Some people find VR to be a solitary experience – too lonely to ever really be a place that humans can feel comfortable in. Well, tell that to Alan, when he met today’s guest – Kalle Saarikannas from Glue – in Glue’s virtual reality chatroom. Despite being continents apart, it felt like they were face-to-face. Kalle sits down again with Alan – this time, without the avatars – to explain why he wants to make Glue a household name.
Alan: Today’s guest is Kalle Saarikannas, business development manager for Glue, a new collaboration platform — and I’ll let him talk more about it — but Kalle is a 26-year-old combination of curiosity for emerging technology and commercial sense, making innovations a reality. Glue is a multi-user, multi-device, virtual reality hosting platform that is redefining the future of remote collaboration. Prior to Glue, the pioneer of XR remote collaboration, Kalle was working closely with intelligent packaging, RFID sensor tech, mobile augmented reality, and RFID solutions for B2B and Consumer Engagement Solutions. He’s built a strong, built-in entrepreneurial mindset, and established his first business at age 15. He has a master’s degree in business management from Hanken School of Economics, and an expression of his interest towards XR technology. He wrote a master’s thesis about XR tech, “Immersive Virtual Reality and Training, Using VR in the Facilitation of Learning.” His free time is spent volunteer firefighting in Helsinki, Finland. To learn more about Kalle and Glue, you can visit www.glue.work. Kalle, welcome to the show; so excited to have you.
Kalle: Yeah. Thank you, Alan, for having me on — and Glue — in the show.
Alan: It’s really wonderful. I had the opportunity to try your platform back in New York during… there was a conference, I can’t remember what the conference was, but we we’re speaking at it, and I got an amazing chance to meet with your colleague, Jani. And he got to show me the Glue platform — which, for the people listening — imagine putting on a VR headset, and it doesn’t have to be the most fancy headset. They’ll work with all of them. You put it on, and now you’re standing in a room. Like, you and I had a conversation — you were in Finland, I was in New York — and we had a conversation as if we were standing in the same room together.
Kalle: Yeah, I remember that. It was quite fascinating to me, too. For the first time in virtual reality, we were having an eye contact with each other, although we were some 4,000 miles apart, in different continents.
Alan: It’s really cool. So, maybe describe the Glue platform, and what your vision is for this.
Kalle: As you mentioned in the intro, Glue is a software; a system for live mobile device virtual reality collaboration. We’re not just a virtual reality platform, but we also support desktop users, mobile phones, iPads, and we provide a whole service for having meetings in virtual environments. Basically, our business model is that we are building a platform which operates in a software as a service model, by offering the client access to persistent virtual spaces that can be customized to the needs of the client. Let’s say a enterprise wants to — that has a lot of remote meetings using traditional remote softwares, such as Skype for Business or Google Hangouts, which are based on two-dimensional screens. You’re having video calls, you can see the other from the camera — instead of that, we offer three-dimensional virtual spaces, that you can really feel the presence of other people, although you are sitting on a different continent, miles apart.
Alan: It’s one of those things where describing virtual reality to people that haven’t tried it is like describing the color red to a blind person. It really doesn’t work. The way I explain this to people is — even people who’ve tried virtual reality and said, “oh, you know, this is great, but it’s very isolating” — when I was in Glue, the last thing I was thinking was isolating, because I was in the room. I was standing next to you. We were having a conversation. I was looking at you. You were looking at me. We’re a little bit cartoonish as our avatars, but I’m assuming — over time — that will become more realistic. But really, I felt like I met you. I felt like I was there in the room with you. We looked at an engine; we pulled it apart, we put it back together. You created these beautiful different environments. And one of the things that I think for businesses, there’s a lot of meetings that happen that don’t necessarily need somebody to jump on a plane, but that just seems to be the best way to get that done. We’ve all use Skype and these types of video conferencing, but they’re missing that personal touch. I had Jacob Loewenstein on from Spatial, talking about their collaboration platform, but theirs is more AR. How does yours differ, VR versus AR? And why would somebody choose one over the other?
Kalle: As you mentioned, we’ve been focusing on on VR — virtual reality — which basically means that you have your headset on, and the whole environment you see is computer-generated, and it gives a lot of possibilities compared to a AR. Whereas AR — augmented reality — you basically use the surroundings you are in. So, the office room that you are in. Or your home. You basically use that space, and add digital content on top of it. Whereas in VR, everything you see — your whole line of sight — is computer-generated. It gives you vast possibilities to create basically everything. It’s not dependent on the actual surroundings you are sitting on.
