Massive XR Environments and Transforming Education with Alvin Wang Graylin

The latest generation of XR technologies introduces radical new capabilities, from multi-user tracking in massive spaces, to 6DOF standalone headsets, to the ability to track hands, eyes, and lips. HTC’s Alvin Wang Graylin discusses what this means for everything from automotive design to helping children learn about the universe.

Alvin Wang Graylin is an industry leader, evangelist and passionate driver of XR technologies, particularly virtual reality. As the China President at HTC, he leads all aspects of the company’s VR and smartphone business in the region.

Alan: Today’s guest is an industry leader, evangelist and passionate driver of XR technologies, and particular virtual reality, Mr. Alvin Wang-Graylin. Mr. Graylin is the China President at HTC, leading all aspects of the Vive/VR (VIVE.com) and the Smartphone businesses in the region. For those of you not familiar with HTC Vive, VIVE is a first-of-its-kind virtual reality platform, built and optimized for room-scale VR and true-to-life interactions. Delivering on the promise of VR with game-changing technology and best-in-class content, VIVE has created the strongest ecosystem for VR hardware and software, bringing VR to consumers, developers and enterprises alike.

He is also currently Vice-Chairman of the Industry of Virtual Reality Alliance (IVRA.com) with 300+ company members, President of the $18B Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance (VRVCA.com) and oversees the Vive X VR Accelerators (VIVEX.co) in Beijing, Shenzhen and Tel Aviv. Mr. Graylin was born in China and educated in the US. He received his MS in computer science from MIT and MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Mr. Graylin graduated top of his department with a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Washington, where he had specialized in VR and AI over two decades ago under the tutelage of VR pioneer Tom Furness.

Please welcome to the show Mr. Alvin Wang-Graylin.

Alvin: Hi, how are you doing, Alan?

Alan: I’m fantastic. There we go, we got you now. Awesome. Where are you calling in from?

Alvin: I’m in Beijing, China.

Alan: Beijing right now. And what time is it? It’s gotta be in the middle of the night, I think.

Alvin: About 10:30 PM.

Alan: Oh, well thank you so much for taking the time to record this with us. I’m going to jump right into it. For the people listening, you know, really, really exciting things happening at HTC right now, and you just held your fourth annual VIVE Ecosystem Conference, or VEC conference in Shenzhen. Can you maybe speak to some of the announcements and how their impact is going to really impact business use cases of VR?

Alvin: Yeah, I’m happy to jump right in. We just had our yearly biggest conference of the year, and had about a thousand people come in, and about a hundred press, and essentially all the industry folks that are in China – and actually, quite a few folks from around Asia and even parts of the US – came. People, from the developers, from our sales channels, our accessory partners. A lot of investment companies, as well as Chinese carriers, governmental organizations that are involved with high tech. Essentially, what we do every year is gather together all of the leading players in the industry and try to create a unified direction. And the key direction that we were trying to point to this year is something called multi-mode VR. That’s when, you know, VR can be used, not just for one way of connecting, but it could be connected to your PC. It could be connected to 5G cloud VR. It can be connected to a console, or a 360 streaming camera, etc. So it’s a very exciting time for us in the industry, that these new types of innovation’s happening.

Alan: I got to read some of the amazing announcements. You know, one of the ones that I think everybody’s really excited for is the VIVE Focus Plus. And you know, it’s for those of you listening, it’s a standalone headset that is completely six degrees of freedom, meaning you can look left, right, up, and down, but you can also move around. How do you think this new piece of hardware is going to unlock the enterprise use cases of the technology?

Alvin: Absolutely. I think that was the highlight of the show, and you know, this is the first full six degrees of freedom standalone device that has both six degrees of freedom in the head, as well as the hands. And to be able to have that freedom, where you can move around in as large of a space as you want to, and be able to see, you know, and use all the existing content that’s out there – it’s going to be amazing, for both developers and for users out there. You know, for enterprise, you can essentially not worry about having the wires of the devices being connected. If you’re a design firm and you want to look at a car or an airplane, you can actually walk around freely without having any burden. And we actually showed off something that was quite exciting, is a large area multi-user tracking system that allows tracking to spaces up to 88,000 square meters, which is like 900,000 square feet space, with only four sensor units, and up to about 40 devices in that space. So it allows for shared teams to be able to look together and review and work together on a virtual space as large as four football fields. Or, it could be applied to theme parks, where you could have you know people go into a big, flat field and look up and see a giant amusement park in front of them. So that’s, you know, that was one of the other exciting parts that was announced last week as well.

