VR Creates the Trainer That Never Retires, with Immerse’s James Watson & Justin Parry

Imagine being able to learn, hands-on, exactly how to operate a deep-sea submarine — without needing the submarine! That’s the kind of training opportunities VR training platforms like Immerse are able to offer with the technology at their disposal. James Watson and Justin Parry drop in to talk about all the other opportunities the tech presents businesses.

Alan: You’re listening to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today, we have two amazing guests, James Watson and Justin Parry from Immerse. Justin is the co-founder and chief operating officer and leads product strategy for Immerse. As a founder, he designed and led product development of the Immerse platform from scratch. He now oversees the delivery of all technology and VR content across the organization. Justin has 20 years experience creating and growing B2C and B2B products from startups to global organizations. He’s developed and launched online platforms, websites, mobile products across the world, and joined Immerse from his role as global director of the Internet Yellow Pages for Yell Group. Immerse Virtual Enterprise Platform enables enterprises to create scale and measure virtual reality training content and programs. The platform enables enterprises to look at training and assessment in a completely different way, providing the tools to help maximize human performance, resulting in a more engaged, better equipped and safer workforce. If you want to learn more, you can visit immerse.io.

Guys, welcome to the show.

Justin: Hello.

James: Thanks, Alan.

Alan: [laughs] Hey. So you guys are in beautiful, sunny, warm UK. How’s it going over there?

Justin: Well, it was very sunny until last week, actually, with the sort of slightly freakish weather that we’ve been having, but today is cold.

James: It’s British grey.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: British grey. Oh, well, we’ll just assume it’s beautiful and sunny. So let’s get digging in here. I’ve had a chance to try out the Immerse platform. It’s really amazing. You’re completely immersed, and the demo that you guys did for us: We were inside of a submarine. We not only go into it, but interact with all the bits of the submarine and start to learn parts of, “how do I make some things work?” And the great thing about it is you guys were there every step of the way. But one of you was in VR, and the other one was on a tablet or a computer. Talk to us, just to how did Immerse come to be?

Justin: Well, we’ve been in the training space quite a long time. We weren’t initially in VR. We actually delivered our training applications via desktop, but they were always multi-user. So we would be tying together people from somewhere — maybe even Kazakhstan, some oil and gas training that we did — with trainers that may be in Iraq, or in the UK, or wherever that might be. And that was all done in a sort of virtual world. So it’s a little bit like the old Second Life, if people remember that. So it’s a powerful proposition, but it’s still a little bit difficult to sell. So with the advent of the headsets — or the latest generation of headsets, at least — we made the move into VR and a lot of services that we built there just kind of immediately made sense, and we got traction very quickly. We effectively then pivoted the whole company to be a full-on VR training platform. We rebuilt a lot of those services, especially for VR, because there was obviously some small itemization that we need to make. And so we find ourselves where we are today.

And just in terms what you said there, Alan, obviously that multi-user piece and being able to have people in the space together and in VR, but also in the browser, is still a big part of what we do. But we’ve broadened out from there as well, because obviously not all training requirements are going to be satisfied by that. So we target single player, we look at data, we look at the creation of that content, we look at integrating that with enterprise systems.

Alan: What are some of the examples? So obviously there’s a submarine one. Is that– was that a military client?

Justin: Yeah, that’s for a company called Kinetic. So basically in the UK, they’re a defense technology company, that work very closely with the armed services in the UK. And yeah, that’s working with them to create — as you experienced — an interactive submarine. There we’ve modeled a few parts of the submarine, actually, because the focus was on team-based training. So the idea is that you can have– obviously, a submarine isn’t run by a single person. So if you’re going to run those team-based training exercises, you need to account for a number of different roles. Some of those people will be using consoles with lots of buttons and joysticks and all those sorts of things. Others will be more communication based, so they’ll be telling other people what to do. There’ll be more manual tasks around operating equipment and machinery. And in order to run through the emergency operating procedures that you need to on a submarine scenario, you’ve got to join those things together. And so working with Kinetic, we brought that to life in across a few of those different procedures.