Alan: So basically, what you’re saying is I could be in a gym in New York–
Kalle: As you were.
Kalle: When we had the meeting, I was at our office in Helsinki, and I saw the pictures Jani posted, that you were at the hotel gym, using the hotel Wi-Fi, which — as we know — are not that stable, usually, the free Wi-Fi. And we had the meeting, using the hotel Wi-Fi in New York, 4,000-5,000 miles away. And we walked, using Glue’s advanced multi-user technology, in the same virtual space. Although you were standing at the gym in New York City.
Alan: I will put a photo in the show notes. I’ll find a photo.
Kalle: Yeah, it’s hard to explain otherwise.
Alan: Yeah, it was great! I mean, the room was double-booked, and so we just literally went into the gym. I put on the headset… but because it’s so immersive, I forgot that I was in the gym. I felt like I was in this beautiful room overlooking the mountains, because you’ve created these beautiful environments. So… let’s say, for example, we want to create a custom environment. What’s required to get somebody up and running? What’s required? What do people need?
Kalle: First of all, I could give a short intro about our approach to our product, and Glue in general. Basically, our vision for Glue in the future is that Glue is going to be a platform for virtual reality; especially virtual reality with multiple users. So, a multi-user platform. At this stage, we have done customized content for our companies, for clients. For instance, we’ve done them a certain virtual spaces, and then simulated training scenarios. Digital twins, which basically means that we have created a factory — for instance — in VR. But the big picture in the future; the plan is that Glue is going to be a platform that others can use. Any company that is working with 3D animation and 3D assets can use our technology, and build on top of that technology. We’re not aiming to become a project house for companies, but a platform — or, the way to create VR content in the future. So at this stage, we do customized client work as well. But in the future, we want to collaborate with different businesses that currently create XR solutions, by enabling them to use our technology to bring many participants into the same virtual space. Because accessing VR is pretty lonely, doing it solo by yourself. That’s something that we want to get rid of in the future, and be there together.
Alan: The one thing that I really found interesting — beyond being in a virtual space — is the fact that you’ve also allowed people to access the meeting from their smartphone, or tablet, or computer. If you don’t have a VR headset, you can still participate in these experiences. And it feels very much like… Second Life. It feels like Second Life.
Kalle: Well, obviously, the fact is that the penetration of VR headset is not that big at the moment, but we’ve seen the same development with smartphones over the last decade or so. So we know that we can expect that VR is becoming mainstream all the time as we speak, but we will also want to keep the possibility to access our platform and the meetings using handheld devices. So basically, we would be sitting on a bus with your headphones on, and be in the same meeting using your phone. And when you get to your office or your home, you can then put on a VR headset, and then to be even more immersed, obviously, than using a phone or an iPad. You don’t have the same functionality as you have using a VR headset, and that is something that we recognize. We’re developing a certain special set of different tools, depending on which device are you using. We want to make Glue a universal platform that can be accessed no matter which product you’re using, or which kind of type of device.
Alan: That’s awesome. It’s going to be powerful, oh, my goodness.
Alan: You mentioned that there’s a bunch of new features and improvements since I tried it in New York, and I can’t wait to try out the new features. What are some of the industries that you are targeting with this? Or, what are the industries that you’re seeing starting to take an interest in this technology at the moment?
Kalle: We’ve been developing Glue for the past two years or so. The technology is largely built by ourselves in-house. We’re a company of roughly 30 people strong in Helsinki, Finland. At this stage, we’re collaborating with large enterprises, working with various industries. There’s pilot cases, including customized training scenarios, specific scenarios created for corporate communication purposes, and even historical reenactments brought alive with this technology. And the core of all these different cases is the multi-use AR functionality. At this stage we’re currently in, we’re exploring different industries and different use cases for this technology, to find that the best industry to serve with this technology. As we both know, there’s so many different possibilities with XR technology.
Alan: Yeah. I think that’s a problem for startups in this industry in general, is that you build a product that could literally be sold to automotive, mining, engineering, design, architectural, medical — you name it. Every single industry can benefit from this technology. So, where do you start? And where do you start to sell that? Which is one of the reasons why we started this podcast. There’s so much education that needs to be done, so that businesses that are listening — or even if you’re in health care and you want to have remote collaboration meetings — you can reach out to Kalle and the team at Glue, and start using this technology immediately. If you’re in, let’s say, oil and gas, and you want to have meetings — talk about the next pipeline or whatever it is — the use cases in the industries are unlimited. I think you’re only limited by the amount of bandwidth you have for sales, unfortunately.
