Miguel Torres Vargas

Hi Miguel, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, please give us an overview of your background. 

Growing up, we didn’t have a computer at home, but at 10, I was lucky enough to be enrolled in a program called Misión Huascarán at my public school in Peru. The program taught the basics of computers, and we would make robots out of legos. I remember launching Microsoft Word for the first time, and that’s where I met Clippy. I was mesmerized by this character’s animations and friendliness; it would assist me in finding images.

My love for technology continued to grow as I got older. I took a computer class in secondary school that I had the opportunity to attend once a week for an hour. In this class, I learned about programs like Photoshop and Corel Draw, but what I loved most about it was that I got to play video games like Counter-Strike and Half-Life.

After school, I often went to cybercafes to play those games, and that’s where my passion for video games started. As the years went on, my family and friends would come to me for help with their computer issues, and I was happy to act as their IT support.

I knew I wanted to turn my passion for technology into a career. So, I enrolled in a trade school and studied computer science. I learned from Jose Espinosa Landa (the most valuable professional at Microsoft) how to build computers and program and use languages such as PHP, Visual Basic, and C#.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey into the VR industry. 

After graduating from trade school, I knew I wanted to take my programming and building applications skills to the next level. So, I began working as IT support and quickly worked my way up to become an IT manager. But I couldn’t help but wonder what more I could do. That’s when I decided to enroll in university to learn more about computer science. It was there that I discovered my passion for game development. So, I took several classes on the subject. During one of those classes, I met Professor Pablo Figueroa, an exchange professor from The University of Los Andes in Colombia. His research topics were VR and Game Development, and he had been in the field for over ten years. 

As a final project, I created an RPG in 3D called SuddenDir and presented it to Professor Figueroa. He was impressed with my work, and I remember asking him at the end of the presentation if being a VR developer was hard or easy. He smiled and said, “It’s not about the difficulty; it’s about the passion.”

That’s when it hit me, my passion for technology and game development, combined with Professor Figueroa’s encouragement and expertise, inspired me to pursue a career in VR development. In the ever-evolving world of technology, there is always space for creativity and innovation. Now, as a VR developer, I’m living my dream.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while on any project?

As a VR developer, one of the biggest challenges I faced was developing a multiplayer experience. I had to create an experience connecting people from different Peruvian cities. Initially, we struggled to develop a multiplayer experience in VR, as we were only familiar with developing standalone VR experiences. However, we decided to learn a tool called Photon 2, and it was through this tool that we could create a successful multiplayer VR experience. The project aimed to address deficiencies in a specific environment and was designed to ensure that workers were using safety gear, such as helmets and safety jackets, and could read danger signs and exit safely.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

I participated in a hackathon where a team of us developed an AR experience for a marketing company. The AR experience uses geolocation to find virtual objects on a map, and as you move around, ads would appear. I worked on this AR experience with two individuals from Mexico, and we won the hackathon. The company that sponsored the event decided to incubate our project. The opportunity to enter a startup incubator to found our startup with an XR approach, I am very excited for what is to come and everything I will learn.

What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

One of my most significant challenges was developing a VR experience without a VR headset. Access to technology is a hurdle that many, including myself, have faced. Unfortunately, when I started working for BSG Institute, they only had one headset and were unwilling to invest in another one. So, initially, I had to travel across town to the office to access the headset. However, as I learned more about Unity, I discovered that I could use the XR toolkit, allowing me to develop VR experiences without needing a physical headset.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

I envision a future where everyone has access to this technology, where you and I can put on a headset and connect to be in a virtual world, just like today’s internet. When you combine VR and AI, you will see a world where AI can help develop VR experiences and build virtual worlds.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

To me, privacy means that my personal information and data should only be accessible to me. And if I create or develop something, it belongs to me. Ethics refers to the behaviors considered right or wrong, the adherence to these customs, and the acknowledgment of when errors are made.

What advice do you have for people (professionals/ students) looking to enter the XR industry?

If you need to know where to begin, start with YouTube video tutorials. I also recommend looking for technological communities, as it is here where you will learn a lot and have the opportunity to be mentored. There are communities out there that will support you in your journey. And if you want to work in this field, educate yourself and get certified.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

I wouldn’t consider Pablo Figueroa and Jose Espinosa Landa as mentors, but these professors taught me everything I know and inspired me to be who I am today and be a part of the VR industry.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

The future of extended reality is exciting. We are in one of the best times because we have access to artificial intelligence, extended reality, and the technology to run these applications.

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote?

El ayer es historia, el mañana es un misterio, el hoy es un regalo, por eso se llama presente

Find Miguel on LinkedIn

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Dr. Arindam Dey

Hi Arindam, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, please give us an overview of your background?

 I have been a computer science student since the early 2000 and have been attached to academia. My work mainly focuses on users and making extended reality systems that help them in specific ways. I started my Ph.D. in 2009 at the University of South Australia (UniSA) to focus on handheld augmented reality and x-ray visualizations in outdoor locations. I graduated in 2013 and have had multiple postdoctoral positions in the US and Australia. My most unique postdoctoral work was with Prof. Mark Billinghurst between 2016-2018 at UniSA, where I started exploring Empathic Computing. A research area uses implicit physiological cues (measured through wearable sensors) to create better awareness and connection between the user(s) and the system. Around this time, I also started promoting and engaging in “XR 4 Good” research. After my time at UniSA, I started as a Lecturer at the University of Queensland and continued researching empathic computing and extended reality. I still hold an honorary position with the University of Queensland.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey into the VR industry. 

My journey into immersive tech was accidental, and I am glad it happened. From 2007-to 2008, I looked for a Ph.D. position in pervasive computing and human-computer interaction. I approached many academics worldwide (mainly in the US, the UK, and Australia). That is when I was connected to my Ph.D. supervisor Prof. Christian Sandor who is now at the University of Paris-Saclay. He told me that he doesn’t have any project on pervasive computing but has an open position for an augmented reality project. At that time, AR was not as popular as it is now. I read more about it and liked the human-centered approach of the project. That’s how I got started working on AR. I tried VR multiple times during my Ph.D. days. My first research exposure to VR was in my postdoctoral position with Prof. Robert Lindeman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US (Rob now leads HitLab New Zealand in Christchurch) and later with Prof. Billinghurst at the Empathic Computing Lab at UniSA. My work mainly involves VR, but I continue to work on other immersive technologies such as AR.  

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?

After joining UQ, I started this first project with three students (Bowen Yuan, Aaron Goh, and Gaurav Gupta) who had never worked on any VR project before and did not use an EEG device. So, my first challenge was bringing the students up to speed with the technologies and, more importantly, the research project. They were talented and hardworking students who quickly got everything together and executed the task well.

We faced the second challenge of interfacing the EEG device with the VR application, where facial expressions were detected and used for interaction. The students figured out a solution that we discussed in the research article.

Another big challenge was the COVID pandemic, which significantly restricted our lab access and recruited participants for the user study. We had to stop the study after running it with 18 participants.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

One stream of our research measures emotions and cognitive load in real-time and effectively uses this information in VR systems. We are looking into ways to share this information with multiple collaborators to create better awareness between them. Another way of using this information is to adapt the VR interface in real-time based on the user’s emotional and cognitive states.

Another stream of research that we are working on is to measure the feeling of presence in VR in real-time using neurological signals and then use this information to adapt the VR interface to provide a more impactful experience in VR.

We are also developing better interactions and learning interfaces in VR for people with special needs, including autism.

What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

One of the significant challenges that we faced in the early days was the quality of the VR displays being suboptimal for long-term uses. They were bulky, wired, limited field of view, and had lower refresh rates. However, this challenge was overcome with new displays from major companies such as Oculus (Meta) Quest and HTC Vive. Currently, displays are widely used by the general public, aka end-users. With these better displays, graphics cards, and computational power of the computers, we can now create very compelling VR experiences.

Another major challenge we faced that is somewhat related to the earlier challenge I mentioned is to let people use VR for a long time to collect data. Due to the bulkiness of the displays and lower quality, we had to use shorter experiences. However, that problem is reasonably addressed with these better displays, at least for the research-related applications.