James: What we find, I guess, is from a different industry sectors where any sector that has some sort of procedural training, sort of health and safety, risk mitigation element to it, our technology is relevant and VR as a training tool is relevant. That’s an example in defence. And then we also are working within healthcare with GE Healthcare. So that’s looking at the ability to train radiologists on CT scanners. We’ve created a complete CT scanner in virtual reality, and the whole process can take up to an hour for a radiologist to go through in VR, which is an incredible level of detail. And so that has relevance because you can’t get access to CT scanners. So you can look at that in a– when the equipment is too hard to get access to, you don’t want to take that equipment offline, it’s relevant. And then we also work within the energy sector with Shell, where that’s looking at health and safety and risk mitigation. So any industry where there’s risk, if you can put someone in a virtual reality training environment, well, you’re re-creating that risk. But actually there is no risk to that individual. So sector wise, we go across any number of sectors. It’s really more the need of that sector that defines where virtual reality training on our platform is relevant. So it’s pretty broad is kind of the ultimate message from a sort of sectors that we work with.

Alan: Let’s talk about results just for a second here. So what was that point where you just went, “Oh my God, this is what we need to do next?” How did that precipitate?

Justin: There is the key thing. You can understand the minute you put a headset on yourself. I hadn’t experienced anything until the the early [Oculus] DK1. And the minute you put that on, you understand that you are interacting with these 3D environments in a way that was previously impossible. Presenting something on a 2D interface is effectively sort of abstracting it away from the manner in which you interact with that in real life. You are not actually picking that thing up. You’re using a mouse or you’re using the buttons on the keyboard to pick that thing up. And there’s all sorts of obviously nuance engaged in you genuinely interacting. So instead of having to create a complex input system — as I say, using a mouse or keyboard controls — you put the headset on, and you’re just there. And if it’s a nicely designed bit of VR, then the barrier to entry in terms of use and user experiences can be really low. So you don’t need to be a gamer, you don’t need to abstract away that interaction. It’s all there. And it’s like you’re interacting with the real world. As I say, if it’s well-designed. So I think that was the key thing that did it for us. And then we put some of the 3D scenarios that we’d already created into the hands of prospective customers. And the response from them was just so dramatically different. You know, they took the headset off — and everybody that now works in VR will see this all the time and that sort of sense of these people being blown away, and the whole potential for this medium opening up in front of them– we used to see it all the time. I think — to be quite honest — that was enough to encourage us to sort of make that leap. We didn’t do it straightaway. We got a couple of projects up and running. But I would say the kernel was in that sort of moment of realizing — both ourselves and seeing it in our customers — that this just changed the way in which you could interact with 3D.

Alan: Really is one of those things that you have to see it to believe it, or even just to buy into it. There’s been a lot of hype around VR and AR, and as an industry we’ve done a really good job at hyping the crap out of it. But when it comes down to it, until you put that headset on someone’s face, it’s very esoteric. It’s a very visceral experience, being in VR and doing that. So we’ll go back to the submarine for a second. But you have a group of people — maybe who’ve never worked together — who need to go and operate a multi-billion dollar submarine, putting them into a virtual space to get them used to interacting in that space. You can simulate the sounds. You can simulate the feeling of being there. You can simulate all of the actions that they’re going to take. And it builds real muscle memory. Where do you see the limit to this? Is there some things that don’t lend themselves to this?

Justin: To VR? Yeah, all the time. I mean, we take every single project that we work on because we– just to be clear, we build content on top of our platform as well, because obviously not all businesses have that resource internally. So we do do a fair bit of content creation, and we’ll take every project on its own terms. You know, it has to live or die on on its own business case. And very often it won’t stack up. It’s really as simple as that. I mean, I’m sure that even in the instances where we can make the business case stack up, I’m sure you could also you could still create a meaningful VR experience. But if it’s not going to move the dial within an organization, if it’s not going to do what it needs to do, ultimately in terms of ROI and impact on employee performance, then we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to recommend it.

