Michael Markman

Please give us an overview of your background, what inspired you to get into immersive tech, and your journey into the VR industry.

While in college, I majored in computer science and worked as a full-stack engineer intern at a company. Halfway through school, I realized my passion was in design, which led me to transition my major to UX & Product design. My journey into the VR industry began shortly after graduating college in 2016 when I attended a hackathon and had the opportunity to use the Oculus Rift and motion leap technology, creating an extraordinary immersive experience. This pivotal Moment XR sparked my obsession with virtual reality and its vast potential for learning and exploration.

Leveraging my background in design and a deep understanding of spatial relationships, I co-founded MomentXR, a company dedicated to making 3D designs more accessible for extended reality (XR) creators. In addition, we aimed to simplify and streamline the creative process for those working within the XR industry.

Eventually, I relocated to Barcelona to work for a pioneering virtual reality game studio called Mega Particles. The studio has been developing VR experiences since 2014 and has released an initial version of a game called Poker VR for the Gear VR platform. My role involved redesigning the game to incorporate hand tracking and 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) functionality, significantly enhancing the immersive qualities of the experience.

Aspiring to create mixed-reality art installations capable of transforming physical spaces using VR tools, I ventured into freelancing and artwork. My vision involved designing multi-user experiences allowing participants to explore these digital realms together. However, the onset of the pandemic derailed these plans, and I shifted my focus to remote collaboration solutions.

I joined a company called Arthur, which offered a virtual reality office platform designed for enterprise meetings and collaboration. As a designer, I spent nearly two years with Arthur, helping to develop and refine various features to create a seamless, fully digital office space. Our work attracted diverse clients, and we built some genuinely innovative features during my tenure.

Eventually, Inga from ShapesXR approached me, and I became one of their first beta testers. ShapesXR is a tool to address the fundamental challenge of designing within XR environments. The most effective way to design for XR is to create within the medium, and ShapesXR embodies this philosophy. As a result of my professional experience and the skills I gained at MomentXR, I was well-equipped to contribute to developing and refining ShapesXR’s innovative design tools.

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

Throughout my experiences working on various projects, including Shapes XR, I have faced numerous challenges that required perseverance and adaptability. One of the most significant challenges was gaining traction and securing investors for Moments XR, particularly when the VR industry was experiencing a downturn. People quickly claimed that VR was dead, making it difficult to generate interest and investment. This period was undeniably challenging and disheartening.

Another substantial challenge arose from the technical aspects of working with 3D environments in projects like Shapes XR. Compared to 2D backgrounds, 3D ones introduced many potential issues and complexities. Designing, programming, and implementing 3D elements such as interactions, animations, and user interfaces demanded higher technical expertise, often leading to unforeseen complications. Moreover, we all faced high-pressure situations when deadlines approached, problems seemed to multiply, and project progress appeared to falter. These circumstances caused us to question our decisions and the overall direction of our projects.

Despite these hurdles, it is essential to recognize that each project, including Shapes XR, presents unique challenges. Success depends on our ability to prioritize tasks effectively, determine which features or improvements to tackle next and remain persistent in the face of adversity. As we continue to develop and refine Shapes XR, we must focus on these strategies to advance and ultimately achieve our goals in the ever-evolving world of VR and beyond. By embracing these principles, we can overcome obstacles and create innovative, immersive experiences that push the boundaries of what is possible in virtual reality.

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

I’m happy to share more about the work my team and I have been focusing on, as well as the three new features we’ve recently launched:

Interactive Prototyping: We’ve developed a feature that allows users to create engaging and dynamic spaces within the virtual environment. We aim to make the design process more immersive and interactive, providing a richer user experience. Users can now build custom spaces with enhanced interactivity, which helps them showcase their projects and ideas more engagingly.

Figma Integration: We’ve also worked on seamless integration with Figma, a popular design tool. This allows users to import their Figma frames directly into our virtual reality platform and have their designs updated in real time. This integration streamlines the design process by reducing the need to switch between different tools and fosters better collaboration between team members. Moreover, any changes to the Figma frames are automatically reflected in the virtual reality environment, ensuring up-to-date designs.