Alvin: That’s absolutely incredible. You just… you just literally blew my mind. That’s the one thing I hadn’t read about. So, to just recap: with four sensors, you can have up to 40 devices – meaning 40 people can be in a shared experience – in the size of four football fields, 900,000 square feet.

Alan: Yep that’s right.

Alvin: So I just have to kind of… I’ve got to unpack that. So, for enterprise use cases, you can now have a shared design experience, or experience in general, where people can train together. This would be good for military, I think; for police. For, you know, virtually any company that has many people training at one time. I think the training applications are just going to be massive with this technology.

Alvin: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, let’s say you have a firefighter squad that wants to train together, and, you know, they have a giant field that they can simulate a real fire in a building. How would they behave? And it can give you a full 6DOF tracking, and be able to have a unified positional system, so that everybody can see each other in physical space that’s fully aligned to the virtual space.

Alan: I’m speechless. That is a game changer. Speaking of game changers, one of the other things you guys announced at VEC this year is six degrees of freedom video. So, normal 360 video allows you to kind of look around from the point of the camera, but what you guys have developed is a way to give, kind of, more presence by adding that ability to move up and down, and left and right. Can you maybe speak to that?

Alvin: Yeah. So, you know, there’s thousands – probably tens of thousands – of 360 videos out there, but it’s really designed for just rotational viewing. So you’re in the middle of this photo/video bubble, and you can rotate your head. But when you move nothing really happens; that bubble moves with you. What happens with this 6DOF – what we call 6DOF light video – it’s not full 6DOF, because you can’t really move around in a large space, but allows you to move one meter in any direction: up, down, side-to-side, and give you that illusion of being able to have a movable space, and lets you create a higher level immersion than you can’t have with these existing content. Now, the best part of this is that you don’t need a new camera. You don’t need new processing equipment. You don’t need to do anything. You just take your existing 360 video files or streams, stream it through it as this new video player, turn on the 6DOF light mode, and boom – you’re able to have that movement within the video.

Now, there are, you know, can people use light VR cameras? Which allow you to make larger space movements – a few meters, and maybe tens of meters – in a space? But they require very expensive camera rigs, to be able to create what this allows now. Essentially, you can have a standard $200-$300 360 camera, and bring that 6DOF experience to anybody who you stream to. So, I think this is going to open up a new concept called “life streaming,” where it’s not… you know, people right now, there are these influencers who will shoot a little video of where they are and talk about a story. But I think in this case, you can turn anybody into a “lifestreamer,” where they can share their life with their loved ones or with their fans.

Alan: You just encouraged me to break out my 360 camera again, and start making some videos. This is incredible. So, I’m going to touch on some other things that really kind of stood out to me. One of the things that you guys announced was StreamLink, which is the ability to connect your devices – your VIVE devices, your VR devices – to computers, and consoles, PlayStation, I even saw something about XBox there. Is this for real? I can just plug in my headset to any console now, and have a powerful VR experience?

Alvin: Well so, it’s, what StreamLink does is it allows you to take 2D content, whether it’s from your computer screen or from your TV set top box, or from any of the existing consoles, because it takes any HDMI video stream, turns it into a slightly warped, rounded virtual screen in VR. So that gives you essentially an IMAX experience with your VR headset. So it’s more of a monitor replacement than a full VR experience. What it also, because of the size, it actually does almost feel like you’re there. I was playing FIFA soccer on the XBox, but then I click it in and I feel like I’m actually on the field, because I can’t see the edges of that screen. If you get it closer to the screen, you actually, you know, there’s a spatial element of that screen. So once you get closer, you can actually have the screen go around you, so you can’t see, if you back up from it, you can see the screen. And you can actually size the screen as well. You can also change the shape to be flat or to be slightly rounded. And one of the really interesting parts is that it also has a video see-through a window. If you look down, you can actually see your keyboard, or you could see your hand game controller, and that way you’re able to manipulate physical objects, even when you’re in this headset as a monitor replacement.