James: I mean, we get a lot of inquiries around soft skills. “Can I train my sales force to deal better with difficult customers?” or “Can I train against unconscious bias?” or things like that. And I think there’s some validity to use VR for that. I think at the moment the challenges around the intelligence or the AI of the avatars you use and trying to avoid sort of that sort of odd feeling of looking at someone who doesn’t quite fit to what we expect from a human form. So there’s a lot of those discussions that come in at the moment, and I think they are going to take a little bit more development from a technology perspective to really make that more meaningful. Whereas if you think of the slightly more procedural focused training — so the ability to go on to an offshore oil platform and run through a health and safety process, that you have to take every two months to make sure you’re still got the right accreditation to operate that piece of equipment — that fits in a much more simplistic way. When we start getting into that sort of behavioral soft skills place, it’s more of a stretch. It’s not to say there aren’t some really good examples out there. It’s just pushing what VR is really good for at this stage of its development.

Justin: Yeah, and we are working on a project at the moment around soft skills, but reason we were happy to move forward with it — as James says, we’re not selling that proactively — but the project that we’re currently working on got green light on the understanding that it was a piece of research, it’s effectively R&D to see what is possible within the current technology available. And one of the things that we have found is that if you are looking to have a pretty realistic interaction with a non-human character, let’s say in the context of a sales conversation, the technology just isn’t there, from an AI perspective, from the kind of fluidity of the interaction and the experience. You can put something together that works, but it’s not going to be the thing that’s going to make a difference in terms of sales training. So I think it’s going to come, for sure. And there was some fantastic presentation, it was part of the keynote at 0C6 last week — which I was at — by Michael Abrash, who’s chief scientist at Oculus. He was talking about some of the things they’re looking at there, in terms of R&D. And they are really exciting around the representation of humans and so on. That, combined with advances in AI and speech recognition, all those kinds of things. We will get there, but we’re just a way off. And so we as a company are focused — as James says — when we go out to the market, we’re talking about things that are really about interacting with the sort of material world process, and so on.

Alan: As part of my trip last week to Orlando, I got to go to the University of Central Florida’s learning lab. It’s called LearnLive. And one of the things they showed me was, they had me talk to a 2D screen that was 3D images of school kids. And I started having conversations with them. And they started having conversations back to me in very, very human like ways. So I would ask one child, “What do you want to do today?” “Well, I don’t know. Like, maybe we should read a book.” And then I said to one kid, “Oh, I’m from Canada. Do you like maple syrup?” I mean, I’m trying to throw them curveballs. And the kid goes, “Well, my mom says it’s too sugary for me.” Like, it was just this moment where my mouth was open. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. And what it turns out, it’s actually not AI driven. It’s actually puppeteered by a human. And they use a voice changer, so that there’s a human answering the questions, and they are able to pick which child to answer the questions from. So one person’s able to replicate five students’ attitudes.

Justin: Right, right.

Alan: And each student had a different attitude. It was just this kind of mindmelting– I thought it was AI. And I thought, “Oh my God, this is the future of AI. We’re here. We finally made it.”

Justin: Yeah, yeah.

Alan: Then they revealed the secret and I was like, “No!”

James & Justin: [laugh]

Alan: “Noooo!!!”

Justin: Old school skills.

Alan: [laughs] Yeah. But they’ve managed to make a platform that scales, so they can provide this teacher– it was for teacher training, to teach teachers how to deal with a classroom full of multi-personalities. So one kid is very goth and very dark and very smart. Then you have another kid who’s loud and just disruptive to the class. And how do you kind of manage that classroom dynamic?

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: It was really incredible. But I really thought it was AI, I was like, “Oh, we’ve reached the future!”

James & Justin: [laugh]

Alan: I think we’re not there yet. [laughs] So, yeah, you’re absolutely right. Being able to have intelligent conversations with AI agents. How long do you figure that’s going to take? Before it’s real, it feels right?

Justin: Well, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, going back to what Michael Abrash was saying, it was– we’re actually quite a long way off.

Alan: Yeah, I’m thinking 10 years.

Justin: Yeah. And he was talking in those terms and he was using a theory — the name which I can’t remember, it was something like Hof– Hofsteiner’s theory? — which is that everything takes longer than you think it’s gonna take, even taking into consideration that theory.

