. Right? We do these explorations in various different segments like education, like training, like working with Bell, for example, to be able to train their future pilots. Working with automotive to help design vehicles and so forth. Again, the symbiosis there, they all intertwine and lead to the use and the capability to really serve each other. It’s not as much of a segmented approach as we think it is. It’s actually different segments that it applies to, but the totality of what we’re looking at is something that’s all-serving, which is why I think XR super important the commercial landscape, because it can do many things.
Alan: Agreed; I couldn’t agree more. I want to thank you for your time and agreeing to be on this podcast; I’m sure everybody listening has been very grateful for you taking the time to share this. We can feel your passion through the podcast. And so, I can ask you one final question.
Alan: What problem in the world do you want to see solved with XR Technologies?
Raj: You know, probably the thing that I’m most passionate about is the healthcare industry. To be honest with you… there was a documentary that I watched on…I think it was Netflix… and it was about a man who bought a bunch of iPods and he took them to nursing homes, where you had a lot of elderly folks who’re either suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s or had traumatic brain injuries and so forth. And when these individuals would put on the headphones and listen to music from their genre, suddenly their brain started firing off. They were able to recall things that they had never spoken about to their caregivers and so forth. And what we’re seeing with VR today is that is starting to happen. We can utilize VR to remap nerves, to remap brain function to those nerves. We’re seeing that happen out of Brazil, for example. We’re seeing opiate addiction being reduced through the use of VR. Everything from surgical procedures being mapped out — a high level of success on surgical procedures, we’ve seen through our partners at Surgical Theater. I think that’s a huge area that hasn’t quite been unlocked yet, and that’s the thing that excites me the most.
Alan: Well, I’m sure there will be countless scenarios in which RealSense cameras and Intel parts are being used across all parts of healthcare as we move into spatial computing as a complete platform for the future of computing. So, thank you so much.
Raj: Yeah. One day at a time, and many leaps forward as they come, right? That’s how we’ll continue to keep driving innovation.
Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.