For our area of research, the major challenge is that we need to use multiple wearable sensors such as eye trackers, heart rate (ECG), Electrodermal activities (EDA), and Electroencephalography (EEG) to collect data and create VR experiences. We must fit the user/participant with these sensors separately and calibrate them. However, new displays are coming to the market with some of these sensors integrated, such as HP Omnicept.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

I believe VR (and AR) have a great future ahead. Currently, VR systems are designed and developed for neurologically and physically typical users. My vision is to create VR interfaces that everyone can use and enjoy, including neurodivergent and physically challenged community members. Our research aims to develop adaptive VR interfaces that cater to users’ emotional and cognitive needs. We are also working on designing interactions for physically challenged users.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

My main concern with the VR industry is that we design most VR applications with a one-size-fits-all approach. That needs to change; every user has different emotional, cognitive, and physical abilities. By creating VR interfaces that can monitor the physiological states of the user and adapt to the user’s needs in real-time, we can make VR interfaces more accessible, helpful, and enjoyable to every user. A move in that direction at the commercial level is slowly starting.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

Privacy and ethics are fundamental aspects to consider when designing an interface connected to the internet; this is not exclusive to VR. Companies need to be very transparent and careful in using the data they collect from users. At the same time, the users need to be aware and cautious in what kind of data they share with the applications (companies) they use.

What advice do you have for people (professionals/ students) looking to enter the XR industry?

Well, I think they should be willing to understand the users and design XR interfaces for the users that will create better user experiences. For a long time, the XR industry has focused on engineering challenges, resulting in current high-quality devices. We are at a stage where these technologies can be widely available to the end-user. We need to focus on the end-user and consider how to serve users with XR technologies better; while doing that, they need to consider a wide variety of users worldwide because XR adoption will increase rapidly.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

The most important person in my career is Prof. Mark Billinghurst. I am fortunate to have him as a mentor and close colleague.

Mark has a wealth of knowledge in XR and HCI (human-computer interaction) that he shares openly and actively with the community. He has won multiple awards and is among the world’s most successful researchers in XR. Having had an opportunity to work closely with him for several years, I have learned (and I continue to learn) a lot from him, not just about XR research but also about leadership, humility, and being a nice human being. He has been accommodating in several ways in my life with his mentorship and constructive feedback. I am grateful for his contributions to my career.

My first interaction with Mark was in 2015 when I was a postdoc at WPI in the US. We collaborated on a review article on AR usability studies. Of course, I knew of him earlier but never had any interaction. Since that collaboration, I have been working directly with him as a part of his research team at the Empathic Computing Lab (at UniSA).

Anything else you’d like to add? 

I think the VR/AR industry (currently dubbed the Metaverse) has an exciting future ahead with more business and academic opportunities. With the rise in the adoption of these technologies, we will see more active interests in making them more inclusive, accessible, and safe (both physically and psychologically).

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
I have two favorite quotes :

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” By Alan Kay
I like this quote a lot as a researcher. It motivates me to push my boundaries.

“Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.” By Robert Baden-Powell
This quote is what I believe in as a human being.

Find Arindam on LinkedIn or his Personal Website

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Aviv Elor

Hi Aviv, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background? 

Sure thing! I’m a researcher and PhD candidate from University of California, Santa Cruz exploring Extended Reality and Assistive Technologies. My primary work explores how immersive virtual reality, affective computing, and wearable technology can help people better get into flow during physical rehabilitation and exercise. I aim to augment assistive technologies through gamification by creating interactive experiences that are both physically and emotionally intelligent in assisting users with and without disabilities. 

I’ve had a journey of varying experiences such as optimizing autonomous drones with NASA Researchers, working security for Super Bowl 50, creating efficient traffic management systems during sleep deprived hackathons, assembling high voltage electric car circuits while burning my fingers soldering, coaching K-8 judo + wrestling, fiddling around with robotic exosuits (+ building robotic doggos), and investigating interactive virtual environments while working with Warner Bros Entertainment, Walt Disney Imagineering, Google Daydream, the National Institutes of Health, and Facebook Reality Labs. Oh, and I have two fluffy kitties named Amy and Jack.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey to getting into the VR industry. 

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my career going through college, but knew I wanted to do something with technology as I loved video games and digital media growing up as a child (spent way too much time on Minecraft, Mass Effect, and Bioshock back in the 2010s). Because of this, I tried to do everything when I entered college (resulting in the wacky journey from my background). 

I was inspired to get into immersive tech after completely rupturing my right tricep ligament in a judo competition and undergoing reconstructive surgery. After a couple months of physical rehabilitation, Oculus and HTC Vive started releasing more affordable consumer headsets — eventually I tried one out at a friend’s place and was immediately hooked on how engaging the virtual experiences were (and how I started exercising my elbow while being distracted from my usual discomfort). 

During this time, I was invited to become an undergraduate researcher at the UC Santa Cruz ASSIST Labs to explore how games could assist in stroke rehabilitation. I immediately became determined to explore how VR could be utilized to assist stroke survivors with exercise games! Over the next year, I had the privilege to work with many passionate therapists, stroke survivors, and disability learning centers to co-design a new type of exercise game for Constraint Induced Movement Therapy. This led to the development of Project Star Catcher, where we found VR exergames could improve therapy adherence by over 40% between hemiparetic limbs! 

Since then I’ve been continuing to research immersive technologies, exercise games, and artificial intelligence tools around VR for healthcare!

What were some of your biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?

Many! It’s always hard to juggle time, collaboration, and funding as there’s only 24 hours in a single day — especially when you’re a student, researcher, and co-founder. When completing my engineering bachelor’s degree in 3 years while balancing research, I ended up gaining 40 lbs of weight as I would use sweets to stay up all night while working. As a graduate student, I’ve learned that daily exercise, ensuring you spend time with your loved ones, and taking a step back from work when needed can lead to far more productive and passionate research.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

More recently, I’ve co-founded Immergo LLC. With support from the National Science Foundation, we’re researching new XR tools to help physical and occupational therapists with remote physical rehabilitation. I’m also wrapping up my PhD dissertation this fall on the design and evaluation of VR exergames for physical therapy (here’s a high-level sneak peak for anyone interested). 

What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

From an industry perspective, I have never been formally trained in many of the positions I’ve held (electrical engineer, tech prototyper, creative simulation developer, and user experience researcher). A lot of these opportunities arose from self-learning development and research skills around virtual reality as a student and taking a leap of faith into an unfamiliar industry position. At first, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome and negated my work-life balance to try to compensate for my insecurities. Overtime, I found that approaching these new challenges, especially those outside of your comfort zone, can be incredibly exciting from a learning, growth, and collaboration perspective! Now when facing the unknown from many development areas of XR, I’m always excited to learn and advance my skill set even if things don’t always work out. I believe the common phrase is: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

Definitely beyond gaming. VR is powerful, it lets us defy reality and create most any experience. If we can create any world, any reality, then what worlds can best help people with their needs? I think VR could grow and mesh with the physical world in so many ways: increasing access to healthcare, redefining the future of education, pushing the boundaries of art, and so much more. The ability to be co-present and immersed all through a pair of goggles has so many design opportunities. 

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

Regardless of where we go with VR, I think it’s critical that we ensure our stakeholders are directly involved in the design process. If VR grows, and begins to offer significant advantages, co-designing is critical to ensure that no one who wants VR will be left behind. Today, most VR experiences aren’t truly accessible. For people with motor disabilities, alternative controllers aren’t often supported. For people with low hearing or vision, captions and display customization aren’t a standard for most VR experiences. For VR to truly make an impact (and one that is equitable) we need to ensure that these communities are heard and supported at the beginning of the XR design process.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

Many affordable VR business models today are centered around capturing user data. VR headsets are becoming increasingly better at capturing that data: adding additional cameras to improve tracking, employing algorithms that track the physical world around us for safety and convenience, and are beginning to even incorporate face/eye tracking to improve our social-emotional interaction. To me, I believe it is absolutely critical that VR providers are transparent (and understandable) about how this data is being used. For example, why is this data being collected, who has access to it, and where is it being stored. Additionally, users should have the choice to opt-out of this data tracking in the freemium model with alternative options (e.g. pay a subscription fee to remove advertisement access). From an ethics perspective, it’s not as simple as saying “don’t do any evil.” Most individuals are not ethicists, and everyone has their own assumptions and biases. Again this is why it is critical to involve your stakeholders, people, directly in the design process, especially in ensuring that your XR experience is ethical and truly utilizes acceptable privacy practices. 