Alan: Hofstadter’s theory.

Justin: That’s the one.

Alan: “Everything is going to take longer, even if you take into account Hofstadter’s theory.”

Justin: Yes! Hofstadter’s theory, well done. Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t remember the name, but yeah.

Alan: It was a really great talk. If people are listening, if you haven’t watched the keynotes from Oculus Connect 6 — the 2019 version of Oculus’s big conference — the opening keynotes are just chock full of amazingness.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. I think it’s a way off. But the thing is, one of the things that we often try to do is just when we’re having conversations with customers, with market, we’re just trying to get people focused on where we are here and now. Because there’s so much power in what’s already out there. Particularly because the hardware is developing so quickly. We’re now at the point where we’ve got these untethered headsets and that are super lightweight and they don’t have all of the technical complexities or support complexities that went with the early model.

Alan: I’ve got my Oculus Quest sitting right in front of me.

Justin: Well, I mean, it’s a great bit of kit. And obviously it’s not the only untethered headset, but it’s the one that’s getting the most coverage. I mean, we’re just trying to get people focused on the here and now because–.

Alan: No, you’re absolutely right. So let’s talk about it here now, because I think it’s right. And to quote Ori Inbar, their technology people were always looking to the future, he goes, “But the technology we have right now is good enough for almost everything we want to do.”

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: So companies are already starting to roll this out. But are you finding this– because we’re finding this on this side is that companies are still stuck in that, “Hey, let’s pilot it. Let’s check and see. Let’s go slow.” when other companies are saying, “Hey, we’ve done the pilots, let’s go”. And they’re starting to scale it out. And then you run into different challenges like device management, security protocols, that sort of thing.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: But what I’ve been preaching from the rooftops is: Start now, make some mistakes, get going. And so that when this really starts to take off — which is starting now — you’ll be ready to do it.

James: Yeah. We find there’s a mix, to be honest. And that mix has probably become more even over the past, I’d say six or eight months. So you’re right. There are still customers out there and thinking, “Well, I just want to tip my toe in, because I don’t want to overcommit, and just see how this technology might work for me. I’m still not quite sure about it.” but we are finding there’s a lot more large organizations out there, who are well and truly sort of through that POC phase. And indeed, some of the bigger organizations have done multiple POCs and they’re now a stage that you’re talking about, they’re like, “Well, actually, how do I make this in something meaningful, how do I actually push this out across a global organization, measure it, make it secure, integrate it with all my systems?” So there’s definitely been a shift. There are still plenty of people out there who want to do a POC. And you can understand why. We’re talking to one organization at the moment. And literally they just need to get the senior buy-in of their C-suite to go “Okay. I’ve tried it. It’s a relevant training exercise for our business. That’s really good. I get it. Let’s push this on.” So I think POC will always have a role with certain organizations, perhaps slightly more risk averse. But then there’s also a lot of guys out there who are beyond that stage, and are looking for something a little bit more sort of enterprise ready.

Justin: One of the things that can be a bit frustrating — it was there that start, hasn’t gone away — is in some instances the inability to self apply. And by that I mean, we’ve got a whole different suite of things we could show people in VR. But there’s times when we come up, we have a conversation with a customer when it doesn’t matter how many different things we show them in VR, they can’t apply it to their own business. And so therefore that forces you to have to build something specific for them. And I’m assuming at some point we will get beyond that, because one process — if it’s something simple, for instance, like pulling levers or turning dials, pressing buttons — you would just assume that people can understand how that can translate to their own industry. But it’s simply not the case in many instances. And I think that’s what leads you to those POCs is, “Well, yeah, that’s fine. I get that. But that’s not our process and that’s not our equipment or our machinery.” And it seems a bit–

Alan: Funny thing. It’s– even if it’s in the same industry, they’re like, “Well, that doesn’t work like our machine.” And you’re like, “Yes, but it could.”

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: “Just give us the CAD files and we’ll make it look/work like that.”

Justin: Yeah. And I kind of understand it. But at the same time, it seems to me that you introduce a step there, that doesn’t need to be there. And often that first step, that POC is — as James said — is just about a relatively sort of soft objective of getting buy-in. It’s not about hard data in that first instance.