Kalle: And obviously the core of Glue is a remote meetings — the actual meetings taking place — and we have focused on human-to-human communication using the technology. But you mentioned, for instance, doctors and the healthcare industry. We’ve actually done simulation trainings based on Glue’s technology. For instance, there’s a simulation training for teams of doctors and nurses to practice crucial — sometimes even life-threatening — patients scenarios. And with this kind of technology — having the possibility to bring multiple users to the same virtual space — we can actually create simulation trainings for teams of doctors and nurses. Because obviously, when you’re a surgeon doing a surgery for instance, you’re not there alone. It wouldn’t make any sense to use XR technology alone, because in the actual situation, you are there together with the nurses and your colleagues. We actually had that kind of project underway currently.
And you mentioned also the mining industries, and those heavy industries. Using our technology, we can create, for instance, a digital twin of a large factory. And once again, you can go there together with your colleagues that might be sitting across the world, in a completely different continent, by just putting the VR headset on. There’s a lot of different use cases for the platform, for Glue. But the main thing is our platform — whatever we do with the platform — is that you can share the experience with others. The multi-user kind of functionality is the core which stays throughout, whether it’s just remote meetings, or simulation training, or a digital twin production.
Alan: You mentioned digital twins, and one of the things that came to mind was a manufacturing facility. You could take a LIDAR scanner or a laser scanner, go in, capture a digital twin of the actual facility. Can you drop that into the Glue platform, and then have a meeting in that facility?
Kalle: Yeah. Actually, what we’re now exploring is a technology called Matterport. I think it’s kind of a 360 camera that you put in an actual space — for instance, an apartment — it takes a 360 degree picture of the space. Then you move it a bit, and it stitches together all the pictures, and it creates a 360 picture with all the depth as well. So basically, you can create — with this kind of technology — true 6DoF virtual spaces. So with this technology, we’ve actually been able to scan a space. Last week, we actually scanned our office with this technology, and then we can bring this scanned apartment to Glue. In the future, we can go through aN apartment, for instance, or it can be a factory. Using these optimized 360-degree cameras to scan the space, and then bring it to our multi-user platform. This scanned space can be used as any VR space. It can be many participants in the space, and it gives vast possibilities for industries that are working with older locations. Obviously, when you have a new apartment, you have usually the building information models, and you have a digital footprint of the design available. But when you’re working with apartment that was built a hundred years ago, you need to be able to somehow scan it — to make it a digital version of it. And that is something that we’re currently exploring.
Kalle: Again, it offers quite nice possibilities to scan existing spaces and enable it to be accessed with multi-user technology.
Alan: One of the companies that we work with, RealityVirtual, they do real quality photogrammetry of places. So they’ll go, and take thousands of photos of a place, convert that to a digital aspect, take away the lighting sources, and allow you to relight it. So, you could take a museum, capture the whole thing, relight it; you could then walk through the museum with a flashlight, or you could relight it with disco lighting — whatever you want it. But giving people the understanding of exact one-to-one experience, and then having the Glue platform to… you know, “glue” it all together, and allow people to experience it multi-user. That’s really what sets it off. Because standing in a museum, looking at some art by yourself is nice. It’s beautiful. But being able to collaborate with people, and go to an art show together is going to be magical.
Kalle: Yeah, and actually, as an example of museum, we did a large project in Finland called Virtual Turku in 1812. Turku is one of the biggest cities and the oldest cities in Finland, and there was a devastating large fire in the city in 1827, which basically destroyed large parts of the city center. We decided to take the task together with the Museum of Turku, and recreate a city center before the fire, using those multi-user technologies. We created a virtual replica of the city center before the fire, and we actually had guided tours with tour guides that would otherwise be using pictures and traditional mediums. They used Glue, and had guided tours using our platform, with people walking through in the city center that burned 200 years ago.
Kalle: It was so popular in Finland that it was — I think — all the spaces were reserved within the first hour when it became available.