Holo Notes: Inspired by the holograms in Star Wars, we developed a feature called “Holo Notes,” which allows users to record a virtualized version of themselves and leave it as a comment or note within the scene. We see this as an innovative method of asynchronous collaboration that helps team members communicate more effectively, even when they’re unavailable simultaneously. In addition, users can record a personalized holographic message, providing feedback, suggestions, or guidance, which other team members can access later; this helps streamline the collaboration process and enhances communication among distributed teams.

The idea for Holo Notes emerged while we were brainstorming ways to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of the Quest Pro, such as eye-tracking and space for dressed avatars. In addition, we realized that allowing users to record avatars and leave them as notes could create a more immersive and interactive collaboration experience.

We’re confident these new features can transform the design and collaboration process, particularly for distributed teams. We can revolutionize how professionals collaborate on projects in the virtual environment by providing enhanced interactivity, seamless integration with design tools, and innovative asynchronous communication methods.

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

I have faced significant challenges. One of the most prominent challenges is the constant cycle of hype and disappointment. It was incredibly hot when I first entered the VR industry, and everyone was getting funded left and right. However, after a year, around the end of 2017, it was like we were dead. The hype had dissipated, and people had moved on to other emerging technologies, like Bitcoin and ICOs.

One of the most significant difficulties I’ve faced is dealing with people’s perception of VR, which can be influenced by uninformed hype cycles. For example, some believe that VR is dead, while others claim it’s the future. However, VR is a long-term play, and it’s not a matter of if it will succeed but rather when it succeeds.

Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic about the future of VR. Over the years, the industry has made remarkable progress, with headsets becoming lighter, cheaper, and better. I remember when we had to carry around a giant gaming laptop and multiple sensors, and now we’ve come so far that we can hardly believe it.

However, we still have to battle against people’s uninformed perceptions of VR. The industry keeps chugging forward, but the hype cycles can make it challenging to get people to understand the true potential of VR. Nevertheless, as someone in the industry for several years, I am confident that VR will stay and improve in the coming years.

What’s your vision for the future of VR? 

I’m so excited about spatial computing! It’s the future of computers and will eventually replace our phones, laptops, and desktops. It’s going to change the way we interact with technology and the way we interact with computers. It’s like a whole new world!

Think about how computers have evolved. From giant boxes to terminals to touch computing and mobile computing. Now, spatial computing is the ultimate next step, where interacting with the computer is the same as interacting with the world. It’s amazing!

Spatial computing will have a massive impact on how we live and work. Imagine a world where everyone has a VR headset or AR glasses. It will completely transform how we consume content, communicate with others, and interact with our environment. It’s going to be a game-changer.

In just ten years, spatial computing will be everywhere. Our children will wonder why we ever used screens when we could have them be there in 3D. It will be a completely spatial way of consuming content and interacting with technology, where the virtual and physical seamlessly blend.

I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of spatial computing. It will transform our lives and work in ways we can’t even imagine. I’m so excited to see where this technology will take us, and I can’t wait to be a part of the journey toward a more spatial computing future.

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

As someone who is deeply invested in the VR industry, one of the critical areas that need improvement is UX design. We must focus on making VR experiences more accessible and user-friendly so people can genuinely enjoy and benefit from them. This is something that Shapes XR, the company I work for, is committed to achieving.

The challenge with designing for VR is that it’s a relatively new field, and we still need to establish best practices. As a result, we need to rely heavily on testing and prototyping to figure out what works and what doesn’t. But that also makes it exciting – we can meaningfully shape how people interact with virtual environments.

Of course, hardware is also a critical part of the VR equation. We need to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible regarding resolution, latency, and other factors that impact the overall experience. But ultimately, I believe that UX design is the key to unlocking the full potential of VR. By making VR more intuitive, accessible, and enjoyable, we can help more people see this technology’s value and incorporate it into their lives meaningfully.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

Privacy and ethics are of utmost importance in the realm of virtual reality. VR involves collecting and analyzing large amounts of biometric data, making establishing better privacy standards and ethical practices imperative.

The conversation about privacy should have occurred much earlier, and it’s essential to have it again as we switch computing platforms. Moreover, as we continue to develop technology, it’s crucial to consider the implications of its impact on privacy and ethical practices.