What advice do you have for people (professionals/ students) looking to enter the XR industry?

As someone who is self-taught in XR (Unity, Unreal, User Experience), don’t be afraid to jump in. As long as you find your passion and approach XR with a growth mindset, I believe anyone can enter the XR industry. I’d recommend reaching out and grabbing (virtual) coffee with others in the XR industry to learn about their career journeys. Or even join hackathons and online tutorials/classes (even if you’ve never programmed in your life). 

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them? 

To my family, it is their love and support that drives me forward. To my friends and colleagues, it is their engagement and energy that keeps me running. To my advisors and mentors, it is their encouragement, patience, and guidance that has helped me find my way. I simply couldn’t have done it without them. They have forever changed my life, and I will always be grateful.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Happy to chat about life, the universe, or anything else! I welcome new opportunities as well as collaborations and invite those interested to reach out to me.

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you? 

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

***

Find Aviv on LinkedInTwitter and learn more about his company, Immergo Labs

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Ana Ribeiro

Hi Ana! Thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?

Growing up, I had three brothers, so video games have always been a part of my life. My journey to working in the gaming industry took a bit longer. After attaining a degree in psychology, I went on to work in the divorce arena at the Justice Court, but, as a creative person, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My mother’s family is filled with artists, and I think I got my artistic side from her.

In addition to gaming, I grew up drawing, creating, and, since a big side of me is an entrepreneur, selling stuff. When I was five, I would draw really ugly drawings and sell them for 10 cents at my mother’s job. I would then take the money and buy whatever I wanted.

Later on, I would bring pies into the Justice Court. Eventually, my colleagues began to buy my creations, then the office nearby started to buy them, and before I knew it, I was selling them to the whole corridor. In six months, I had created a pie business, selling thousands of baked goods and contracting people to help me cook. Friends and customers started asking me, “why don’t you open a shop?” So, in 2009, I applied for a one-week startup course. As I took the course, I realized that I was in the wrong business.

The course instructor asked me a question: where did I want my business to be in 5, 10, and 15 years? After that, he said, “Okay. Forget about your business. Forget that you have a career, expertise, and even your family and friends, and imagine you are born today. Where do you want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years?” I had never allowed myself to ask what I wanted to be and what I wanted with my life. Every time I made a decision, I was thinking about my degree, my limited options, and my pie business. The result? I didn’t see all the opportunities I had in life or the big picture.

I realized that I’d been playing video games my whole life when I could be making games. So, I threw it all away, and I started my life. You can listen to my TED Talk about this life-changing question here.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey to getting into the VR industry.

It was love at first sight. In 2013, my colleague at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) had an Oculus Rift DK1 headset because he was doing a VR project (lucky me). After I tried it, we talked, and he told me where to buy my own headset, which I did that year. After that, during every school project, I only thought about VR. For my final project, I wanted to do something that wouldn’t be possible without VR.

Then, I had an intense dream about a game. I dreamt that I was playing a game with Atari graphics on the living room TV. As the game began to evolve, the whole living room pixelated along with the TV. At some point, the game got so good, and the graphics evolved so much that the whole world became realistic. This dream inspired me: what if I made a game that shows the evolution of video game history? And thus, Pixel Ripped was born.

Huge congratulations on being recognized as one of the best VR games in 2020. Can you tell us a bit about the experience and your motivation for creating it?

My biggest motivation was recreating my childhood. Here in Brazil, we didn’t have Nintendo until the mid-80s because of the government, so I grew up playing old games.

As for the game creation experience, the great thing about NFTS was that I got to work with other students with master’s degrees. People already working in the industry making film and animation were there. I had the opportunity to work with a producer, sound designer, composer, writer, and more. However, when it came to voice acting, programming, and making art assets, I had to do it myself.

If I hadn’t gone to NFTS, I would have never made Pixel Ripped. My course coordinator was always asking me, “are you pushing boundaries? Are you making something different, something new that no one’s ever done?” I was really lucky to have all these people. I learned how to pitch, inspire others, and describe my idea to someone else. I trained to be a director, which is what I mostly do today. Now, Pixel Ripped has a publisher and a bigger team.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?

There were so many! Every project has hard times, the usual culprit being funding. But for a person who likes to do it all, it was tough to move from a student project where I was doing practically everything to a director role for a business project.

I enjoy doing art, but you can’t make bigger and better games if you don’t let other professionals do the work. When I started to see the results of what we were doing together compared to what I was doing alone, I became much more trusting. Now, I have personal projects on the side, like game jams and other activities, that I work on when I feel the urge to create. It’s good to have that for yourself as an artist.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

The company is taking somewhat of a break from Pixel Ripped for about six months, but we are working on an internal VR collaboration tool, and we’ve been doing game jams. I’m taking time to rest my mind with other projects and different games before going back into Pixel Ripped. I also want to work on my YouTube channel and create videos about building stuff on various social VR platforms.

What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

Staying up-to-date is a big challenge. When I started developing Pixel Ripped, head and hand tracking didn’t exist. Then controllers began to arrive, and Unity changed. Big changes would break the game.

Everyone is adapting themselves to the industry, which is growing all the time. It’s both the best and worst problem to have.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

Today, I feel that we as an industry are five years ahead. I’m in Brazil, working in VR and using VR to meet friends and go to events. Everyone has a VR headset at our company. We wouldn’t be where we are right now if the pandemic wasn’t happening.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

Heavy hardware that makes you feel like you’re walking isn’t something I would invest my time or money in since VR locomotion sickness isn’t really an issue anymore. I think that’s the only area that isn’t going to go forward. I believe using software as a solution is a better idea.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics? 

I feel that, unfortunately, we don’t have privacy in VR, and it’s going to get worse. Nowadays, our phones have cameras, and they see everything. With VR, companies can get so much more. For example, I don’t feel comfortable being naked in my headset. Companies are tracking your position in your house, and there’s a lot of data there.

What advice do you have for people looking to enter the XR industry?

Developers: try to create something that you’re passionate about. I believe that when you’re passionate, you will be more out of the box and go farther than if you didn’t have a connection to the project. Choose something that you’re passionate about because the VR industry is always changing.

To build something in Unity, you have to learn a lot to get to the point where you’re making VR. But if you want to learn the fundamentals quickly, I suggest going to Rec Room or AltSpace. Rec Room is available, and the code there is much easier. After learning the fundamentals, you can then take the hardcore step towards using the Unity engine.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

My mother was a big mentor in my life. John Weinberg, my director, and another great mentor, helped me make Pixel Ripped because he pushed me when I was writing down ideas for my final NFTS project.

I had other ideas, but because John really pushed me, I didn’t give up, and I eventually came up with Pixel Ripped. He would ask, “how is this innovative?” Because if it was something that had already been done, and it’s not innovating, what’s the point? Every time I create something, I still remember his teachings, and that helps me motivate myself to make things that are different than the ones done before.

Anything else you’d like to add?

VR is helping us survive the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the safest place I have right now to see my friends, and for that, I’m grateful.

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

I love that quote from Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” I feel like that’s the future: we don’t need screens where we’re going.

***

Find Ana on LinkedInTwitter and learn more about her company, Pixel Ripped, Inc.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Cix Liv

Hi Cix, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?

Well, my father sold various different hardware to the government, so I grew up around technology, but I wasn’t really taught in any formal capacity. I built desktops in high school and worked with hardware. In fact, my initial entry point into entrepreneurship was selling computer hardware.

I started in India, and then I made it out to Silicon Valley. One of the things that brought me here was actually this crazy story that I read in TechCrunch about an application that raised over a million dollars, and the only thing the application did was send a push notification to someone saying, “Yo.”

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the VR industry.