Alan: That’s incredible. But here’s the thing is… what people don’t understand is, as VR headsets become more prevalent and it’s just something you have at home ( [laughs] I’ve got two-dozen, although I am a little bit of an outlier). But as they become more prevalent, where you don’t have to hook it up to a computer, and you don’t have to wait for windows updates and all the stuff — you just pick it up and you can start experiencing things — you can say to your parents or grandparents, “you want to go check out that art gallery today,” and hop in Glue. And now we’re in the art gallery together, and share those experiences across borders. One of the things that I think is going to be really perfect for VR in general — and it’s not B2B, it has nothing to do with XR for business — but, bringing these experiences into retirement homes. Into places where people have very limited mobility. Hospitals, or long-term care facilities, where having that one hour of escapism or reprieve from the doldrums of just generic walls all day can be the difference between a good quality of life and not. And I think, being able to do that collaboratively with family members is going to be just a beautiful experience.
Kalle: Yeah. Not just old people, but also people with disabilities. I think there’s been a lot of cases where social VR platforms have given people a possibility to have discussions and meet other peoples online, using this XR technology. Obviously we’re focusing on B2B — so basically, companies an NGOs and those kind of things — but social VR platforms that are focused on the consumers have had really nice results with people that might have disabilities otherwise, and meeting people in the real world. There’s a lot of different benefits with this kind of technology.
Alan: So with that, we’ll move back to B2B, because there’s so many use cases for this. But I want to talk to you about the ones that you’re really focused on, which is the B2B market. That meeting market. What are some of the challenges that businesses are facing when looking to do this? What are the barriers to entry?
Kalle: I think in general and looking at the XR industry — and especially to remote collaboration — one of the hurdles that still has been a problem (that isn’t really a problem) is that many companies don’t understand that the technology is already there. That they don’t acknowledge that it is possible to have those kind of meetings that we had already in October, between Helsinki and you in New York. That’s not sci-fi anymore. It’s already here. But we need to educate companies to understand that the technology is already available. As you mentioned, it’s really hard to understand and believe if you haven’t really tried to technology. So, we need to give as many people as possible possibilities to try, to believe the technology. Because all the people that have tried our platform and our technology have been completely amazed by it. It’s really hard to explain without giving them an actual trial of the technology.
Alan: It really is.
Kalle: The world is moving so fast, that there is simply so much innovation going on that, if you’re not within the industry, it might be that you don’t recognize all the possibilities. It’s really possible today. So those companies that are innovative, and brave to take the first step, are the ones that are going to end up being the winners. Innovation is constant, and you can’t deny it.
Alan: It’s moving faster and faster and faster. I did a TED talk recently talking about the marriage of education and technology, and how we’re entering into the exponential age of humanity. How spatial computing, virtual/augmented reality, artificial intelligence, IOT, 5G, quantum computers — every one of these subsets on their own is revolutionary, moving the needle forward. But when you combine them together, and you start seeing augmented reality and block chain and artificial intelligence all running with a 5G back end, you realize that these technologies aren’t siloed. They’re all just going to be one part of our day-to-day lives, and they’re coalescing at the exact same time. Which — as humans — we’re very good at thinking in linear thought, “if I do this, then I grow by 10 percent, or 20 percent,” or whatever. We don’t really think in terms of exponentials, meaning, “if I do this, I’ll grow by 2000 percent.”.
We’re just about to enter this exponential phase of humanity, where things speed up much, much faster. I think we need to look at platforms like Glue as a solution to things like unnecessary business travel. If you look at nothing else except for unnecessary business travel, that is a huge drain on our resources. And most people don’t like flying around for business. It’s great to go to a conference, that’s fine. But if you just need to fly around the world for a meeting, that’s just crazy. And I know nobody in business that I’ve ever talked to is like, “yeah, I love getting on a plane for a one-hour meeting!” Said nobody, ever. You’re solving not only a problem of business communications, but also an environmental problem. If you look at it from that standpoint — that Glue can really decrease business travel, and that’s a direct cost, and it’s more effective than something like Skype — it is not even close. It’s just leaps and bounds better. It’s just a matter of time, if the headsets are becoming less expensive, so the cost to experiment is less… do you guys have a free trial of Glue?
Kalle: Yeah, obviously, we’ve been — as said — at this stage, we’re collaborating with different large enterprises within different industries. So at this stage, it’s not commercially available on our websites, but it’s more case-to-case, because at this stage we want to gather structured feedback from the clients that are using Glue. At this stage, we really want to develop the product and be a product, then be ready to commercially ship the product at a later stage.