The Quest Pro is an excellent example of progress in this area. From a consumer’s perspective, it’s highly privacy-focused, with no access to data such as eye tracking or face tracking, and the streaming content in one’s room isn’t shared. However, I would like more camera data access to enhance designs as a developer. For example, in interior design, if we had access to the camera feed, we could extract color data from the real world, allowing us to use a color dropper tool to select colors.

In contrast, Quest 2 also lacks access to the camera feed, which makes sense from Meta’s perspective. As a developer, having access to such data could be beneficial, but as a consumer, it’s understandable that Meta made this decision.

Overall, we must take privacy and ethics seriously in VR. It’s our responsibility to build things more ethically, protect user data, and establish better privacy standards. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see progress being made, and it’s essential to continue discussing these issues to improve our understanding of the implications of technology on privacy and ethical practices.

What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?

As someone in the XR industry for some time, I advise entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students looking to enter this field to start making things. The industry is still in its early stages, so anything you create will be unique and have the potential to stand out. Post your work as much as possible and try to build a following, but don’t let setbacks discourage you. The more you create, the better you will become and the more confident you will make decisions.

Collaborating with others is also essential to success in the XR industry. Working with a team will help you learn from other’s experiences and perspectives, which can be invaluable in such a dynamic and rapidly evolving field. Don’t be afraid to fail because it’s through failure that you learn and improve. And most importantly, keep trying and experimenting, especially after the challenges presented by the pandemic. The only way to fail is not to try, so keep making, sharing, and learning from your experiences.

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

I’ve been lucky to have a few important mentors in my career. One of them is Hamza Siddiqui, the company founder behind Poker VR. He’s always seen my potential and pushed me to improve and make cool things.

Lesley Klassen from Flipside XR is another mentor who has been influential in my career. We have similar ways of thinking about spatial design, and I always enjoy conversing with him.

Jonathan Gagne from Masterpiece VR is someone I’ve spoken to on and off, and he has inspired me greatly. One thing he said that stuck with me is that the goal is to be a little better each day.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call these people my mentors, they have inspired me, and I’ve had natural conversations with them. So that’s the underlying keyword here: inspiration.

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

Find Michael on LinkedInTwitter and learn more about his company, Shapes

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

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Tristan Elizabeth Gribbin

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

I was born and raised in Palo Alto, California, where I grew up in a laid-back environment. My mother and my stepfather were Stanford graduates, and my mother worked as an administrator at the university, which gave me ample opportunity to explore the campus and its surroundings as a child. 

My father was a meditator who introduced me to meditation and Eastern philosophy from a young age. He often meditated with me and shared books, which sparked my lifelong fascination with meditation and mindfulness practices. During my teenage years, my family moved to Southeast Asia, where I lived for two years. During this time, I developed a fascination with Eastern philosophy and meditation. I was deeply moved by the temples and the teachings I encountered, and I read as many books as I could find on the subject. 

After returning to California, I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a degree in Theater Arts. I was passionate about acting and theater production and diligently pursued this career path. This took me to Ireland, where I lived for almost six years, immersing myself in the country’s rich cultural and artistic landscape.

While in Ireland, I first discovered the profound benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I was struck by how much more present and grounded I felt when I practiced these techniques, and I became convinced that more people should have access to these tools for greater well-being.

However, my love for Iceland drew me to the country, and I moved there in 1995. I fell in love with the nation’s vast and wild nature, which has become a great source of inspiration for me.

It wasn’t until 2000 that I discovered the profound benefits of meditation and mindfulness. During a nine-day meditation retreat, I experienced a big epiphany that opened up a new world. I felt rejuvenated, passionate, and alive and I wanted to share this experience with everyone around me. Everybody enjoyed this feeling, and meditation could be beneficial to everyone. However, people around me thought I was crazy, and it took 22 years for them to realize that I was onto something.

Today, I am a mindfulness and meditation practitioner, as well as a collaborator with my husband, who is a filmmaker. We work on various creative projects incorporating music and guided meditation to help people connect with their inner selves and find greater peace and clarity.

In summary, my background has been shaped by a deep curiosity and a desire to explore different cultures and ways of thinking. My time at UC Santa Cruz helped me develop a strong foundation in theater arts, and my journey has led me to discover the profound benefits of meditation and mindfulness, which I am passionate about sharing with others.