Alan: So that leads me to the next thing that I saw. First of all, that’s incredible. The visual that I’m getting is of, you know, a trader or a financial trader being able to put up their screen in a massive screen, so your computer now is a wrap-around IMAX screen. Imagine the amount of work you could get done by having an IMAX-sized screen while you’re doing your work. That’s just incredible.

Alvin: Yes. I think it’s both good for work and for entertainment, that’s the best part. In fact, our guys are trying to create a little program to get people to spend a whole day, like 24 hours, inside VR. And just to use this one single device, because it’s able to connect to all of the current media sources that we have anyways. And you know, the Focus Plus also allows you to connect wirelessly to your phone and wirelessly to your PC, to experience PC VR. So all the 4000+ pieces of PC VR content can be streamed directly to this standalone device. So it’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings, this is like the Lord of HMV. You know, they’re the HMV that connects to everything.

Alan: I can tell you, this is what I personally have been waiting for. I want to be able to open my – I know it sounds boring to everybody – but I want to be able to open my emails and work in VR on a giant screen and have, you know, my podcast link over here, and my e-mails over here, and all these things kind of spread out. I am really excited for this. And you know, one of the things you mentioned was looking down and seeing your hands. Something else you guys addressed at VEC this year was native hand-and-finger tracking.

Alvin: Yes.

Alan: This is going to unlock so much.

Alvin: Yeah, we definitely have a lot of news packed in to–

Alan: I’ve got a long list here! I’m gonna keep going. This is amazing, you guys announced so many things.

Alvin: Yeah, I think we announced too many things, because most people only heard probably maybe a third of it, or only comprehended a third of what we what we announced. Yes, so at the VEC – and at GDC – we actually announced our USDKs for hand tracking. About a year ago actually, at the last VEC, I had announced that we were going to bring gesture control to VIVE, using the existing cameras that are on both the VIVE and the VIVE Focus. So at the GDC this year, we demonstrated the hand-and-finger tracking on the VIVE Pro. But at VEC, we also demonstrated the finger tracking on the VIVE Focus. So, on a standalone device, to be able to have 21-point finger tracking, that’s amazing. We actually didn’t think it was possible, because of processing limitations of the mobile chipsets. But after almost a year of optimizing, we got it all to work, and then we also released publicly the SD case for the VIVE and the VIVE Pro, and the gestures on the VIVE Focus, so that any developer, now, can essentially incorporate natural hand movement directly into the app without having to buy a third-party piece of accessory like the Leap Motion.

Alan: So I keep coming back to training, but let’s really kind of take a second to unpack the native hand-tracking and finger-tracking; if you’re able to reach out, see your hands, and interact with things in virtual spaces, this is going to literally unlock unlimited potential for training. So, if you want to teach somebody how to do something in real life, they can reach out, grab it, learn it. And you know, one of the things that you posted recently was on education and how VR is improving students’ concentration. I think both students in grade school from K to 12, but also university, but I think right through to enterprise training scenarios, I think virtual reality has a potential to really lead the way with how we educate in the future, and how we train. It’s kind of my personal passion as well, but can you speak to what you posted the other day about the VR improving students concentration? By a considerable amount.

Alvin: This is a brand new study – it has not actually been published yet. It will be published in about two weeks. And there was a study that we helped, I guess, fund, but then it was completely done independently from us. We had no influence over the study processes. But what they did was essentially brought two different groups of kids that were 12-to-13-year-old kids, and taught them basic physics, mechanics. And so, two kids had the same courses, the same questions, the same tests, and one supplemented the experience with VR-supplemented material, to allow the kids to be able to interact with the principles that was discussed. And the other one was just using more blackboard and teacher discussions. So, your normal classroom-type methodology.

What we found was that the concentration went… and for both sets of students, we, for both at the students we used EEG sensors on them during the entire class, and was able to capture the movement and the intensity of the frontal lobe, which was to to identify the concentration level and focus of the students. And it was very, very clear that the students that were in the VR session, they had, I think it was a 6x improvement, in terms of concentration level, which led to grades that were significantly higher. Essentially, the control group had scores that was about a C+, right after they did the course, in terms of passing the tests, whereas the VR group right after was an A score, in terms of their average score. And a week later, it was still in mid-B range for the VR students.