So, yeah, there’s trials. Trials can be made. And we’ve let a bunch of people to have trials for a couple of months, to gather feedback on how they are using the platform, because we’re still kind of looking at what is the best way to utilize this technology. Because, as you mentioned, there’s so many different ways of using this technology. It can be remote meetings — just basic white collar meetings — which are based on two-dimensional assets of just, for instance, a company sales meeting, which is basically based on figures and numbers. Whereas it could be also a product lifespan, which is then basically the whole lifespan from designing the product, to validating the product, to eventually launching the product. And everything can be done in our VR platform.
Kalle: Feel free to be in contact with the trials. We would be happy to have discussions.
Alan: So, people listening: you can sign up for trials. I think now is a great time to sign up, because not only do you get an early access to what’s coming in the future, but you also get the development team listening to what you want, and what you need, as a first adopter of this technology. Companies have the ability to actually give you feedback. That’s incredible.
You mentioned design meetings/collaborations, but then also, taking that exact same platform, and you design a car in virtual reality. The management sees it, approves it. Your designers go in there and then make some changes in design, and then all of a sudden, now you can use it on the retail side, and customers can now go in and look at this car. There’s so many possibilities. It’s unbelievable. Is there anything else you want people to learn about the Glue platform?
Kalle: As mentioned, the goal is to create a platform; a platform that other XR houses, that are now currently building projects — can be marketing purposes or different cases for client companies — we want to reach out for those companies as well. I said we’ve been building this technology for the past two years with a team of roughly 30 people. So, it’s taken quite many hours to build the multi-user technology to be as robust and solid as it is today. So, we want to reach out to different companies working with AR and VR projects to become a part of our ecosystem, so that we can provide them our platform, that they can use to provide multi-user experiences to their clients in the future. It doesn’t make any sense that everybody uses two years to build a multi-user platform, whereas it makes more sense to use a platform that can be used to build on top of. As said, we want to be scalable, and in the future, we simply cannot make all the customized projects and all the cases we would like to do. As you mentioned, we don’t have the bandwidth in sales and development to do everything, so we want to collaborate with other actors in this space.
Alan: The question asks; what kind of background — what kind of environment — should we create? We’re going to get creative on this one.
Kalle: Yeah, maybe something regarding the Canadian nature. It’s pretty nice, and there’s a lot of similarities with the Finnish nature as well.
Alan: I think so. We’re just great people. We just want to be helpful.
Kalle: Yeah, for sure.
Alan: What problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR? It doesn’t have to be Glue specifically, but what problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies?
Kalle: When you mentioned about environmental issues, obviously this kind of technology can be used quite well to reduce the amount of flying and travelling, because using advanced, multi-user XR technologies you can basically teleport your… I wouldn’t say “existence,” because it’s not a similar teleportation as in Star Trek (at least not yet). But basically, you can have the same functionalities as you would in a meeting that you would be physically face-to-face with another person. With virtual collaboration and remote presence of having multiple users in the same virtual space, you can reduce the amount of flying, which then directly helps to cope with global warming, which is a megatrend that affects all of us. It’s a global phenomenon. We need to act to slow it down. So with XR technology, we have a completely new medium. A three-dimensional spatial medium that we can use to achieve completely new dimensions of collaboration — even better collaboration compared to a face-to-face meeting that you have with anyone. You still have, for instance, gravity. Using a computer-generated environment such as virtual reality, we can erase the gravity. So basically, you can have a car engine in your hand, and you can just leave it on the height of your head if you wish to do so.
Alan: That’s amazing; if you’re standing in-person, looking at a car engine that weighs a thousand pounds, you can’t flip it upside down and look at the bottom. But you can do that in VR/AR.
Kalle: Obviously, because everything is generated by computer, so we don’t really have any limitations. So when you think about it, that we can — using platforms such as Glue — we can reduce the amount of flying. It reduces the CO2 emissions, and it helps to fight global warming and environmental change, and simultaneously provides you the possibly to be a Superman and lift a thousand-pound engine on top of your head. With these, it’s pretty clear in my opinion that this kind of technology is going to revolutionize how we communicate as a species.
Alan: I agree. Most people try it on, they go, “this is a great video game platform,” or “this is a great concert platform,” whatever. My first immediate thought was, “this is the future of human communications.” And I stand by that. Great to hear that somebody else thinks like that, too. I’m not just crazy!
Kalle: We wouldn’t have used that much man hours to build a platform, and focus on the platform, if people didn’t believe this is the way to go, and the future of human communication. There’s so many benefits, using this kind of technology.
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