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

My journey into the V.R. industry was actually unexpected but very exciting. It all started when I joined the Startup Reykjavík community and was part of an accelerator program with a team, and we were working on creating a new kind of meditation platform. During the program, I was hired to do a voiceover for the Everest Experience in V.R. That was the first time I experienced V.R. myself. I was blown away by the immersive technology and its potential to help people learn meditation in a profound and impactful way.

From then on, I became increasingly interested in V.R. and its potential to create immersive and transformative experiences. Despite my initial skepticism, I realized that V.R. had the potential to reach people who may have otherwise been resistant to meditation and help them understand the benefits of meditation in a much deeper way.

So, we integrated V.R. into our meditation platform and created Flow, our flagship product. Through music, nature scenes, and guided meditation, we made a V.R. experience that was truly transformative for people.

It has been an incredible journey, and I am grateful to be a part of this emerging immersive technology market. V.R. has the potential to change people’s lives in profound ways, and I’m excited to be a part of this industry as it continues to grow and evolve.

What have been some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your journey with Flow, and how have you overcome them?

Our journey with Flow has been filled with challenges and obstacles, and we’ve had to overcome several hurdles to progress. One of our most significant challenges was securing funding to sustain our operations and growth. Like many startups, we faced difficulty finding the resources to take our vision from an idea to a reality. However, we tackled this obstacle by relying on accelerators, grants, and angel investors who believed in our vision and were willing to support us.

Another significant hurdle we had to overcome was getting into the B2B2C market and finding corporate subscribers who could benefit from our approach to meditation. We knew there was a demand for our system, but we had to work hard to establish ourselves in this space and grow our user base. This required a lot of effort and dedication, but with persistence, we could identify the right partners and collaborators who shared our vision.

Finding great collaborators and growing our team were also essential to our success. We needed to work with individuals who shared our vision and were passionate about our goal. By identifying the right people and building a solid team, we were able to navigate the challenges of monetization and market penetration in an emerging space. It wasn’t easy, but we remained committed to our vision and stayed the course until we could build a team to help us achieve our goals.

Finally, creating a movement around Flow was critical to overcoming our challenges. We knew we had something unique and valuable to offer our users, but we needed to build a community of like-minded individuals who shared our vision and mission. By doing so, we were able to gain momentum and create something extraordinary that could help people all around the world find their Flow.

Overcoming these obstacles required persistence, determination, and a strong sense of purpose. We knew that what we were doing had the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives, and we remained committed to our vision even when times were tough. Looking back, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we know there’s still much more work to be done.

How has Flow evolved, and what have been some of the company’s most significant milestones or achievements?

Flow has been on an exciting journey since its inception. We started out with a simple demo on the Samsung V.R. platform, but we quickly realized that we had the potential to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Our team has worked tirelessly to develop our mindfulness tools, incorporating the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and mindfulness practices.

One of our most significant milestones was launching our full app with six modes at the Sigur Ros Festival in December 2018. The positive feedback we received from attendees and industry experts validated all the hard work we had put in. We were also fortunate to receive the Gulleggið government grant, which provided us with the resources to launch our corporate programs and develop our mobile app.

Since then, we have gained significant traction with corporate subscribers like PwC, Vodafone, and CCP Games, who have all used our tools to help their employees reduce stress and improve their well-being. We have also participated in two accelerators, S.R. and Katapult, which enabled us to raise funds, gain valuable insights, and expand our network.

Our commitment to scientific rigor has led us to conduct several studies with companies like Coor and PwC, which have shown promising results in reducing stress and improving focus and productivity. And now, we are excited to be part of a clinical study in Portugal, exploring how our tools can help preoperative breast cancer patients reduce stress and improve their outcomes.

Our journey has been full of challenges and opportunities, but we remain committed to making mindfulness accessible to all. We believe that our V.R. and mobile app-based tools can significantly impact people’s lives, and we are excited to continue to innovate and expand our reach in the years to come.

How have you seen the VR and AR industry change and grow, and how has Flow adapted to those changes?

The VR and AR industry has undergone remarkable changes and growth in recent years, and Flow has quickly adapted to those changes.

