If you want to master something, teach it.” That’s the old adage, and at Circuit Stream, the thinking is teaching XR helps you develop better solutions, too. Founder and CEO Lou Pushelberg created Circuit Stream courses to give companies the power to educate and empower themselves, and just make the whole XR ecosystem stronger.
Alan: You’re listening to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Lou Pushelberg, founder and CEO of Circuit Stream. Circuit Stream’s story began in 2015 with Lou traveling around North America, connecting with developers, designers, and creators, pushing the boundaries of immersive experiences. Rather than try to build the next big application like everyone else, Lou saw a bigger need for education and training that could help propel the industry forward. From this journey, Circuit Stream’s 10-week online course emerged. Their education platform has reached over 25,000 students. They’re a Unity authorized training partner and their team of 20 people is giving professionals the skills they need to build value-driven XR experiences. They have three business divisions: education, software development, and their platform. To learn more about the great work that Lew and his team is doing, you can visit circuitstream.com.
Lou, welcome to the show, my friend.
Lou: Alan, thanks so much for hosting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alan: It’s my absolute honor. I’ve been watching the work you guys are doing. You’re basically one of the only educational institutions that are teaching people the practical hands-on skills on how to create XR. How did this come about?
Lou: Well, I was working for another VR startup early in 2015. They were based out of Seattle. This was kind of the DK2 era — so early in VR’s history — and personally was inspired by a lot of the early pioneers, who were building some of the flagship VR content and titles that were coming out on the first wave of consumer hardware — so the Vive and the original Rift — and was basically looking for an opportunity and a need, where I could create value for the ecosystem and help accelerate the adoption of VR and ultimately of XR technology, and found that kind of service and value that I could provide to the ecosystem in education.
Alan: So how did you begin? Where do you start with building a course for technology that’s emerging? Like, “Unity 101: here’s how to make a model.” Like, how did that– where do you even begin?
Lou: [chuckles] Yeah, that’s a good question. So we began with a kind of a core philosophy that was, the only way to learn anything really in it — and especially this technology — was to get hands-on and just start building things. There wasn’t a playbook for VR and AR, there wasn’t a series of best practices at the time. They were kind of just beginning to emerge. So we really wanted to focus a lot of what we were doing around getting people into Unity and some of the other major engines, and just helping them start blazing their own trails by just building stuff and sharing it with people. That’s kind of been our MO and what we try to facilitate with all of the professionals, companies that we work with. So in kind of architecting the course in the beginning, we would go straight to the source. So you mentioned travelling across North America. I had basically booked a trip through what were the four biggest hubs down the West Coast. So starting in Vancouver and then heading south through into Seattle, San Francisco, and LA and in each XR hub, I would interview developers, sometimes from startups who were kind of pushing XR forward, and other times from some of the major players — like the Valves, Oculus, Unity, Google — developers who were in VR building and creating and kind of the aggregated knowledge from the people actually building, the developers and designers. That’s what was used to kind of as the kernel for a curriculum that Circuit Stream started with.
Alan: Where’s it gone from there? Was it mainly game enthusiasts that people just wanted to make an AR game or VR game? Like who are the typical students? You’ve trained 25,000 students; is this people sending their company employees? Is this just enthusiasts wanting to learn?
Lou: What we found was kind of to our surprise, we had a lot of working professionals and companies who were looking at XR and saying “We can take the tutorials online, watch the YouTube videos and invest that time — which is totally a respectful way to learn how to create this technology — or we can work with a partner.” which we ultimately became, being Circuit Stream to kind of tap into some of our educational resources and almost help them kind of co-build. So we had a lot of different companies who are investing in XR as an emerging technology. So folks from Boeing, IBM, General Electric, VMware, VM Builders, Lockheed Martin. There’s more, but that’s just to name a few who we’ve collaborated with in a big way to kind of match some of our instructors and developers with engineers, developers, and designers inside the teams of those organizations, and really teach them the skills and kind of help guide them along inside of Unity, while also helping them build some prototypes and POCs and projects that they ultimately would like to deploy at scale in their businesses. So, yes, we do work with people with ideas for games, entertainment, and productivity tools. But a major portion of our education and training is actually for companies who are kind of thought leaders and investing in building core capabilities in developing VR and AR software.