Alan: Yeah, I think to put a quote there, it’s no longer about a technology problem. This is an adoption problem.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: And we’re at the point where technology works. We’ve proven use cases. So let’s shift gears a little bit, because I really want to dig into– you mentioned earlier about these POCs, and onboarding companies, and some things working better than others. What are some of the ways you’re measuring success? What are the goals, key performance indicators ROIs? So how are you measuring those for a company like Shell, for example? What are the measurements around ROI?

Justin: It kind of depends — again — on the use case. In the case of Shell — which I can’t really talk too much about, we’re not allowed to — but it is in the assessment space, which in and of itself is a little bit different to training, oObviously. There are some hard metrics that need to come out of a piece of assessment, particularly if it’s related to some form of regulation. There you can capture potentially the sort of kilobits of data in a relatively straightforward manner, which is simply that text based output, “the user did this, user did XYZ and achieved this result,” which is the kind of stuff that often get pushed into a learning management system at the highest level. But at the same time, what we’re looking to offer alongside that kind of more straightforward learning objective output, is also the ability to record everything that that user did. So we built that in as a core platform functionality. All of the data that gets sent by the user– all of the data generated by the user in a session — which for us accounts to 30 messages per user per second — can effectively be stored as a sort of file and played back as if you were there the first time round. So it’s not a video, it’s a kind of interactive 360 degree data experience. That gives you something way beyond just those learning objectives. It gives you the absolute concrete proof that this person did this thing. It’s highly auditable, it sits as a file, it shows them — in six degrees of freedom — completing this piece of regulatory training. And then obviously out of that, there’s all sorts of potential insight that you can start to gather. And I think one of the things for us is that we often think about is, in many instances you can you can prove the ROI for those simple learning objectives. But there is more to be had there, there’s more to be discovered. And there are more ways in which you can define, firstly, the sort of the performance of the user. But secondly, the value of the training itself. But I would say we’re still on that journey ourselves as a company, being able to clearly highlight what can this data show us. And we can only really do that by building these experiences out with people, getting lots of users through them, and analyzing that data.

James: And in that, ROIs can be used quite broadly. But if you think about having it as an audit trail, and the ability to go back when something goes wrong, and the ability to go back and prove to an overarching governing body, yes, that person took that training, therefore we did the right thing to ensure we try to mitigate our risk. Well, that could be saving of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Justin: Yeah, for sure.

James: Just based on the ability to be able to capture that and demonstrate it. So it can be that, and then you can go the other way, where it’s a bit more as we’d expect ROI to play out. And say — for example — with the work we’ve done with DHL, which is creating VR training for cargo loading for warehouse workers, so the ability to stack a cargo container as efficiently as possible. So, you know, part of the ROI coming out of that is not just around “Okay, there are less gaps in that cargo container. Therefore, we’re shipping more cargo and making more profit from it.” Well, actually the ROI to them is also going through to “Well, by creating this VR training, our staff are actually more engaged, they’re in fact enjoying the training process. And ultimately that leads to increased staff retention.” So instead of the average tenure of those warehouse workers being 12 months, well, actually you can extend that out to 15 months. So suddenly–

Alan: And that is– you know what, that alone is a reason to start using this technology, that right there. Because we’re in a a time right now where more people are retiring than we are able to retrain and reskill for, especially in trades and skills that are hands-on or in warehouses. Most kids in America don’t want to work in a warehouse. They don’t want to work in a factory. They want to be YouTube influencers. Which is cool, but not everybody can be a YouTube influencer.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: So being able to make the training fun, exciting. Are you starting to see or get requests for gamification of this experience as well?

Justin: Yeah. So the DHL experience actually does incorporate gamification because — as James said — it’s a box stacking exercise. And for a company like DHL, if they’ve got air in their planes, then it’s going to– it’s costing them. So they have to be super efficient with this stuff. There’s all sorts of different rules around how packages should be handled. Two things, actually: in order to make the experience more fun and turn it into almost a sort of Tetris-type experience, we introduced a point system, that had all kinds of multipliers based on you following these various rules.