One of the most exciting developments in the industry is the rise of female creators taking center stage. Nanea Reeves and Sarah Hill are two pioneering women who have been in the industry for longer than I have, and I greatly admire their work. I was struck by the number of female creators I saw when I attended the IVRHA and AWE conferences in Portugal, and it’s clear that the industry is becoming much more equitable.

Another trend I’ve noticed is the growth of conferences focused on health and wellness. IVRHA and AWE will expand and become even more popular in the coming years.

It’s also interesting to see how different platforms are championing other models. HTC Vive and Pico, for example, are focusing more on B2B and B2BDC models rather than just B2C. But, unfortunately, the meta store seems very B2C-driven, which only offers a little support for companies like ours operating in the B2B and B2BDC spaces.

Looking to the future, we’re excited about creating group experiences with Flow. Imagine a meditation involving people from all over the world participating in live meditations in different locations. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.

What are your long-term goals and vision for Flow, and how do you see the company evolving and growing in the coming years?

My long-term vision for Flow is to make meditation accessible and easy for everyone. I want to create a global movement of people who can find greater peace and well-being through meditation. To achieve this, I see Flow evolving and growing in several ways.

Firstly, we will continue expanding our reach into new markets and languages so that more people worldwide can benefit from our app and technology. We will also explore new ways to integrate biometric tracking and other forms of technology into our meditation experiences, to help people better understand the benefits of meditation and personalize their practice.

In addition, we will focus on building a solid community of meditators, both online and offline. We want to create a space where people can connect with others on the same journey, share their experiences and insights, and support one another in their practice.

Ultimately, my goal for Flow is to help people cultivate a greater sense of inner peace and well-being and to empower them to live their lives with more clarity, purpose, and compassion. Meditation can be a transformative tool for achieving this, and I am committed to making it accessible and easy for everyone.

Can you share any key learnings or insights you’ve gained through your experience with Flow and the VR/AR industry?

Absolutely. One of the key learnings or insights I’ve gained through my experience with Flow and the VR/AR industry is the importance of networks, strategic partnerships, alliances, and collaboration.

In an emerging industry like this, it’s crucial to be part of something bigger than yourself and to connect with others in the ecosystem. I discovered this firsthand when I attended conferences like IVRHA and AWE in Portugal. I was struck by the number of female creators around me and the sense of community in the industry. It’s all about connecting with others and creating a grassroots movement around your mission.

Another important insight is the growing interest in health and wellness in the VR/AR industry. I see a lot of potentials for Flow to expand in this area, particularly with integrating biometrics like EEGs and HRVs into our experiences. By providing subjective and objective data on the benefits of meditation, we can help people track and improve their mental and physical health.

Overall, my experience with Flow and the VR/AR industry has taught me the importance of staying connected, being adaptable, and always looking for new opportunities to innovate and improve.

What’s your vision for the future of VR and the Metaverse?

As someone passionate about the potential of V.R. and the metaverse, I see a future where these technologies are used for more than just entertainment. We will see a rise in applications that focus on improving health and wellness, connecting communities, and fostering empathy across the globe. V.R. has the potential to be an empathy machine, allowing people to connect and share information in new and meaningful ways.

I also see a future where V.R. and the metaverse are used for high-level training and education. From mastering meditation to learning new skills, incredible tools and opportunities will be available in V.R. As we continue to develop these technologies, I want to prioritize their potential for positive impact and work to ensure they are used ethically and responsibly.

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

The VR industry needs significant changes to improve safety and accessibility and address gender inequality. For example, it’s alarming and unacceptable that individuals such as Nina Jane Patel, a blogger pursuing her Ph.D. in immersive technology in the UK, experience physical abuse in the Metaverse. As such, we must prioritize safety regulations to ensure all users feel secure and protected while engaging in virtual experiences. By implementing safeguards, we can prevent any form of abuse or harm from happening.

Moreover, female entrepreneurs and creators face significant challenges in securing funding and recognition within the VR industry. This issue must be addressed by creating greater accessibility for women and providing them with the necessary resources and support to succeed. By doing so, we can help level the playing field and encourage more women to innovate and contribute.