So even a week later, after not being reminded the content after they were retested, they outperformed the immediate test scores of the control group. And a week later, on the control group, was down to, I think it was a D+. So either way, what it shows is that for complex topics, this type of a training mechanism really both helps to increase concentration and retention for the content, and you know, very, very statistically significant.

Alan: It’s incredible, and you know, we’re seeing already some major shifts in how enterprises are using this, and I just want to touch, before we move on to that, the one other stat that I saw here from one of your presentations, was VR training is useful also in sports education. You guys did a study showing improvement using soccer teams, children’s soccer teams, and using VR training. One of the things that you showed was a 36 per cent increase in performance after using VR. Can you speak to that?

Alvin: So actually, before going into that, I want to add one more point to the last study on the concentration level, because one piece of data that’s not actually in the slide I published was that there was a distinctive difference, actually, in the concentration improvements for male versus female. It seemed like the more distractable boys actually had even bigger improvements than the girls, who are normally very able to concentrate in class, whereas the boys usually tend to be harder to manage and are easily distractable. And what we found is that they actually had a bigger improvement because of VR. So the more distractable that the age group or the child, the more benefit they actually will get from this from this technology. So that is a very surprising finding. But I guess it’s intuitive after the fact, looking at it.

Alan: It’s interesting you say that, because I’d been reading a lot of articles around how virtual reality is being used for autism, and to really train people with different levels …on the spectrum, to interact with other students, and kind of studying their eye contact and that sort of thing. And one of the things that you guys announced at VEC – I keep going back to this – but, you know eye tracking and lip tracking.

Alvin: Yes. Yes.

Alan: This is incredible. So, you know, I’m thinking for HR, if you wanted to do an interview with somebody, you could send them a headset, you could do a full interview in VR with them and really get a sense of, are they looking at you? Do they make eye contact? Now that you can see their hands and fingers, do they use their hands and gestures? And lip tracking allows you to kind of match what they’re saying to a visual, maybe–

Alvin: It can probably go further than that, because micro expressions in your body really gives a sign of whether or not you’re telling the truth, or whether you’re fibbing, or whether you’re kind of making up things, and what part of your brain you’re looking at, that you’re trying to withdraw information from. Well actually, your eyes point to different places. So, by looking at eye tracking, you can actually use it as a lie detector, and probably in a more accurate way than the current polygraphs that are out there. So yeah, that’s also a new technology that we are putting out.

Even though we just announced recently our VIVE Pro Eye, which has built-in eye-tracking, the SDK that we are releasing will actually work with any existing eye-tracking system. So in fact, very soon we’ll be coming out with third party accessories that can add eye-tracking onto our existing VIVEs, VIVE Pros, and also the VIVE Focus.

Alan: That’s incredible. I actually… it’s interesting, the whole idea of the lie detector. I just read a piece by Jeremy Bailenson – and for those of you who don’t know he’s a researcher at Stanford – and he was on the privacy of people while collecting physical data. So, things like eye tracking, now lip tracking, but also their movements. You know, their posture, how they move, and that sort of thing. And the study or the piece really talked about, by collecting this data, we’re able to now, down to a very granular level, one that kind of transcends all of the other studies we’ve ever had before into collecting data about people that is way more accurate than just asking them on a survey or that we have…this is next-level data collection. And I think, while it opens a Pandora’s box for ethical concerns, it also, you know, can serve businesses very, very dramatically on both their HR needs, their training needs. There’s so many different aspects of this.

Alvin: Yeah yeah absolutely. And let’s say if you’re an advertising agency, and you want to know if your ad works – what are people really looking at? What’s attracting their attention? You know exactly by looking at, by using eye tracking and putting them in front of that ad, either in the virtual space or a physical space. If you’re designing a cockpit for a car or an airplane and you want to make sure that it’s easy for people to understand, you put them into that space and you know how long did it take them to find the right buttons. Where are they spending their time looking when they’re when you’re driving this car, when they’re using this car? So those kinds of information, it’s very difficult to get in the real world, or you had to spend a lot of money to to actually build out versions of that physical cockpit, and then have people try it and then give you a feeling of what which one felt better. Right? With this, you know exactly how long it would take them to find that button. Did they look at the speedometer numbers in the right way, or do they prefer to look up or down, et cetera. That kind of information can give you so much value in terms of designing something that’s more human-centric.