When I came to San Francisco, I was trying to figure out who I was as a person. I was self-taught, but I didn’t have the background that would get me a job at companies like Google. I was living in a community house with 50 other people with very different values. What initially brought me into immersive technology, however, was my purchase of the Oculus Rift DK2.

After working as an I.T. engineer for some time, I understood the entrepreneur background and what it’s like to be in a company that’s VC backed. But I wanted to understand a vertical that was in an emerging space. I was eventually accepted into a coworking space, which was an entry point for me into immersive technology as a career.

Everybody was a mobile developer, but no one really understood PC. I thought I was working in an antiquated space, but PC was needed to power virtual reality. I began building virtual reality computers.

Since then, I co-founded virtual reality companies LIV and YUR. YUR, one of my most recent projects, was created as a way to quantify VR fitness metrics for people who didn’t really understand fitness in general.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

At this point, I’m working on something VR related, but I plan to keep it under wraps for a while.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

It’s sad, but the reality is the ones who have the most money win.

As startups and founders in many of these consumer-driven VC backed startups, entrepreneurs are demonstrating that they can take on a significant amount of capital and build a monopoly. Facebook is doing exactly that; they’re trying to completely monopolize our space before any other large organization takes it seriously.

What were some of the largest challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

Working with Facebook was one of my biggest challenges.

After filing a patent and releasing the YUR application, we met with Facebook at the Oculus Connect 6 conference and exchanged emails in the interest of working together. We shared what we were working on, and after a while, they ghosted us. It turns out, Facebook had started copying our products. YUR was blocked from the Oculus store, had begun to break due to Facebook updates, and they even tried to poach my CTO. Now, keep in mind, this is also during 2020. We were already stressed out. Then, at Facebook Connect this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced Oculus Move, which does the exact same thing as YUR, and it looks exactly the same as well.I almost gave up at that point. But as time went on, I began to recover and tried to keep the company stable. After this somewhat traumatic experience, I reached out to various developers, trying to understand what was going on in our space. It was reassuring to learn that there were so many others like me. Unfortunately, I had to step down as CEO to speak out against Facebook.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

I have two thoughts: the idea that people don’t care about privacy only goes so far, and people don’t understand when they’re being manipulated. Now because of how nuanced advertisements have become, we live in a world where we don’t even know when an ad is an ad.

So, the issue with privacy is not necessarily the privacy between you and me as an individual, but how we can be manipulated into believing things that are completely incorrect because we don’t even know what an ad is anymore. We need to have a conversation about how we moderate these platforms that, unfortunately, would involve some form of government or democratic oversight to try to understand how we can control the flow of misinformation to some degree.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

At a certain point, we are going to put more value into our virtual embodiments than we do in our own physical selves. In fact, we’re already doing that. Do you care more about how many friends you have in your one-mile radius or how many Instagram followers you attain?

Advancements in augmented reality are more logical in the near future of VR because we’re still grounded to some degree.

Finally, virtual reality fitness is going to be one of the biggest use cases ever. Why? Because fitness is boring for the average person. If you could go into virtual reality and all of a sudden, movement is now an expression of self that is much more exciting and tantalizing, then you can get people to exercise who otherwise wouldn’t.

What advice do you have for people looking to enter the XR industry?

Build a game and a community around that game. And when competitors enter the space, which there eventually will be (there isn’t right now, at least on the consumer side), really support those competitors.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

The first person to take me seriously as an entrepreneur was a woman named Anna Barber, the former managing director of Techstars Los Angeles. She’s been one of the most prominent people in my life to support me from the early stages as an entrepreneur. She’s given me real talks several times, and she taught me when you’re going to pitch something or say something in an entrepreneurship capacity, to talk about the goal of what you’re accomplishing versus getting so caught up in the product and the technology.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One of the most difficult parts of startup life is not only knowing when to start something but also when to walk away. The truth is, in life, in the startup world, in relationships, and in places you live: oftentimes, it’s really easy to start. One of the hardest things in life is knowing when to let go.

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

Dylan Thomas, a famous poet, once wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light;” it’s a line from his poem Do not go gentle into that good night.

I think it touches on how easy it is to give up and accept life the way it is. You’ll have opportunities in your life where you can be brave, and money will come in various different ways. But if you can’t be brave in those moments, you aren’t a brave person, and you don’t deserve success.

***

Find Cix on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Okoro Onyekachi Emmanuel

Hi Onyekachi, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?

I am a 37-year-old documentary and mainstream filmmaker, Network Professional, Participatory Program developer, and campaigner who has been working with local communities in rural and urban Nigeria. Over my 10-year career, I have trained over 500 people from rural and urban communities to use low-cost innovative ICT tools to produce community-oriented audio-visual content and data which focuses on building capacity, creating awareness, improving advocacy, and sustaining nonviolent interactions. I can function effectively in a team, and I am proficient in the use and management of MS Windows operating systems, Macintosh Operating systems, data collecting tools, statistical analysis, and identifying project outcomes and indicators. I am also proficient in the use of Final cut Pro X Editing suites and GIS online mapping tools.

What is the landscape like for VR content creators in Nigeria?

The VR landscape in Nigeria is relatively untapped and underused. At first glance, it is primarily used for entertainment (cinema) in Nigeria, and even that is not common. In the developmental sector, NGOs and CSOs have barely scratched the surface of the true potential of VR for human rights campaigning and advocacy.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the VR industry.

I have been working with video for close to 10 years now. I was inspired to go into VR when I was approached by Al Jazeera to be part of the film crew for the development of the VR video “Oil in Our Creeks.” The VR potential I was exposed to got me thinking, particularly about trying to use it to further increase community voice, advocacy, and campaigns for a better, more inclusive society.

You’ve been training students on how to make VR, can you tell us a bit more about that?

We have been training young people living in slum communities in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. This training look to stir up innovations and ideas from these young people on the many ways they can use VR, such as developing market-ready tools for their economic empowerment and protecting their homes from forced eviction by the state government. The trainees are very enthusiastic and come together periodically to share ideas on possible projects to engage in.

What projects are you currently working on?

We look forward to developing videos on the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the informal sector and slum communities in Port Harcourt. We, however, have not been able to progress on this production due to the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown and the subsequent economic effects on not-for-profit organizations such as our Media Awareness and Justice Initiative.

What advice do you have for people interested in breaking into the VR industry?

My advice is simple: “think like there is no box.”

The VR industry creates great opportunities for programmers, filmmakers, and development workers to engage with their audience in a more realistic and engaging way. However, it is important that they look at video viewing options to ensure that their video reaches out to more people, considering the ‘not so widespread’ use of VR viewing tech in Nigeria.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

The VR industry needs to create simple tools that can be used by people in rural and urban communities. The funds needed to buy VR cameras, editing tools, and viewing headsets makes them difficult to be used by people from poor backgrounds and homes. This expensive baseline makes it a bit unattractive to the rural and urban poor, thereby resulting in its low use ratio in Nigeria.

What were some of the largest challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?

The major challenge we face as an organization is a high cost of purchasing needed equipment for the development of VR videos. The price of a Nokia OZO is within the region of $5,000, which, coupled with the cost of a VR stitching and editing machine, makes it a real challenge. We also need funds to pay running costs to ensure that we are able to continue to engage and train young people.

As an organization, we try to use available tools such as the Samsung 360 camera and our computers to give young people a feel of what it is like to work and edit VR content. We know this is grossly inadequate, but we are trying to use our scarce resources to the best of our ability.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

My vision is to see the use of VR in the development of key areas such as the communication, advocacy, and campaign sectors. For example, using VR tools for educational purposes, awareness creation, and business development. I also look forward to a future where VR tools are cheaper and more available to poor and marginalized groups. This will exponentially open up the technology to more innovative use.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

My most important mentor has been the late Mr. Patrick Naagbanton. He had the opportunity to be a very wealthy man, yet he chose to work for the poor. His passion to use available resources to protect and campaign for people’s rights and inclusive development has continually been a source of inspiration to me. After my training in computer science at the University of Port Harcourt, I was at a crossroads. What was I going to do with myself? He approached me and asked me if I would like to start using my love for visuals to work for marginalized groups and communities. The sound of that was a bit odd, as it took me away from the programming component. However, I gave it a try, and I have been doing it ever since.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I developed the Media Awareness and Justice Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organization that builds the capacity of young people to use innovative technologies for empowerment, development, and increasing community voice of marginalized groups and communities. Since we set up the project, we’ve trained over 400 people. Some students have moved, been able to go abroad to learn, and then come back and employ their new skills. Even while working for profit, they’re also giving back to society. We are currently working with about 120 young people pulled from 30 communities across Rivers State, Nigeria. We hope that this will provide us with potential partners that will be able to supply us with equipment or fiscal support to ensure that we are able to use VR to impact Nigeria in a positive way. We are primarily dependent on donor support.

Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

If you have decided to do something, then it is imperative that you do that thing to the best of your ability. Who knows what positive effects will come out of it to change the world for the better?

***

Find Kachi on LinkedIn and learn more about his company Media Awareness and Justice Initiative on Facebook or Twitter.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Ricardo Laganaro

Hi Ricardo! Thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you give us an overview of your background?

I started working with filmmaking in 2001 in Brazil, doing stop motion animation. Computer Graphics was a new industry in the country and the place where I was working at the time, and the transition had just begun from analog to digital cinema. I was born in a generation that had an analog childhood, but digital adolescence so it was kind of natural for me to bridge the gap between different times and technologies. Soon after beginning my filmmaking career, I started directing music videos and became a VFX supervisor. Later, I became a director at O2 Films, the company that made the film “City of God” among other great pieces, and from that point, I started directing projects for new formats, such as the full-dome at the entrance of Museum of Tomorrow, (created for Rio 2016). This eventually led me to creating work in virtual reality.

What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the XR industry.

I was always in the middle of established technologies and the next generation ones. So it was natural for me to look at new technologies and try to figure out what I could learn from them to become a better storyteller. When I used a VR headset for the first time in 2013, it was experienced as a magical and perfect previsualization tool for the 360º fulldome piece I was creating at the time. At the end of 2014, after one year of using VR every day for this purpose, I realized that I could create pieces that would use VR as the final output.

Huge congratulations on winning the Venice Film Festival with your project The Line. Can you tell us a bit about the experience and your motivation for creating it?

Sure! “The Line” is a 15 minute interactive embodied narrative about love and the fear of change. Set upon a scale-model of 1940s São Paulo, this 6DOF interactive experience invites us to the world of Pedro and Rosa, two miniature dolls who are perfect for each other, but hesitant to live out their love story.

At ARVORE Immersive Experience (the studio that produced The Line) there were three main premises for this project:

1) It had to be a story that only would work in VR.

2) The user’s body should replace controllers.

3) It had to be a mainstream gateway to VR. We knew that if we could achieve these goals, we would create something truly innovative.

What were some of your biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?

We are still learning not only the storytelling language and technical challenges for virtual reality but also how to produce it as we go. So working with a multidisciplinary team, with completely different backgrounds, both professionally and personally, it was our main strength but also very challenging. Mainly at the beginning of the project when we didn’t even have a formed idea of what would be the experience. We had to learn, all together, how to feel comfortable in not knowing exactly what we wanted to do until the project took shape.

You are one of the first experiences to effectively use hand-tracking on the Quest. What challenges and opportunities do you think this input method provides over regular Quest controllers?

This feature was a blessing for us since we had always wanted to replace controllers with the body of the user. Even before the hand-tracking was possible, we designed all the interactions to be similar to how they would feel in the physical world. Joysticks are awesome for more traditional games, but for experiences that are made for non-gaming users, it’s way better just to tell them “use your hands as you would do in the real world. Our main challenge was beginning to develop this feature before it was launched globally. We had to teach the computer how humans move their hands. This was only possible because we performed a lot of user testing to iterate and develop the correct interactions.

What are you working on right now?

Rest! After almost two years completely focused on this piece, I really need a break. But at ARVORE, my development company, we are finishing a new VR game called YUKI, directed by Kako (the production designer of The Line). It’s a bullet-hell in VR, that happens inside the imagination of a teenage girl that loves anime. As in “The Line,” you also have to move your body around to progress through the experience. I can tell you that it’s quite funny!

Courtesy of ARVORE Immersive Experiences

What do you believe are most important considerations for making VR experiences accessible and inclusive for diverse audiences?

It’s important to always think about the body of the user. This is something that never crossed my mind while working in regular 2D movies. For “The Line,” we invested a great amount of time creating a seated option for home use that would create a sense of moving through space, even if the user was seated. I can tell you that seeing people with all kinds of bodies being able to enjoy our piece is one of the aspects of the experience that make me most happy and proud.

Another tip: make sure to develop experiences that can easily be localized in other languages (subtitles, UI, and audio) If you wait to have an opportunity to translate your piece, it will become much harder and more expensive to do so (and sometimes even completely unfeasible).

What advice do you have for people interested in breaking into the XR industry?

Get comfortable not knowing how to do things! Breathe, discuss your challenges with people of different backgrounds, and become accustomed to learning together as you develop solutions.

What were some of the largest challenges you faced while working in the XR industry? How did you overcome them?

When I started in 2013, we didn’t have any proper software (and even hardware, to be honest) to work with when developing immersive experiences! Then, the production industry began to create better devices and tools, but we still did not have the tools to properly publish or distribute or even show our experiences. Now we have these resources, but the install base is still small. Luckily all these challenges are being overcome quite fast. Immersion is a six-year year old industry and the ecosystem is very impressive already, with many big players in all different industries. The Oculus Quest was a game-changer, addressing almost all of these challenges, proving that our vision wasn’t wrong. To overcome all of these challenges took a combination of a little bit of stubbornness and a lot of reality checks. We knew all along that our big picture vision about VR wasn’t wrong: it is the future of entertainment (and computing). We definitely had to make a lot of adjustments in our approach, trying to figure out what was working and wasn’t and we made many adaptations to our experiences to make things right. And honestly, we are still doing this and continue to do it on a daily basis.

What parts of the XR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

Being in Brazil, it’s pretty clear to me that the industry is still limited to certain countries in terms of adoption and access. For instance, Oculus, HTC, and other big companies still don’t sell headsets in South America, a lot of countries in Africa, and many other important areas. If this industry plans to become the next computer platform, we must make both the hardware and software more accessible to everyone, as soon as possible. We also need to make headsets smaller, lighter, and cheaper. However, I think this is something that will happen naturally now that the ecosystem is becoming more mature.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

There have been many important mentors in my life. The first would be Fernando Meirelles, the director of “City of God”. I worked directly with him as a VFX supervisor and as a beginning director for seven years. The first thing I learned from him was not to be afraid of trying new things. What impressed me the most about him was all the work he did for the opening ceremony at the Olympics in Rio. The second thing about him that impressed me was that his projects were respected abroad. In our country, we have what we call “underdog syndrome,” which makes a lot of people feel that we would never be able to compete with other, more developed countries (besides in soccer). Another influential mentor of mine is Cesar Charlone, the photographer of “City of God” and the person with the most artistic soul with whom I’ve ever worked. Even being an Oscar Nominee in a very technical role, he always taught me how to focus on building the emotions of the viewer. One day, on the set, they were shooting a very emotional moment. Someone looked at the video monitor and told him “Hey, there is a weird shadow on the top right corner of the frame.” Cesar took his eye from the viewfinder and answered: “If the viewer is paying attention to this small shadow in this exact moment of the movie, we have a much bigger problem, my friend”.

Lastly, I must mention my father. He always told me: “You are not better than anyone. But also not worse. Always aim high.”

What was it like to win an Emmy and what advice would you give others who wish to achieve such success one day?

It was surreal! Especially so because we were still in quarantine in Brazil. I was cooking in advance for the next week and had to turn off the cooker to scream and jump alone at home, celebrating with my business partners via Zoom. The advice I would give others who wish to achieve this is to be very careful with the regulations (it seems complicated, but it is worth paying due attention to it) since the submission. Try to learn as much as possible with the previous winners and submission. You can figure out a lot of small insights by looking at previous projects and categories. Lastly, don’t do it alone. Have always someone to check and recheck everything you submit.

