Welcome Silicon Valley, it’s the 4th annual Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Expo and pretty much anyone who is someone in Virtual Reality is here! Taking place in San Jose’s Convention Center and costing anywhere from $149 to check out the expo to $895 for the premium experience, well, I’m pretty sure I won't be seeing anyone from my neighborhood here, no joke! But that’s a given, cutting-edge technology is hardly available to anyone who is not upper-middle class and above, but don’t give up hope, where there is a will there is a way. If you’re a developer in VR, there are opportunities to help with costs of development says keynote speaker Rikard Steiber SVP of Virtual Reality at HTC, check out ViveX, and currently the Knight Foundation is offering journalist the chance to apply for their 360 challenge if they wish to advance the field of journalism through immersive storytelling.
On to SVVR 2017! The must see for me was seeing the Godmother of VR, the renown Nonny de la Peña, who I was too starstruck to say anything to as we walked up the stairs to the expo with only one person between us! Ms.Pena is the founder and CEO of Emblematic Group, a creator of immersive virtual, augmented, and mixed reality experiences. (Do you even xR bro?) On the real though, to hear about her passion for storytelling, to listen to her talk about her journey and her passion, to know that there are people out there still searching for truth and trying to deliver it in a way that makes it feel real; that’s what’s revolutionary. Her work is what inspired me to get into VR back in 2012, and continues to inspire myself and those in the fields of journalism and new media.
Another highlight was meeting VR guru and youtuber Fuseman (Vasanth Mohan), backslash maybe I creeped him out by inviting him over my house way too soon but whatever, check out his youtube channel, he’s the man if you're getting into building your own VR experiences, I’ve learned so much from him and he’s an advocate of the local VR community! Speakers of all kinds were there, from adult film actress Ela Darling speaking about how VR is helping her connect with her clients and create new pathways to empathy and understanding, to Arvid Niklasson speaking about how his team created Björk’s virtual reality music video experience. There was much to hear and yet so much more to experience.
It wasn’t all workshops and speakers and lunches and mixers, the real deal was the expo, where companies and startups alike came to show their latest tech, experiences, peripherals, and industry integrations. Games, entertainment, social, medical, fitness, and sports apps to cinematic and enterprise solutions; a wide array of what is coming to virtual reality could be experienced, but where should if it go? How does it get streamlined for all to use and what does that look like? A new horizon is upon us and it can pretty much go anywhere and how that affects people, well, it’s up to all of us and it takes good people to guide it. People like those at Portico and their wonderful interactive story game welcomed us with a passion for genuine emotional experiences and helped us remember the importance of voice as a vehicle for agency, it harkens back to when word was synonymous with action, and it's pretty much as much fun you can have in VR if you love wonder and choose-your-own-adventure books.
The people at LeapMotion, deeply caring about my own work was really astounding, most people at the booths try to pitch you, but some really try to get to know you, the same can be said for Portico and a few others. You can tell alot about a company by how its people treat the opinions and passions of the people they meet. LeapMotion’s technology will hopefully eliminate the use of day-to-day peripherals and not only be able to track your hands, but may be your pens and papers, coffee cups and water bottles, shoot, what about your smartphone in VR, maybe that's too meta, but whateva. Yet, I firmly believe in their tech, I’m not much of a fan of peripherals and hand stuff, to quote Back to the Future, “That’s like a baby’s toy.” But babies do love their toys, and the funnest toys I got to try out was duel wielding large automatic rifles with a VR headset and backpack with Striker VR!
We got down, shooting arrows and spells at each other, getting our bodies scanned to make 3D figures and virtual animations, defending ourselves from killer samurai robots and giant mechs, to boxing and knocking off our HMD (head mounted display), Sorry Knockout League! It’s all well and good, but come prepared to break a sweat because these video games are activities, meaning, you have to be active to participate, some were full body experiences like Project Alice from Noitom, multiplayer experiences that borderline the feeling of being in an RPG Game Show! Games in VR are not your father’s games, they stress agency and how they convey it is in its infancy, and that’s a good thing!
Some other interesting technologies were the ability to smell in VR, desktop holograms, communicating using instant translation in VR using AI driven chat, new security methods, strong stories-on-rails in Quill, and getting the coolest swag, the bunny ears from White Rabbit! There’s some cool people out there with cool stuff, some self-content with their own charm and affluence, as great and entertaining as it may be, simply wait to attract vc’s and angel investors with their toys and inventions. Aye, can’t knock the hustle, these are products and VR/AR are growing industries with many sectors looking for their way to make a profit, but never forget, that there are also some that want to make a difference, some that do it for the art of it, it’s a spectrum, like all things.
But by far, my favorite moment of the entire expo was meeting Aimi Sekiguchi, artist extraordinaire and totally kick ass person! She gave us a live performance ahead of schedule using Tilt Brush, a VR painting app. After a friendly introduction and trying to communicate without her translator, but we didn’t need him because sometimes gesture and facial expression is enough to convey feeling, to make a connection. Aimi geared up, turned her portable speaker on, and started performing an impromptu VR dance-painting session creating a dragon guarding a waterfall! Aimi is an artist who uses her raw talent and kinematic expression to create something truly spectacular for the moment and beyond! Thank you.
That’s it folks, reporting in from the Heart of Silicon Valley, now available in other realities!
*Photography and Video by Amanda C. Ross*