Alan: Well, since you brought it up, I’m going to talk about the automobile industry and logistics and travel, automotive in general. So you’ve done work, HTC has done work with BMW, Volkswagen, McLaren, probably a number of other companies in the periphery as well. Can you speak to some of the ways that automotive companies are using this? I know Volkswagen’s using it for collaborative training, for factory logistics. BMW is doing virtual prototypes. McLaren allows you to race one of their McLarens. What’s going on? Why are automotive companies jumping on so much, and what are they doing with it? Where are they seeing the most value?

Alvin: I think it actually can be used in essentially all steps of their creation/design/testing/training/manufacturing process. Normally, whether you’re talking about a car or a plane, you’re talking on the order of years, or a number of years, to design and build a new product. And what we’re finding is that, in the design industry, we can get a 2x, up to maybe a 10x improvement in terms of how long it takes to go from concept to product. Because a lot of what’s happening today, in terms of creating these things, is that they have to create physical prototypes that are made of clay, have people come from around the world to review them, make changes, come back a few weeks later, etc., which just doesn’t produce very fast turnaround. In VR, you can do all of that virtually. And in fact, we had a very interesting case study just released a few months ago – two to three months ago – where Bell Helicopters, normally it takes five to seven years to build and design a new helicopter. It took them six months to go from concept to a working prototype that was flying, and that that’s just crazy fast. I think that’s faster than that would take us to build a new headset. So it’s amazing how much value they got from using that. I don’t think that’s typical. I would I would say typically, probably an improvement of 2-to-3x in terms of design time is probably typical.

Alan: So… let’s just kind of stop for one second. So Bell Helicopter designed a new helicopter in six months that would have taken them five years.

Alvin: Yes, exactly.

Alan: And that’s an outlier. OK. We’ll take that as an outlier. But typically, average what you’re seeing is a 2x to 3x expedited process of design.

Alvin: Yeah. And that’s not just for vehicles. It can be used for buildings, for interior design; essentially anything that requires review and design and collaboration between teams to create. It can be dramatically faster, improved.

Alan: So that leads me to the next question. Why isn’t every company doing this already? If you’re seeing two to three times improvements, why is this not in every single design office in the world?

Alvin: Actually, I would say we’re working with almost every major auto manufacturer and airplane manufacturer out there. In fact, if you look at Boeing and Airbus, they were working 5-10 years ago with CAVE systems, and CAVE systems essentially are an early version of VR, where you’re in a room and it’s projecting the expected outcome around you in these screens that that feels like you’re in that environment. It’s not as individualized as you would get with current headsets, but for the technology of the time, it looked and felt very much like today’s VR. And those were million-dollar systems, but they’ve been using them for 10, 15 years.

Alan: Absolutely incredible. So it’s really interesting, I mean, you studied under kind of the godfather of VR, Tom Furness, and you were looking at how VR can disrupt education.

Alvin: Yes.

Alan: You shared some stats, around six times improvement of concentration, and one of the other stats was a 36 per cent improvement in sports education, performance, and training.

Alvin: Yes, actually, I think I forgot to mention the sports education when I said – let me let me go back to that case that you asked for. So we had worked with the national youth team that was managed by the Chinese Ministry of Sports, and they’re essentially the elite, kind of next generation soccer athletes in China, and they were brought in for a one month training camp. So, they had four teams, and two teams were using VR, two teams were not using VR, and they had the same the same kind of national-level coaches helping all four of these teams, except some were supplemented with VR strategy education.

What they found is, at the end of the month, the group that was using VR improved by 30 per cent in terms of their strategy scores. In the elite athlete level, it’s not the physical capability of these kids or adult athletes that separates them; it’s all about their mental acuity, in terms of understanding the deeper level of the strategy of the game. And so that’s something that’s actually very difficult for people to train, and you have to create varied scenarios, and it’s hard to simulate those scenarios. But when you can put these kids into thousands of potential scenarios, if these defenders are here and the ball is here and the goalie was there, what should you do? Who should you pass to and how should you kick this, or how should you defend? And by putting them in those scenarios, and then being able to score them and be able to measure them, they were able to accelerate significantly something that would take years to train. And they essentially got that level of improvement in the month, whereas the average non-VR student or athlete only improved by about 5 per cent in terms of their post-month training scores. So it’s, again, like 6, 7, 8x difference in terms of improvement.