Did you find the Emmy submission process supportive of diverse voices? If so, how? If not, any ideas how it could be improved?

We didn’t have any experience with the Emmy’s before this project, and we were able to win the award. I don’t know if they have any special focus on foreigners and outsiders or it is something natural for the Academy, but I can say that every time we asked questions or needed help understanding the process, they were very responsive and supportive.

Are you currently hiring, and if so, what roles are you looking to fill? What’s the best way for candidates to reach you?

We are not hiring right now, but we are creating a bank of candidates . If you are interested, please contact us with your portfolio and/or resume via this form.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

My favorite quote is from a Brazilian writer named Ferreira Gullar: “Art exists because life is not enough.” I prefer not to explain this. The quote itself is pretty self-explanatory, but remains open for everyone to understand in their own unique way.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Immersion offers the first big revolution that exists at the intersection of technology, art, and communication, beginning at the same time, for everyone in the world. It offers such a unique opportunity to create a new medium with more diverse voices, backgrounds, and stories. Let’s enjoy it as much as possible and carefully create new standards for this new industry that help protect and strength all of this diversity.

And, lastly, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts!

***

Find Ricardo on LinkedIn and learn more about his company ARVORE and the project THE LINE on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Nanea Reeves

Hi Nanea! Thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you give us an overview of your background?

I’ve always been a technical person. Even as a kid, my idea of a good time was taking apart the TV and putting it back together, much to the chagrin of my parents. I’m part of the first generation of people who grew up playing video games. For me, it was an escape, and I think it was especially important as a young female to be able to see myself as a hero, and a maker, and a builder. It was an organic interest that evolved into a fascination with technology. At the time, everybody wanted to play LAN games, and people were building their own computers because it was cheaper to buy the components and put them together. I’ve always been an advocate of encouraging young girls to play video games because I do feel like it’s a gateway to STEM-related interests, and ultimately, careers.

When I was young and living in Los Angeles, I was an actor (sometimes), doing commercials. In the very early days of the web, I was also making money as a creative person doing graphic design using Photoshop and Quark. When the web came out, I started hand-coding a lot of websites; HTML and even CGI programming. I found that it got me into a kind of flow state.

Today, you can build a website very easily, but back then, you could make a good amount of money doing work for the Hollywood studios. I found myself working at a company, Venu Interactive, that did web development, and we did some really cool projects. That was when I started to meet a lot of the LA tech community, which was starting to build in the mid to late nineties. Venu Interactive was acquired by an incubator called eCompanies, and that’s when my career really took off. I found myself with this really cool job prototyping startup ideas. That’s how I ended up at a company called JAMDAT Mobile, which became one of the first big mobile game breakout hits, and I ended up running technology at that company, which was ultimately acquired by Electronic Arts.

What has it been like to work in the gaming industry and how it has changed over the years?

I stayed at Electronic Arts for five years after they acquired JAMDAT Mobile, and I was in charge of the online central services, which was a big initiative. Our team delivered a lot of the infrastructure for the digital transition for the company, driving the change from a packaged goods company to having online services — whether it was multiplayer, in-game transactions, being able to take digital items from one game to another, the global identity, and what ultimately became the foundation for their Origin service. I loved working at Electronic Arts; it was a really great journey and was something I felt passionate about. They had some of the best games in the world, and it was there that I felt this real love for the game industry emerge from me.

After I left EA, I went to a company called Gaikai, which was a cloud gaming company, one of the very first, and run by Dave Perry, who did Earthworm Jim. That company ended up getting acquired by Sony PlayStation and became part of the game streaming service called PlayStation Now. A core group of that team, including Brendan Iribe, went to start Oculus with Palmer Luckey. I made a very small investment in their startup because I believed in Brendan and wanted to support that journey.

I remember when my late husband, Vic, and Zack Norman, who was the co-founder of TRIPP with me, and my cousin Keanu Reeves, the actor, all went down with me to try a very early version of the Oculus. It was the Crescent Bay demo, and I was blown away. It made me realize that the immersion of VR is the inherent property. That is where to really lean into from an innovation standpoint. It’s less about trying to take 2D experiences and make them happen in 3D. It’s, “how can we use that property of immersion in ways that you can’t do with other mediums?”

Please tell us more about TRIPP. What is your current focus on the project?

The idea for TRIPP started to evolve from a visit Zack and I had with another developer, Andreja Djokovic, who was our founding CTO. We made a solitaire game just to experiment with VR, but I had always wanted to do meditation. Originally, I thought, “could we do a digital psychedelic and trigger transformative states?” That’s what led us to come up with the idea of using the name TRIPP. We started to ask ourselves, “can we use VR to hack the way that you feel?” It’s much more than mindfulness in VR and way more effective than just listening to an audio file. Spatial audio is what we’re starting to experiment with in the next iteration of our product.

We want to create environments that you don’t have a real-world frame of reference for so that you can immediately trigger a feeling of awe. We’re already doing this and will continue to evolve it in a more expansive way, especially as devices get better. There’s a wonderful scientist out of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart Milan, Giuseppe Riva, who has a validated scale for measuring awe. I’d like to create an experience with that scale as the foundation for our design.

Another concept we’re exploring is becoming more like Netflix, but around transformative experiences. In other words, a distribution channel for people who make amazing content: beneficial experiences, content that tries to shift someone’s perception, or deepen the connection to themselves. We’re working with wonderful developers to co-create experiences, and that’s been a main avenue for our catalog expansion.

We also have five clinical trials happening right now, including trials in addiction recovery, anxiety reduction, and another in depression during cancer treatment.

You’ve done a great job on fundraising with TRIPP with one of the largest seed rounds in the VR industry. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with this process, as well as any tips you have for founders?

We got our seed round funded in September of 2017, but we raised money a little late in the game. We were just on the other side of the big VR hype cycle, which had a lot of over investments or inflated valuations that had started in 2015. Let me tell you, as the CEO and co-founder of a VR company; it’s not for the weak. There are a lot of biases against VR, and many investors think the install base is too small to put money into or that it’s like 3D television and not going to be that impactful. Many people underestimate the power of virtual reality and our goal is to prove them wrong by building a great VR first company that has real impact on your emotional well-being.

From TRIPP VR App

You have pioneered an innovative financial model. Can you tell us a bit more about this and how you envision the future monetization evolving?

We’re still experimenting, and we’ve done some things well while also gathering feedback about some things people didn’t love. It’s important for us to figure out how to build a big business. It’s less motivated by greed, and more motivated by continuing to evolve these beneficial experiences, and allow us to reach more and more people. We want to work with great creators and invite them to be part of a force for good. In order to be a channel for amazing content creators, we need capital to deploy across more devices. One of the ways to do that is through investment and having recurring revenue that’s not only dependent on the app store install base, which right now is still very small. It’s growing thanks to advancements in the standalone devices, like the Quest, but it’s still not at the scale that the mobile phone is.

We’ve had to figure out how to be scrappy, and so initially, we launched as an enterprise only offering, going into companies as an employee wellness solution. That allowed us to actually make a decent amount of revenue, even in our first year of existence, which is unusual for an early-stage startup. Most importantly, it gave us real users that used our product regularly and we learned a great deal from those deployments.

When we launched on the Oculus Quest, we were one of the very first subscription products on the Quest outside of Netflix. Of course, we experienced a lot of hate for that because early adopter audience gamers don’t love subscription services. However, it was important for us to be able to set that precedent and build infrastructure around that because we can bring more people to virtual reality through direct marketing and targeted affiliate partnerships with retail partners, as well as continue to support the existing VR audience.

Since then, we’ve lowered our pricing due to COVID-19, allowing one-time purchases so that we can better support people. Our goal is to get more people using TRIPP and do it in a way that is priced for the current market. But we also have to build for the future. So, we ask ourselves, “can we create a channel that will help people who would never think of themselves as VR users?” Once they try our experience, they want to buy a VR device. Let’s grow the audience, because the more people using VR, the more the entire industry will evolve and become healthier.

What advice do you have for people interested in breaking into the XR industry?