Finally, we must continue exploring the vast potential of VR technology to revolutionize various sectors, such as education, healthcare, entertainment, and gaming. By focusing on innovation and inclusivity, we can make significant changes to the VR industry that benefit everyone involved. The VR industry has the potential to shape how we live, work, and interact with one another, and we must work together to create a safe, inclusive, and accessible virtual world.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

As someone who values privacy and ethics, we must address these topics in the XR industry. With the increased monitoring and invasion of privacy by big tech and the government, we must prioritize fundamental human rights and respect for individuals. We are losing this sense of respect and connection in our society, and we need to get back to basics and uphold these values. The XR industry ensures privacy and ethics are at the forefront of all developments and innovations.

What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?

My advice for anyone looking to enter the XR industry is to first figure out what you’re passionate about within the industry. Choose an area that excites you and that you’re motivated to work on for the long term. Staying up-to-date on industry trends, technologies, and innovations is also essential. Networking and building relationships with other professionals in the field can also be beneficial for finding opportunities and gaining knowledge.

For entrepreneurs, I suggest focusing on creating a product or service that solves a problem or fills a need in the market. Conducting thorough market research and having a clear business plan can also help position your company for success.

For professionals, artists, and students, I recommend building a solid portfolio showcasing your skills and creativity, staying up-to-date with the latest technologies, attending conferences, joining XR-related groups and forums, and seeking internships or apprenticeships to gain hands-on experience and building relationships with industry professionals.

It’s also essential to continuously develop your skills and knowledge in XR. Keep up with the latest software and hardware developments, and consider taking courses or attending workshops to expand your skill set.

Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks and pursue your passions. The XR industry is still relatively new, so there is plenty of room for innovation and disruption. Embrace the challenges and learn from your mistakes, as they will ultimately help you grow and succeed in this exciting and dynamic industry.

Success in the XR industry requires a combination of passion, dedication, knowledge, and skill. By staying focused on your goals and continuously learning and improving, you can position yourself for success in this exciting and rapidly growing field.

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

Thank you for the question. I have been fortunate to have several essential mentors who have guided me and helped me grow personally and professionally.

One of my earliest and most influential mentors was Bala Kamallakharan, founder of the Startup Iceland Conference and the Iceland Venture Studio. He was the first person who believed in me and my vision for Flow, and he provided invaluable guidance and support as I navigated the ups and downs of starting a company. He has an incredible track record of success and has never lost money on any of his investments, making him a great mentor.

Another essential mentor is Dr. Walter Greenleaf, who has been involved with VR and mental wellness for over three decades. He is a genuine connector and knows everyone in the industry. He has been an incredible source of knowledge and guidance for me and has helped me to navigate the complex world of VR and mental health.

On the meditation side, I feel incredibly fortunate to have learned from spiritual master Kalindi. She created a modern-day meditation practice that has impacted tens of thousands of people worldwide, and I have based much of Flow on what I learned from her.

All my mentors have profoundly impacted me, and I am grateful for their guidance and support. I met them through various channels, mostly networking and attending industry events. It is essential to always be on the lookout for mentors and be open to learning from others, no matter where they come from or their backgrounds.

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

The quote “The solution to the problem is to go deeper” by the great spiritual teacher Gourasana has been a guiding principle for me. It means that when faced with any challenge or problem, the key to finding a solution is to go beyond the surface level, where things may be chaotic and turbulent, and instead seek the calm and stillness of the deeper levels.

Our society often operates on a surface level, which causes much unrest and turbulence. However, when we delve deep through meditation or introspection, we can connect with a more peaceful and benevolent energy. It’s like entering a different force field, where we can make more precise decisions, gain clarity, and have realizations that may have been obscured.

For me, this quote inspires a sense of hope and optimism. It reminds me that even in the face of adversity, there is always a way to find a solution and a path forward. It encourages me to look beyond the surface level and dig deeper, tap into my inner wisdom, and find the answers I seek. Ultimately, it reminds me that there is always a way to find peace and stillness, even amidst the chaos of the world around us.

🧘‍♂️🧘🏻‍♂️🧘🏼‍♂️🧘🏽‍♂️🧘🏾‍♂️🧘🏿‍♂️Remember to meditate.🧘🏿‍♀️🧘🏾‍♀️🧘🏽‍♀️🧘🏼‍♀️🧘🏻‍♀️🧘‍♀️

Find Tristan on LinkedInTwitter and learn more about his company, Flow

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

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

Adam Mangana

Hi Adam, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, please provide us with an overview of your background and share what inspired you to get into immersive technology. Also, please tell us about your journey into the VR industry.