Alan: That would probably explain why Walmart has decided to roll out VR across their entire company to train people.

Alvin: Yes. Yes. I mean, the larger your workforce, the more important training is to your teams. And it can be used for sales training, like what Wal-Mart’s doing. But also at Volkswagen, they are using it for assembly line training, so people don’t make any mistakes when they… or, they make the mistakes in virtual reality first, so they don’t make it on the real car. And you have people like Send For Help, who are using it to train nurses so that they don’t harm the patients. They make all their mistakes and VR, and their teacher can be alongside them to watch them and see what they’re doing in the virtual world. Again, training can be applied to essentially every industry.

Alan: It’s interesting, you know, one of the companies that we’re working with is called Career VR, and what they’ve done is created simulators to show youth and people looking to do different jobs and explore different career opportunities. One of them is you know a crane operator, and one of them is a forklift operator, one of those is a heavy machinery operator. Plumbing, and welding. So by creating these virtual experiences, it lets people really get an understanding of what is this job all about. Do I like it? Is it something I want to go into? And then from there they can train in it. I know you guys did some work with Raymond Forklift. Can you maybe speak to that and what they’re using it for?

Alvin: Yes. So, you know, these forklifts are used in warehouses to move very heavy equipment and materials, and if you make a mistake, it could be thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands of dollars of damage. Right? So what they did was they essentially created a cockpit that was completed at the same size, shape, and all the buttons in the right places. You put on this headset and you can simulate yourself driving this forklift, and they can test and be able to measure all the things that you’re doing to make sure that you’re doing it safely and you’re following all the procedures. And then you’re also getting your muscle memory, because you’re touching all the right buttons, and those buttons and knobs and levers link exactly to what would happen in the physical world in the headset space that you’re in. So it is kind of a 1:1 physical, kind of like a simulator training for airplane pilots; they’re doing it for forklifts.

Alan: It’s incredible. I actually got to try, with the Career VR guys, I got to try an excavator and, I mean, I’ve never been in one of these machines before, I had no idea. But step by step, they walk me through starting the machine, turning the pivot, driving it, moving the dump or the bucket. And by the end of it, I was like, okay, you know, I’m pretty sure I could get into any of these excavators and work it. And a friend of mine at VR Scout, he did a crane trainer, where you drive a crane and you go through this thing, and in one hour and crane training in VR. Then they took him outside put him in a real crane and said, “here, drive it.” And he was able to drive it. And that’s wow. I mean, incredible!

Alvin: Yeah. I mean, those cranes are pretty expensive; you don’t want them making their mistakes on those things. So that’s, you know, just to spend one hour or two to prevent a potential damage to the device or the property around it? That is well worth it. And I’ll give you another example of a very different type of training, is police training. We actually worked with some of the Chinese police force, where they’re trying to get their officers to be to react properly to very high-stress environments. And these high stress environments are very hard to simulate in the real world. You’re not going to have bad guys and good guys all in the same place, and be able to use a gun to shoot at them. But to be able to distinguish, to be a know how to react, to be able to stay calm, and be able to measure and see it from a trainer’s perspective, what the natural reaction of these different officers are. That’s something that they’ve told us is immensely valuable.

Alan: Yeah, I think police training is going to be huge, and also emergency services. One of the other ones that… we were speaking with a client, and they own nuclear facilities, and one of the problems that they have is that once the nuclear reactor is started, you can’t train for emergencies. You can’t shut down the nuclear reactor to train for it. So they’re looking at ways and scenarios of, how do we train for scenarios that we just can’t train for in real life? And one of the people that I had on my podcast – I’m actually gonna check my notes here – came up with a really good…it was Steve Grubbs from Victory VR, and they’re doing a number of different education things. They did a frog dissection in VR and stuff. And he said, you know, the case for VR learning really hits home when it’s rare, impossible to train for, dangerous environments, or expensive. And he came up with the acronym RIDE: Rare, Impossible to train for, Dangerous environments, and Expensive. And it seems to be, literally, the perfect case for that.

Alvin: Yeah. I mean, I think those are definitely probably the most extreme examples. But we’re working with banks right now to do kind of hostile customer training, where somebody comes in and they’re complaining, and you know how do you react to that? And then, in fact, you can then tie it to things like your heart rate, and do heart rate monitors and breathing monitors. In fact, you can tie to your EEG brainwave monitors to be able to measure the response of the customer service agents, so that they can stay calm and be able to give the proper response. So something like that.