Just start working on a platform. We’re built on Unity, and there’s a lot of educational support that they’ve built out. I know that the Unreal team is doing the same as well. I would recommend starting to work with one of those frameworks, and start to create or collaborate with other people.

Ask people for help; that’s how I learned tech as a whole. I find the technology community, as snarky as we can all be at times, is super helpful. Even when they’re yelling at us on the forums or in our reviews, they’re also telling us how to do it better. As painful as it is at times, I really love that energy.

What were some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced while working in the XR industry? How did you overcome them?

I think the number one challenge has been the pushback (just in general) by investors on the VR install base and trying to figure out how to build a big business in VR. Some of that can be solved by creating other touchpoints to the consumer. I think the Wave is a great example of a VR first company that has successfully built a multi-device distribution strategy. It is also important to work with the platform teams like Oculus while scaling out on new devices as well.

I believe there are a lot of people trying to think about how to take old experiences and put them into VR. One of the biggest challenges for us as a community, as a whole, is to figure out how to do things that are VR native. It’s not about just replicating 2D game experiences in 3D. It’s really, “how do we design and develop for the medium, where you can get a deep sense of presence, a deep sense of embodiment, and create new worlds that you can only experience in VR?”

What parts of the XR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

In addition to my previous answer, I think we have to start to focus on more innovation. I think we got stuck on, “it’s an empathy-building machine or it’s a simulation/training engine.” Our mission is, “can we stimulate different responses from a person?” I’d like to see more innovation evolve, especially from our own team to which we are very committed.

Who have been your favorite mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

I have different mentors for different things. I have one mentor I go to, Gerry Chamales, to adjust my attitude; he’s a great business person, and I love him. I have another one to negotiate my contracts, but I’d say the most impactful mentors I’ve had are a lot of my old bosses. I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best people in the tech entertainment industry: Some that were very influential were David Haddad (eParties), Scott Lahman (JAMDAT and textPlus), Karen Reed (Venu Interactive), Gloria Lamont (New World Entertainment), John Pleasants (EA), Warren Jenson (EA) and Allen Debevoise (Machinima). From each one of them I took away experiences that really helped me grow.

However, the two who really helped me evolve as a leader were Mitch Lasky and John Riccitiello. John Riccitiello was a great boss when I was at Electronic Arts running EA Online. He gave me a tremendous amount of support while still challenging me. I worked for Mitch Lasky at JAMDAT. Mitch has probably had the biggest influence on my career. He actually believed in me and my capabilities long before I believed in myself, and gave me a lot of chances I don’t think other people would have given me. He was tough and is still tough on me, but I run a lot of things by him because I’m no dummy, and he’s a strategic genius. I’ll always be grateful to him.

I also have to acknowledge my sort-of spiritual advisor and friend, Sharon Crain, who has always been there for me and will tell me when I’m not being my best self. As my life gets bigger, I need people who will be honest with me about my shortcomings with the intention to support my growth. Not always easy to hear but necessary.

Are you currently hiring at TRIPP? If so, what roles are you looking to fill? What is the best way for candidates to reach you?

We’re currently looking for 3D artists that can help us create what we call our ‘Tripp loads,’ and those are the assets that we update every day. Also, if you have made an experience that that you feel fits with our mission to use VR for improving your emotional well-being, we would love to help you distribute your content in our channel. Send us an email at support@tripp.com and say it’s for me directly. You can also hit me up on Twitter @nanea. I would love to hear from you.

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Find Nanea on LinkedIn and learn more about her company, TRIPP, Inc.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Veronica Flint

Hey Veronica, thanks so much for joining us! Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I am Veronica Flint, born and raised in the city of Los Angeles, California. Throughout my professional career I’ve worked in games, virtual/augmented reality, visual effects, and animation. I currently run a small indie studio Quixotical developing unannounced projects.

Chimerical Era Team

How did you get into XR?

I was already developing small game projects at a VFX house and discovered the Oculus headset through word of mouth. I tried it the first time in 2013 at E3 then again at IndieCade. Those were the moments that gradually kept my interest growing. As soon as I got my hands on a development kit, I got even more excited exploring all the different demos developers got to make and share with the VR enthusiast community. With my background in Unity, Mocap and real-time technologies I was able to work on some amazing VR projects before the release of the consumer version of Oculus.

What are you currently working on?

A bunch of new stuff. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Cinematic Games using Virtual Production toolsets.

What advice do you have for others looking to get into XR?

Well, there’s plenty of online resources to catch up on such as game engine software, like Unity and Unreal Engine, and video tutorials. I’d say if you already own a VR headset or a mobile device that AR compatible I’d say go and make something.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the XR industry?

Hardware and software limitations. Running a real-time rendered experience with a photorealism level of quality is just challenging, even for high-end platforms. I think as computers get better at matching reality, the more traction this medium can get.

Example Mocap from Chimerical Era

What are the things that inspire you most about working in the XR industry?

I love the idea of having someone being transported to a place where they’ve never been before. Everybody can explore and discover a new location, setting or other unique perspective of the world. Being able to experience that myself, as both the audience and creator, is exciting to me.

What is the XR industry missing right now? What can be done about it?

Wearable convergence of XR can be used for our everyday needs. Once XR hardware becomes a cell phone or laptop replacement that will change everything.

What’s your vision for the future of immersive technology?

Immersive technology will become part of our everyday lives just as much as our phones. XR technologies will be integrated to make our lives easier. Entertainment, utility, productivity work and more will become a part of XR.

What is one of your favorite sayings / quotes?

I am not afraid…I was born to do this. — Joan of Arc

3D World from Chimerical Era

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Find Veronica on LinkedIn and learn more about her project Chimerical Era on Instagram and Facebook.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Ylva Hansdotter

Hey Ylva, welcome to the XR Creator Spotlight, it’s an honor to have you. To kick things off, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Ylva Hansdotter, the founder of XR Impact, a non-profit organization that leverages immersive technologies to help achieve progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I am an enthusiastic VR-ambassador, but I am still a baby in the VR-industry — I started working with VR first in the spring of 2016 when I was invited to move from Stockholm to San Francisco to work with HTC Vive in the launch of Viveport.

I am now back in Stockholm, where I live together with my two teenage daughters, my husband and a blind and deaf rescue dog that I call “the old man”. If I was an animal, it would definitely be an overenthusiastic puppy, super eager and bouncy (contrary to the mellow nature of “the old man”). I used to try to act more like a sober, cunning cat… but I was never any good at that. I sometimes tried to role-play, pretending I was “Bob, 54 years old, with a need for space (physically and metaphorically)”, that did work :), but it was too exhausting.

Generally, I am a big fan of humans, and I have an almost naive notion that we will “overcome” anything, even if it gets harder and harder to logically defend my stance. OK, let’s dive into the questions!

What inspired your interest in immersive technology?

I have a background in computer science (MSc) and behavioral science (BSc) and have always been fascinated by how technology can impact us, and our way of being human. The first time I tried VR I was hooked! My first experience was “theBlu”, the beautiful underwater experience where you meet a whale. During the experience, I realized just how powerful immersive technology can be. I have done some diving in my past, so I know how my body reacts and feels while actually underwater. In the experience, I felt the same sensations — my breathing changed, my heart rate changed, it was automatic. Even though I knew I was not underwater, my body was so fully tricked into thinking it was, it behaved as if I was in the ocean!

That is when I realized the superpowers of virtual reality and I have been in the industry ever since.

What has your experience been like working in the XR industry?

Great. However, it is still a young industry. The guiding principles and structures are not there yet, and it is hard to find sustainable business models. Many, if not most, XR studios/companies are struggling. As to the guiding principles/structures, we do not have any control or guidelines for development and/or consumption which can have negative consequences for consumers (especially considering the psychological effects that immersive technologies can have). I also think that the industry still focuses too much on entertainment/games, but overall — my experience has been great.