Hi there! My name is Adam Mangana, and I’m the Chief Product Officer and founder of Optima Ed. We’re the only education experience company that creates standards-aligned Virtual Reality Curricula worldwide. I’ve been in education technology for over 15 years, and I recently launched the world’s first Virtual Reality Charter School, Optima Classical Academy, in the fall of 2022. We offer tuition-free online education to students in grades K-9.

My passion lies in education, ancient history, and computer science. I received my undergraduate degree from Brown University with a double major in Classics and Public and Private Sector Organizations. I’ve been fortunate to work with some prominent classicists who inspired me to explore ancient texts and delve deeper into the subject matter. In addition, my mother’s work in the physics department exposed me to computer science, and I had the opportunity to work on research projects with physicists, which gave me a strong foundation in computer science.

Around eight years ago, I became interested in virtual reality and its potential to enhance education. At that time, I created an Unreal Engine course and had the chance to work with the first commercially available headset when Facebook acquired Oculus. Since then, I’ve pursued graduate work in VR education at Vanderbilt and have been part of some initial longitudinal studies on VR in education.

During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to pilot a VR education program with several schools, which led to the opening of the first tuition-free charter school delivered in the Metaverse. I’m excited to be at the forefront of this new field, and the possibilities for immersive and interactive education are endless.

I live on a farm in rural Mississippi outside of Hattiesburg and run a company based in Naples, Florida. I go back and forth between the two and have two kids who attend the world’s first school delivered entirely in the Metaverse, Optima Online Academy. The platform allows students to be present together and experience the school together, building a relationship with the faculty, which is a powerful experience and the primary use case for the Metaverse.

One of my big ideas is to make ambulatory learning great again. I’m inspired by the ancient teaching methods of our two greatest teachers, Jesus and Socrates, who walked alongside their students and asked questions. With the Metaverse, we can create a more immersive and interactive learning experience reminiscent of these ancient teaching methods.

In summary, I’m passionate about education, computer science, and VR technology and committed to creating innovative and practical approaches to education. I’m excited to share my insights and practical advice with anyone interested in exploring the potential of VR for education.

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

Absolutely. At Optima Education, we’re on a mission to make education more accessible to everyone through the power of VR and immersive technology. Right now, we’re focused on scaling our operations beyond Florida, where we’re currently providing our coursework for free to students with a Florida residence. We’re also proud to partner with Step Up for Students, an organization that supports students with neurodiversity, to offer educational field trips or learning expeditions to 94,000 students. Our nonprofit, the Optima Foundation, supports this work with neurodiverse students, and we welcome anyone who wants to contribute to this cause.

In addition to these initiatives, we’re constantly improving and expanding our curriculum and platform to offer even more engaging and effective educational experiences. We see ourselves as the world’s first education experience company, and we’re excited about the potential for VR and the Metaverse to revolutionize education in future years.

For anyone who wants to learn more about what we’re doing at Optima Education, visit our website, optimaed.com, or check out our charter school at optimaclassical.org. And if you’re interested in supporting our work or want to connect with me directly, don’t hesitate to reach out on LinkedIn. We’re always happy to speak with others who share our passion for transforming education with VR and immersive technology.

What’s your vision for the future of VR and the Metaverse? 

My vision for the future of VR and the Metaverse is exciting, and I see it as a natural evolution of the internet. Thanks to blockchain technology, interoperability will be a crucial feature of this new digital landscape. Companies can trade assets and connect with customers and stakeholders in new and exciting ways. This will make it possible to take assets created in one platform, such as Fortnite or Roblox, and trade them in an educational forum or even a digital real estate market.

Many companies will transition from having a traditional website to having a web place, a three-dimensional metaverse space that will help them stand out and create new opportunities. With the influx of eyeballs and attention, I see a massive adoption curve for the Metaverse coming in the near future. However, as we move into this new digital space, we must also prepare for the need to teach people how to be responsible and ethical digital citizens. Therefore, it will be necessary for schools to play a role in shaping civic virtue and instilling digital citizenship in their students, preparing them for a future where they will need to be good citizens both in real life and the Metaverse.