Also, there could be empathy training. Going back to the officers, they have officers who recently, in the last few years, there’s been a lot of issues with officers and violence towards some of the assailants. And now, if they put the officers actually on the other side – they actually are the ones being accosted by the officers – they then, when they come out, they can actually have more empathy for the potential assailant and not try to be as hostile, or have a much calmer demeanor when dealing with them. So it can be used for both dangerous and hard-to-create situations, or it can be used to create empathy.

Alan: Absolutely. I think that’s a really great point. Empathy training, you know, and I think it was Chris Milk who coined the phrase, “VR is the ultimate empathy machine,” and he’s really kind of pushed that. And kind of a fun fact: Chris Milk was actually the first person to ever show me VR.

Alvin: That’s something to be proud of. Well, I mean, he’s done a lot with his various documentary films, trying to bring VR to a larger group of people. In fact, now, I think the films that he had made, if you put those into our 6DOF volumetric player, they’d actually bring even closer to the people that he was filming.

Alan: Incredible. I love the fact that it’s just a player. I mean, it’s all built in and it just works. I think it’s gonna be a huge hit for you guys. I want to just ask you a personal question: What is the most impressive business use case of virtual and augmented reality that you’ve seen so far? You talked about Bell Helicopters. What is the most impressive one that you’ve seen personally?

Alvin: I mean, I think… I’ve seen so many, so I honestly feel like every one I’ve seen is impressive in a different way, and people have utilized it. You have people who have who have prevented various levels of potential damage, from mispractice for doctors. Or you have people who have taught kids, you know, things that would be impossible at their age level. Or you have, like you’re saying, vehicles that are created in one fraction of the time. Just, every use case I’ve seen comes out with a level of results that far outweighs anything that I’ve seen with other practices. Right? So, I just feel that there is almost limitless possibilities of utilizing this technology, to make the work process more efficient for almost any industry. And that’s what’s most exciting, because every time I see a customer, or I talk to a channel partner, or I go visit an investor, I hear stories that I’m just amazed at.

Alan: It’s incredible. You know, you mentioned more efficient but I also think, you know, less mundane. You did a TED Talk last year, where you described VR and how VR can unlock us from the mundane work and education systems of today, and give us new challenges that will expand our minds and create untold wealth and prosperity. And you asked a question at the end of your TED Talk: how would you spend your time if money and location were not a factor? So I sometimes wonder, what parts of our current jobs will be replaced by AI and robotics? But more importantly, what new, amazing jobs are going to be created that challenge us in ways that we never before imagined? To invent new things at a pace we’ve never seen in human history? So, how do you see VR changing the world of work as we know it today?

Alvin: I actually think…I think about this question quite a bit, because I do believe that within the next 15-20 years, most of the jobs that are out there today probably won’t exist, or won’t need to exist, because machines will do it better than we do, and do it for less money and at higher quality, in which case, we need to find something else that we’re going to be more suited to do.

The fact that VR can train us to become skilled in almost anything, and to do it faster, because all the research out there clearly shows that VR is probably the most effective means for us to put information into our brains and to have it stay there. Both because of the ability to use your full brain to learn – to be actively participating in the learning – versus using just your ears or your eyes to bring information in, but also the fact that, by being focused, you’re not distracted by other things around you, and also the fact that it can put you into environments that would be impossible for you to understand. Let’s say you want to understand subatomic particles; if you could put yourself to be the size of a subatomic particle, and see the interactions and feel the interactions between these particles, that helps you to understand quantum physics a lot better than if you were just being told something, you know, and there’s a little picture on the blackboard.

Alan: It’s interesting you say that, because I got to try a VR experience where it was looking at carbon, and I was at the molecular level looking at a piece of carbon in a diamond format, versus a graphene sheet. And it showed the way it’s the same molecules, but they’re stacked a different way. I really got the spatial understanding of what that means, and I could draw it out on paper now that I’ve seen it. I think this is going to unlock a new era of everything in education, and my personal mission is to inspire and educate future leaders to think and act in a socially, economically, and environmentally-sustainable way. And I think the current education systems do a great job of preparing people for jobs, but those jobs are not going to be there. So I think virtual and augmented reality will hyper-accelerate the learning path for children and everybody to really find their purpose, and their mission and passions. And I think that can really drive humanity forward.