In terms of diversity, it is obviously a very a male dominated industry. I know that many women have been subject to discrimination and some have even experienced sexual harassment. Luckily, I haven’t. At HTC my boss, Rikard Steiber, me and other parts of the management were Swedes. I think this could be part of the reason as Swedes have a very non-hierarchical system. Decisions are usually team decisions, and so are the results. I think this makes us a little more holistic in our thinking, making us ask ourselves how we can optimize from a company perspective instead of from a department or an individual point of view (“grow the pie” vs “grow my piece of the pie”). The Swedish system is of course also far from perfect, but it is one of the most equal and inclusive systems I have ever experienced. In Sweden, most families share parental leave, and I think this is one of the most important policies we enforced; i.e. in a mother-father-baby family, part of the 390 (!!) days of paid parental leave is dedicated to the mother and part is dedicated to the father — and you cannot transfer the days to the other partner. This policy has had a ripple effect on other areas, taking Sweden years ahead of US in terms of gender equality.

To conclude, I would say that the immersive tech industry is like most industries, no better, no worse — and ALL industries would benefit from reviewing their diversity and inclusion practices.

Ylva-Hansdotter

Ylva Hansdotter – Women in Tech 2019

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

Yes, of course, it is my passion project — “Be Earth”!

I am working on a virtual reality platform focused on helping achieve progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. After leaving HTC Vive, I moved back to Stockholm with my family and I started a nonprofit organization, “XR Impact”. We focus on using immersive technologies to make us all better humans. How hard can it be, right? ;).

XR Impact is what I call a “collaborative” non-profit, meaning that I intend to keep a diverse team of experts, artists, storytellers and researchers to help co-create the platform.

The first experience, created together with the brilliant Boo Augilar and Paulo Gibbs, recently premiered in Davos. It is called “Be Earth #13.” This title draws from the 13th UN goal: climate action. The experience lets you embody Earth and do something about climate change. We were lucky to get funded by The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and Facebook and we are now in the process of fundraising to continue to build the platform and add more experiences around the various goals.

Please tell us a bit more about your “Be Earth #13” experience.

Our first experience, Be Earth #13, is, as noted, about climate change. As a user, you embody Earth on a journey from space to the Amazon Rainforest, while witnessing the ongoing deforestation. During the journey, you transform into the various elements — you can see your hands changing and becoming air, water, tree, ash. You can then use these elements to help fight further deforestation. You are accompanied on this journey by Mother Earth who explains the interconnectivity of the world to you. When leaving Earth to return to space, we change the perspective to give an “overview effect”, the cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts when seeing Earth from outer space. Earth is small and fragile in the vast Universe. You cannot see any boundaries between countries and our daily problems seem far away. The message is that we are responsible for Earth and we are at the beginning of the mother of all transformations.

Be Earth #13 is targeted towards schools (+13 years old), it will be distributed for free, and we are collaborating with museums both for exhibitions and school road-shows. First exhibition will be at the Technical museum in Stockholm later this spring. We will also share the experience free online, but first we need to optimize it for more devices (it is currently built for Oculus Rift S with Leap Motion for hand tracking).

What inspired you to use XR to communicate information around climate change?

When I joined HTC, I knew I wanted to find a way to use VR to stimulate social change. I soon got an opportunity to start a program that I named “VR for Impact.” It was a multi-year, $10M USD program to support creators who were, or wished to start, creating experiences that had social impact. In just two weeks from initiating the program, I had received 1400 applications! If there was ever any doubt in my mind about the benefits of using VR to stimulate social change, these doubts immediately disappeared! Around this time, I also started to research the neurological and behavioral effects of VR as well, something that eventually led me to the PhD I am currently doing on how positive storytelling in VR can simulate prosocial behavior. Super fascinating!!

The research confirms what most of us VR-ambassadors know; that VR is the most psychologically powerful platform humans have ever created!

Decades of research show that VR can stimulate attitudinal and behavioral change in a way that is unprecedented.

The plan is to use this immersive superpower to stimulate change focused on helping humanity achieve all the UN Global Goals, we just started with SDG #13: Climate Action, because it is most urgent. Everything begins and starts with the Earth. If we fail to understand how delicately interlinked everything is, and how we humans have a responsibility to fix what we are breaking, we will automatically fail with all other goals as well.

How exactly can XR empower people to understand climate change?

Going back to the research, it has been shown that virtual reality can help humans learn faster, learn better, and to retain more of what we’ve learned. There is no doubt that VR is a potent medium when it comes to increasing our understanding, both when it comes to understanding of complex concepts e.g. in a school setting, but maybe more importantly; it is established that we are more likely to help those that are familiar to us, the ones we understand — and research has shown that VR can help us understand those who are different to us. To me, this is the true superpower of VR, it can enhance our cognition, and if used right, it can make us better humans.

It’s also been shown that when we feel immersed in an experience — for example, embodied in VR as someone or something else — we start to associate ourselves with the characteristics of our avatar. There is a lot of interesting research about this topic from professor Jeremy Bailenson and the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. If we embody Einstein VR, we perform better on real-life problem solving tests. If we are an inventor in VR, we are more creative in real-life brainstorming sessions afterwards. VR can change not only where we are, but actually change WHO we are — and in a way that persists outside of VR.

Our team used all of this incredible knowledge and research when creating Be Earth #13. We believe that the embodiment of the Earth will create a deeper understanding of the world’s interconnectedness, and help communicate that every one of us is part of the Earth itself — increasing the sense of responsibility and accountability of our future. We are all Earth, and we can only exist successfully as part of this system.

Be Earth #13 — Amazon rain forest after the wildfires

How did you embed inclusive design into your project? Can you describe some of the design decisions?

Inclusive design is a core part of my research. My PhD is within Inclusive Design and Creative Technology Innovation at SMARTLab/UCD. My goal has been to be inclusive both in building the team and when designing our experiences. When it comes to the team, I think we need to be diverse, because if we are not, we will not find a story that is worth telling.

When it comes to the design, we carefully made development decisions to remove obstacles and make the experience more accessible. Some examples of inclusive design decisions include:

Our decision to use hand-tracking to navigate, making it easier for most people to intuitively engage in the story. We also extended this tracking to include heads, for those who do not have, or cannot use, their hands. We also made a version of the experience that requires minimal or no interaction, so if you cannot use either your hands or your head, you can still enter into and complete the experience.

We chose to make the experience relative to the height of the player, so that those in a wheelchair can access it and so that whether you are short or tall, the experience will have the same impact.

We also thought through sound, for those users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Our team made the experience workable with or without sound, so that users can get through it and gain meaning from the experience without the narration being absolutely necessary.

What advice do you have for other immersive product designers so they can make their experiences more inclusive?

Involve more people! Both in the design process and in the development and testing of your experience.

After your experience premiered at Davos, did you see any other interesting content at the event?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit any other experiences in Davos, as I was with my team, demoing the entire time. But — I know that there were several gifted artists showing their work! For example Lynette Wallworth, who made Collisions and Awawena. Immersive tech is certainly being noticed in Davos, and I’m very thankful for that!

What was your experience like at Davos? Do you think they could have made the event more inclusive?

When it comes to inclusion, I saw both positive and negative things in Davos. We were generously hosted by an organization called “The Female Quotient, in their “Equality Lounge.” Unfortunately, in this place where equality was to be cherished and celebrated, I heard men walking in saying “I better watch my mouth in here.” That was very disappointing. Even worse, the all-female-CEO-panel, called “Women at the Top,” was introduced by a powerful male executive, who promptly made a sexual joke about “women being on top.” Sadly, it seems that while an effort is being made to be inclusive of women, there is still a long way to go towards true equality and inclusion.

And last but not least, what advice do you have for people looking to enter the XR industry?

“Just do it!” Engage with the brilliant XR community that already exists; there is so much talent out there. Start small. There is a lot of talk about “how things should be done”, how experiences must be of a certain graphical quality to be immersive enough, but honestly, I’ve experienced many powerful effects from relatively rudimentary immersive experiences. You don’t have to be a pro to effect real change with immersive technology; in fact, sometimes, the technically advanced experiences are the ones that engage me the least. So don’t be afraid to jump in, start small, and iterate. You’ll learn. Be sure to include different perspectives and always test, test, test!

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Find Ylva on LinkedIn and learn more about her company, XR Impact.

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrinclusion.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

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