The Quebec-based Vrvana was founded by Bertrand Nepveu in 2005 and has become one of the mixed reality industry’s most innovative companies. Vrvana’s Totem headset will be released to developers this summer and will be shown off at E3 in June, before eventually heading to consumers. Totem, seen below, is the only mixed reality headset to use fully immersive virtual and augmented reality technology.
Benzinga sat down with Vrvana’s Nepveu to talk about the future of the space. Below are highlights of a transcript of that conversation.
Benzinga: Could you give a general rundown of your product, Totem, and what Vrvana does?
Bert Nepveu: Vrvana is a company that does a mixed reality headset. Why mix reality? Because it can be both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and that's a very immersive field of view. Think 120-degrees, where Oculus will be between 90-100 degrees and HTC will be between 100-110. We're 120-130, depending on how close you are to the lens.
That being said, we can do an amazing VR experience like HTC and Oculus and Sony, but we can also do an amazing AR experience, where the virtual object is very big, and if you compare your field of view to other AR experience, we're much bigger. So, for comparison, Hololens is 30 degrees by 20 degrees. Since we're 120 degrees by 120 degrees, we're 24 times more immersive. The virtual object can be 24 times bigger than what Hololens can do.
This opens the door much wider to what can be done on a headset: We can show a full scale car, we can show a skyscraper, and more. If you want to do collaborative design or cool things with big objects, we're pretty much the only solution to do so.
BZ: It seems like a diverse product. You get the AR and the VR. Do you license hardware and software technology right now?
Nepveu: That's precisely our strategy for the consumer market. There's three big companies that are launching VR headsets: Oculus, Sony, and HTC, all in the following months. And that's the future of consumer electronics. Once you're in VR, you don't have any limitation. People work with three screens. In VR, you can have 100 screens, if you want. I think it's really the final platform. Once you're in VR, you can do whatever you want. So, of course, this will mean that any other big companies in electronics will want to get into that market.
We're a fast-track solution for them to get into that market; we do our own lenses. Just to have the best optical lens, even for a mobile solution, we're talking with big OEMs who want to go into the mobile VR space, so they can use our lenses, our 120 degrees.
BZ: Going into that, gaming, training simulators, even porn is mentioned as big opportunities for virtual reality. What are some other unseen opportunities in the AR and VR spaces?
Nepveu: Real estate, for me, is a huge market. Let's say you're trying to sell a new development project, you might do a little maquette. It's not very immersive, it's not interactive. With augmented reality, the first thing you can show is that maquette. You wear a headset, you see the future building in a gut-eye view, you can look around and say, "Oh, yeah, I like it." You can even go on the construction site and see a skyscraper that's not even built yet, but you see it. "Wow, okay."
I would see myself buying an apartment in that skyscraper. Then, you say, "Okay, do you want to see the view from the penthouse?" Then you say, "Sure."
Previously, we sent a drone that will do 360 videos, and you can then now see the view of your future penthouse. And you say, "Wow, that's a stunning view, I want to buy the penthouse." You can then change how many rooms you want, your furniture, your kitchen -- all with a device that can do both AR and VR. There are some use cases where AR is better, while other times VR is better.
Another [option] is training. We're starting a pilot with a big car manufacturer. And they see a big use case for training. Right now, when they start a new car platform, it takes them a year to train their workers. The reason why it's so long is because they do it through the monitor, trying to remember all the stats, and since it's not very immersive, the retention of information is lower.
Where we think VR and then AR is really useful is, you start in VR mode, and then you're on your virtual car platform, you do the exact same steps that you would do in real life, so, you're building muscle memory, because you do the exact same movements.
Image credit: Vrvana website.
Practice makes perfect, it's like a sport. If you practice, it's self-conscious after that. So, you do that thing, you do VR training, then you get used to it. Then, once you feel comfortable, you say, "Okay, I know the steps." Then, you go into AR mode.
One last use case I can talk about is medical training. One of our investors is a cardiologist. He told me a story, and that's the reason why he invested in our company, is that 15 years ago, when he was in residency, he could do open-heart surgery every day and really learn quickly, because that was a standard procedure back then. And he could do operations every day.
Now, the rules have changed. Students can only do training 1 out of 2 days, then they need a rest day. Now, thanks to technology, it's not open-heart surgery on every case anymore. Most of the time is endoscopic surgery. While there are some cases where you still need open-heart surgery, surgeons are out of their comfort zone because they don't do them that often. [That investor] saw a big opportunity to use AR and VR to train for those hard cases that you don't see that often.
BZ: Have you worked with any major publicly traded companies on that?
Nepveu: For real estate, we talked with Autodesk. And they were the ones who gave us some use cases. Another one was to validate construction schematics. So, you could go on a construction site and make sure that the beams are at the right places, because you have access to the plan, and then, you can see the reference, and you can see them virtually and make sure that they're done the right way.
BZ: I recently signed up for the Maker program. Could you elaborate a little bit on this? And, is this a user feedback system? Or is it more of a promotional technique for potential customers?
Nepveu: I mentioned that part of our business model is to license the technology to big OEMs who want to go into the consumer market. But all the other use cases I gave you, the mixed reality with real estate trading and all that, that's enterprise solutions. That market, we want to tackle with our own Vrvana-branded Totem.
So, the Maker edition is for developers who want to either port their current content from Oculus, HTC, or PlayStation to our device. So, they can apply for a Maker edition.
It's going to be a selective program, we will choose if you're a studio, and you already made VR games, then you will have access to the device, because they will be in limited quantity. It will not be for a consumer who wants to play games; it's going to be for content creators. That's why we call it the Maker edition. If you want to make content, you can apply for a device, then we will launch our own headset at the end of the year in mass-production.
The first ones, the Maker edition, will be made by hands in small quantities, and then we'll be in full mass-production at the end of the year.
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