Alvin: I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, just this morning when I posted that new study about the concentration level in education, I had a person respond to me and say, “oh, you know, but there’s just not enough budget to invest in these devices; they’re just too expensive, and we don’t have the money for it.” But you know, at the end of the day, if you look at what’s going on in most of the developed countries in the world, the countries are spending somewhere between 3 to 5 per cent of total GDP of the country on education, but they’re doing a pretty poor job at it because everybody is teaching kids how to take tests. They’re not teaching kids how to learn.

If we change the mindset to say, instead of having bigger buildings and nicer computers and bigger whatever, nicer chairs, if we give them this equipment that helps them to unleash the genius that’s in every single child, I think that’s the part that is worth investing in. There’s a quote from Warren Buffett, that the best investment you can make is in yourself, is in educating yourself. So I think in terms of a society, that should be our number one investment. Instead of buying a new car, it probably makes more sense to buy a headset that can then teach you and your kids how to be smarter in everything that you’re interested in; to learn a language in a matter of weeks instead of years. That’s the kind of things that’s possible.

Alan: It’s interesting that you touched on priorities and budgeting. I don’t get involved in these political things, but the US military budget is $600 billion. That’s enough to give every person in the US, I don’t know, three or four VR headsets? So I mean, you know, there’s that.

Alvin: It’s not that there isn’t the money. It’s about how we prioritize that money. And that’s something that there needs to be more education out there to the decision-makers, to the policymakers, so that they can understand the benefit of this. And it’s not that expensive. I mean, a device like the VIVE Focus Plus, we’re talking about $800, and you can do everything you can do a few years ago with a PC-based VR that was several thousand dollars. So the costs are already coming down. And from a usability perspective it’s even easier. It takes a few minutes to set up instead of a few hours set up. It takes a few seconds, you put it on and you’re in VR, instead of several minutes. So in every aspect, the devices today are superior to the ones just three years ago.

Alan: It’s amazing, when I started in VR in 2015, we used to carry around a giant computer, and the Oculus DK1 I think, or DK2 – we’d carry it around, and it would take 40 minutes to set it up, and oh my God. It was a disaster. And that was just to be able to put it on someone’s head and say, hey, check it out. So we’ve come a long way.

Alvin: Yes. I think if you put on a Focus device, a Focus Plus, I think you’ll feel so much more efficient, in terms of telling the VR story.

Alan: Absolutely.

Alvin: Because as you know, with VR, if you don’t get people in the headset, they don’t fully understand.

Alan: It’s like explaining the color red to somebody who’s blind.

Alvin: Yes. So that’s why we have to let that process, to put this device in front of people, so much easier. The easier it is, the more people will try it; the more people try it, the more people will believe it and understand.

Alan: Absolutely. So, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and explain the transformative power of virtual/augmented/mixed reality, or XR technologies, to the business community. My final question today: How would you spend your time if money and location were not a factor?

Alvin: You know what? I’d probably spend a lot of the ways I would do today, but probably more on the investment and the mentoring side of it. I spend a lot of time right now managing my team, and getting our products out, and doing the messaging and sales and marketing and all of that, whereas another part of my job is to work with startups, and that’s the part that I get the most personal fulfillment out from, is that. When I talk to these young entrepreneurs and are able to help them clarify their stories, help them be able to get funding, help them realize their dreams. If the other piece of my work was less of what I did, I would have more time to focus on the more personal aspect of these one-on-one mentorships for the various potential portfolio companies, or just startups in general. I just really like spending time with people who are passionate about what they’re doing, and who have a shared dream of trying to change the world in some way.

Alan: It’s amazing. And before we hit record today, I told you about what we’re working on, and I think our visions and our passions are fully aligned. So, I want to again thank you so much for taking the time to come on this podcast. This has been amazing. Do you have any final words?

Alvin: If you haven’t tried VR, go try it. If you have, go and take it and bring it into your company, and really start piloting and experimenting. If you’ve already piloted it, then start deploying, because it is probably going to be the highest ROI investment you’ll make, at least in the next few years. So good luck out there.

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.

1 comment

  1. PERCY says:

    Awesome interview and valuable information about VR / 360 / XR. Keep up the good work!

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