Despite our many challenges, I remain deeply committed to making education more accessible and bringing the power of VR and what I know about learning to as many people as possible. The Metaverse is a three-dimensional version of the internet and a natural progression of how we interact and do business online. While there are challenges to face as we move into this new era, I believe that with perseverance, a deep sense of purpose, and a focus on building good digital citizenship, we can unlock the full potential of the Metaverse and create a better future for all.

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

As an expert in the field, the VR industry must focus on utility and relevance. VR companies should solve problems for their customers and users rather than just trying to showcase the technology. It’s essential to consider the practical applications of VR and how it can solve problems in fields such as education, healthcare, and engineering.

Another issue is that the industry needs to build experiences that will last for hundreds of years. Therefore, three-dimensional assets in VR are essential. Companies should take inspiration from the book “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander, which emphasizes the importance of creating timeless structures and experiences.

In addition, the communication around VR needs to be improved. Many people still view VR as a novelty or a niche technology, and it’s up to the industry to demonstrate its potential and practical uses. It’s essential to focus on the problems that VR can solve, such as enhancing empathy or improving access to education.

Overall, the VR industry must continue to innovate, push boundaries, and remain practical and focused on solving real-world problems. As the industry grows, it’s crucial to balance showcasing the technology and providing tangible, valuable solutions.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

As a company that operates in the education industry, Optima Education prioritizes privacy and ethics. We understand that data privacy is critical when it comes to education, and we take our users’ trust very seriously. Therefore, we are committed to ensuring that our platform is safe, secure, and transparent with our users about collecting, storing, and using their data. 

In terms of ethics, companies need to approach emerging technologies with a sense of responsibility and a deep commitment to doing what’s right. As we move into the Metaverse and other immersive technologies, we must take the time to consider these technologies’ implications and work together to establish ethical guidelines and best practices. This is particularly important in education, where we protect and nurture the next generation’s minds. 

We believe blockchain technology is critical in building trust and establishing a sense of accountability regarding privacy and ethics. Using the blockchain to create immutable, transparent data usage records, we can help ensure that users retain control over their data and that companies are held accountable for their actions. Ultimately, it’s up to everyone in the industry to work together to ensure that emerging technologies are used ethically and responsibly and that the next generation of students can learn and grow in a safe and secure environment.

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

I advise those looking to enter the XR industry to understand the tools and technologies, build and experiment with different ideas, and network with other professionals. You can find free online resources, such as Unity and Unreal Engine tutorials, or consider taking a content creator course to get started. Attend industry conferences to keep updated with the latest trends and innovations and create opportunities for collaboration and career advancement. So roll up your sleeves and start building!

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

As someone fortunate enough to have many great mentors in my life, they have all significantly shaped my journey and career. However, one person who stands out, in particular, is Dr. Derek Ham, a friend, and mentor whom I met while growing up in Southeastern Virginia.

Dr. Ham, who went on to attend Harvard and MIT and now serves as the Chairman of the Design School at North Carolina State, has been an incredible inspiration to me. He built an immersive experience called “I Am A Man,” available on the Oculus Store and created for the National African American History Museum in DC. It takes users on a journey back to 1968 Memphis from the perspective of sanitation workers during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Watching him pioneer perspective-taking and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes was inspiring, especially as someone who wants to engineer meaningful learning experiences for students. Dr. Ham’s dedication to his craft and ability to create immersive experiences that matter has been a constant source of inspiration to me. I’m grateful for his mentorship and friendship.

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

One of my favorite quotes comes from Saint Augustine: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” This quote is inspiring because it reminds us of the importance of gaining new experiences and expanding our perspective. We live in a vast and diverse world, and it’s easy to get stuck in our little bubble and forget about incredible things beyond our immediate surroundings. This quote encourages us to venture out and explore, learn from others, and broaden our horizons. I believe this is especially important in virtual reality, which allows us to “hack time and space” and experience new things in a way that was never before possible. By embracing this spirit of adventure and exploration, we can better understand the world around us and become more well-rounded and empathetic individuals.

Find Adam on LinkedInTwitter and learn more about his company, OptimaEd

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

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

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)