Alan: I want to do it now. See? Like, this is how training should be in the world.

Justin: It’s fun.

Alan: People want to put it on, and try it, and do it.

James: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah. An interesting thing is that that gamification, it makes people want to do it, and they take the headset off and they want to have another go. And we see that all the time, particularly with DHL. But also the interesting thing is that the data that you’re generating out of that gamification, the point system gives you an insight into that learned performance, that previously wasn’t available, because they would just be doing this in a warehouse, manually stacking it. Somebody might be watching them and scoring them, but you wouldn’t get that level of insight into the different techniques that they used, and the different degree to which they were following the appropriate process. So it’s got to be a double win there, really.

James: And there’s also a big– there’s a global leaderboard associated with that as well, Alan, so–

Alan: Of course there is.

[laughs]

Somebody’s got to be first.

James: They’ll be competing against a colleague, and someone in New Orleans competing against someone in Manila. And suddenly there’s that little bit of competition, healthy competition, of course.

Alan: Oh, I love it. And I’m sure– I’m assuming you guys have some team stuff as well.

James: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: Team Manila’s crushing it!

James: Literally, it’s that. Yeah.

Justin: I was gonna just say– I’m going to add one more thing that’s shown ROI, because it’s such a hot topic in the space. Another example that we’ve got is with GE and the CT scanner work that we did. There, if you look at that’s a slight different use case for ROI, in that these CT scanners are incredibly expensive, obviously. We dug out a UK business case for a CT scanner recently, that saw that initial investment of the machinery at £1.8-million, in and of itself, which will give you obviously one training asset. And then on top of that, it’s circa £400,000 per year to maintain. You’ve got to have somewhere to house that scanner, which then involves protecting stuff against magnetic waves. So you can say there’s going to be like another million pounds in cost there. So in the first year alone, you’re looking at sort of 3 to 3.5 million pounds, just to get that CT scanner in place. And then on top of that, there’s all of the costs of obviously sending people to that specific site, locating them across the country or maybe even across the world. The cost of a trainer to be there in person, blahblahblah. All these things add up. And so in a single year, you can see that the cost of running a single site is going to be incredibly expensive. And in the instance of the training that we built for them it was it was very, very straightforward to to to put the business case for that together, because you are effectively– firstly, you’re removing the need for that physical hardware, but you’re also allowing an unlimited number of people to carry out this training at the same time.

Alan: So that’s a 5 to £8-million savings. So translate that into American dollars, you’re looking at 6 to 10, call it.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: 6 to $10-million in savings. Now, what are the costs associated with that? So how much does it cost to build it? How much the cost to scale it, to get VR headsets on everybody’s head? Just ballpark. What is the ballpark cost for everything included, to deliver the same kind of level that you would be normally paying 6 to $10-million for?

Justin: Well, I mean, it’s going to depend on the number of users from a sort of hardware and it’s only in terms of our platform. So our platform works on a effectively a per user basis, which would be in line with most, you know, with standard SAS licensing, I guess, if you use that as a benchmark. And then obviously the hardware, if you were going to do something on a Quest, that’s coming in a £1,000 — or I think it’s $1,000 as well, isn’t it? — for the enterprise version of that. So how many users are you going to have there? So that’s a fairly simple sort of sum. And then in terms of the content creation, that will vary wildly. I’m not going to talk specifically about the costs for GE, but you can get– I mean, if we use a really broad range — as we would see it — in terms of the kinds of projects that we’ve done, they tend to span from somewhere between £50,000 to let’s say £500,000, depending on the complexity and the range and the depth of the content that you’re creating. So it’s a broad– it’s a very broad spectrum, indeed. And so it’s very difficult to sort of say categorically, and it is still relatively expensive. And those costs are coming down, because obviously people are getting creative with those– with the tools for creating that content. But I think once you add those numbers up, you’re still coming in at an order of magnitude lower than the cost that you outlined with the real world scanner.

James: Yeah. I mean–

Alan: Here, let’s just do the back of the napkin calculation here. You got a thousand employees, content half a million, call it a million, right? So you got a million. Then, hardware’s… thousand employees, call it a million dollars in hardware.

James & Justin: Yeah.

Alan: That’s giving one to everybody, which you’re not going to do anyway, because you don’t need that.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: And then 1,000 licenses. So another call it million. So that’s three million total. This is me, back of the napkin really, really stretching here. It’s probably not even close to that.

Justin: Unless the [garbled] as well, that’s very minor with [garbled]

Alan: And these are dollars. So $3-million. And normally you’d be spending between 6 to 10. So, the ROI on that — just back of the napkin calculation — is dramatic. And that’s me bumping everything up. So really, this is an order of magnitude less.

Justin: Absolutely, yeah. And like I say, that’s a– in terms of the content creation, once it’s done, it can sit there. Obviously, you may need to do some–

James: But you could also argue that the CT scanner, once you bought it, it sits there. Okay, it becomes obsolete.

Justin: Yeah, yeah.

James: There’s a similar– it’s a similar–

Justin: Well, yes and no, because it’s a £400,000 cost to maintain every year. As well as the cost of the facilities–

Alan: Oh yeah. I didn’t even put that into the costs. [laughs]

Justin: Yeah. And then factor in the cost of the trainer–

James: Then our licensing is an annual thing as well. So it’s comparable. Not the cost of, as in how much, but it’s a comparable– there’s an ongoing piece–

Justin: Yes, but not to the same degree that’s–

James: Not to the same degree, because–

Justin: Just to have a dedicated room, for instance, that’s been properly kitted out, have the trainers–

James: Yeah.

Justin: Those costs are gonna really rack up after year one.

James: Yeah.

Alan: Absolutely. So if I’m looking at as– I’m taking a look at your website and you guys are helping companies build the content, but ultimately, they can start to build their own content as this takes off, and there’s more people in companies that have skillsets that include Unity and whatever. So is that the case where people will be able to build their own environments, build their own training, and then host it on your platform for scale?

Justin: Yeah, there’s– so the proposition that we have is an SDK that any Unity developer can use. We’ve tried to lower the barrier to entry there, so you don’t have to be a really, really experienced developer to get something pretty meaningful in place. We just sell that now. So you can get access to the SDK, and then once you’ve created your content now you can upload it to the platform, and then that enables you all the distribution, the integration, the data, and all that stuff. So, yeah, others can create, depends if you’ve got that in-house Unity resource at the moment. If not, we can do it for you, or we might push it out to an existing supplier. We don’t really mind. Our model is one of moving towards SAS business so we can create the content, but we would really like to create licences. On top of that, we’re just kicking off a project around what we call non-technical authoring, which isn’t really a particularly cool name for it, but it’s a functional one. And that is essentially allowing those trainers or those subject matter experts to take a source CAD model, and build an entire piece of training around that CAD model without having to do any development whatsoever. They do it all in VR. And we’ve been working that through for a year now with a big automotive. One of the big global automotive manufacturers is working out what the right processes for that are, what the right interactions are. We got to the point where we’ve had that sort of validated across three proof of concepts. And so we’re now ready to push that into a proper production mode. And we’re really excited because obviously that’s the big barrier in a way now, it’s “Well, how do I create content as quickly as possible?” And the more content for us as a platform provider that a customer can create, obviously, the more it’s gonna be used. And so that’s great for us. So we’re focusing really hard on those creation tools.

Alan: I think that’s the future of being able to allow customers to build their own content, because it’s great that you guys are able to help every customer now, when we’re in early days, but when every company wakes up to this and realizes the power of saving exponential costs on training — especially in expensive equipment — I think it’s going to be a race to– [chuckles] the problem that’s going to be one of a content shortage. And being able to allow companies to do that themselves is really key in the long term. What is the most important thing businesses can do right now to leverage the power of your platform?

James: I think a big thing they need to do is think about this as a sort of an ongoing program, and sort of move away from that one-off content approach, and just think about employing existing– the latest cool technology sets. It’s really approaching it like they’d approach any business challenge, right? It’s like, what is the challenge? What are you trying to achieve, and what is the strategy or the tactics I need to employ to achieve that? And so I think businesses should look at this as they do with anything else, and take that approach and move away a little bit from “Shiny new technology, let’s go do something fun!” and think about, “Well, how does this make a difference to our business? How do we deploy it? How do we integrate it? How do we measure it?” So it’s really taking that longer term view of implementing the technology, what it’s going to do and what it’s best at doing.

Alan: Is there anything else that you want people to know about Immerse, before we wrap up here? And I’ve got one more question for you. Is there anything else that we missed?

Justin: I don’t think so. I mean, anybody that’s out there that’s looking for a way to scale beyond those kind of smaller proof of concepts has got VR experiences scattered across their organization. That’s the problem that we’re looking to solve, and do that in a way that enables the data to be uniformly in a standardised manner, gathered, collected, and pushed through to those enterprise systems. So, yeah, I mean, we like to think– I think James already mentioned that we’re a bit of a sort of turning point in the market. We’re having that conversation with people now. We were head of the market up until maybe even about nine months ago. But things are changing. And so we know there are people out there with those problems, and we love to see ourselves as a solution to those. So, yeah, I mean, get in touch.

Alan: So my last question to both of you. And they can be separate. What problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies?

James: I’ll go first.

Justin: OK.

James: I think it’s that passing on of knowledge. It’s a bit back to your point earlier, Alan, when you were saying people were retiring, that sort of knowledge drain. So my view is really you can kind of capture that within the use of VR. So if there’s that incredibly skilled trainer who ultimately retires and had a very, very niche ability to do a certain thing and teach a certain thing, well, you can then, in effect, codify that within the sort of VR environment. It’s like it’s the trainer that never retires. It’s keeping that knowledge, and that can even extend right through to incredible artistic skills. Perhaps there’s a certain way of making something, that is literally something that is not being passed on. And you can actually capture that, and you’ll be able to have that for anyone to go and look at at any point and actually reignite the interest in a certain sort of artistic format. So I think it’s preserving skills. And I think that’s probably the biggest sort of legacy I could see this technology bringing to the world at large.

Justin: James has got a good one there.

Alan: I know, it’s kind of hard to top that one. [laughs]

James: You could just say, “I agree with James.”

Justin: I have another one, but mine is a bit more personal, in that I currently travel three to four hours every day. So I live in Oxford, but I travel into London and it’s a nightmare. So I can see a point in the future where that could change entirely. We’re definitely not there yet, but allowing people to work together in a completely seamless way, remotely, so reducing the need for that travel, allowing people to have more flexible working lives, and much better work-life balance would be amazing for me. And obviously alongside that will come the fact that I’ve got a friend, a best friend who lives in Australia, and I’m not very good at talking on the phone or even on Skype. And so the fact that we could sort of meet up and play games together and be in a completely virtual space, and that I could feel I was there with him — as opposed to being there with like an avatar or some sort of cartoon version of him — would be pretty powerful, be a life changer, I think. Yeah, I mean, I think for me, it’s that idea that we can inhabit spaces with people that are in completely different places.

Alan: Yeah, it’s pretty cool and and even spaces that don’t exist. You can make them up. I know of one of the announcements at Facebook’s Oculus Connect 6 was their Horizon platform, which is very similar to VRChat or Altspace or some of these collaboration platforms, but allowing just end users to create virtual worlds. I think we’re going to be pushing towards the Ready Player One world, where you can go into any virtual world, meet up with your friends, and have some fun.

Justin: Yeah, I feel the same as you.

Alan: The stuff you guys are doing with training and assessment, I think, is the practical iterations of this that are going to drive the real long term value of virtual reality. Because if enterprises get onboard and people start to be in virtual spaces for work because they have to, that’s going to trickle down into consumer as well.

Justin: Yeah.

Alan: So with that, I got to reiterate a quote that you guys said, “VR creates the trainer that never retires.”

James: Yeah, it did start off as “the trainer and never dies.” And then we thought that was a bit macabre.

Alan: [laughs]

James: We changed it to “the trainer to never retires.”.

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.

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