Alan: It’s funny because we predicted this about a year ago. We said, “Hey, as companies realize how powerful this technology is, they’re going to need to either spin up a team or acquire a team.” Are you finding that they’re just kind of sending one or two people to go in and learn how to build stuff, or what does that look like?
Lou: What we find is that companies, everyone will evaluate their own capabilities in-house and if they’re investing in building internal capabilities for VR and AR, or if they’re just looking to find a partner and outsource development. And both are totally valid. I think what we find is kind of a hybrid model, where they’ll get support, but then they’ll also want to build up a certain degree of capabilities in-house, so that they can still manage the applications that we’re creating together, iterate on those applications without, say, having to call a partner or third party every single time. So that’s what we did. It’s kind of an integrated approach, and it’s worked well for the folks who we’re working with and it’s worked well for us as well. So to your question, sometimes this is a single person, sometimes it’s teams of 10, 12, 15 people. We’re working with the US Navy right now, and I believe they have 8 or 10 folks from the US Navy who actually enrolled in the training program and pulling out some POCs and projects alongside some of our instructors. So it’s been amazing for us to just work with big companies and organizations and see the kind of diversity in projects and goals and just be a part of that growth. It’s something that we’re really proud of, because this is our way to contribute and accelerate the ecosystem.
Alan: I’m looking at your website, you’ve got Koch Industries, Lockheed Martin. I was actually just in Orlando last week, which Orlando has kind of three distinct customer groups. They’ve got military. They’ve got Disney and Universal, so tourism and entertainment. And they have Space Coast, they’ve got NASA. And so it’s this really amazing ecosystem of three industries driving massive high tech adoption of these technologies. The Navy’s got thousands and thousands of people in training and for them to start really considering XR, I think it’s really interesting. One of the things that I really want to ask is what are people making? When you talk about XR AR, it’s virtual/augmented/mixed reality, computer vision, spatial audio, just kind of everything wrapped into this spatial computing package. What are people leaning towards when they’re building stuff? Are they building stuff for Hololens? Are they building stuff for Magic Leap? Are they building to kind of scale to all devices?
Lou: Yeah. We see people building across platforms and across devices. In terms of the content itself, we’ve seen a focus around training and operations. I want to create value here, and not give you the generic answer. So maybe what I’ll do is tell you a story of one example, one of our partners and customers that we’re working with from a training capacity, because I think this story is enlightening. So this company — it’s a company called Vantage Airport Group — has been a really early partner for us, someone who is very taking the training and taking our courses early on in Circuit Stream’s life. And we’ve evolved with him to help him begin to deploy and scale VR training throughout his organization. And what their company does, is they manage the operations of airports. So airports, which are sometimes owned by the city, will subcontract them out to actually manage the training, the staffing, the operations so that the airport can continue to run smoothly. So they’ve got dozens of airports that they’re basically responsible for managing around the world.
In some of their smaller airports, they have this really interesting problem where they’ll get– when they have turnover and they’re training new people, they’re responsible for training all of the people who work airside. So the people who– the wing walkers who have those orange pylons and kind of flag planes in, the people who drive the pushcarts, the people, the baggage handlers, the people driving any vehicles around the tarmac. And for some of their smaller airports, one of the problems that they would have is the folks who drive the pushcarts– often these airports will have a left and a right section of the airport, and planes that are landing on one path of the runway are responsible for then pulling into the left section, other planes are responsible for pulling into the right section. So what would happen with them, is they would often get the people driving the pushcarts airside and airplanes have no reverse gear. They can only go forward. So they need someone to drive a pushcart to– essentially it’s like a trailer hinge and they essentially have to reverse this plane into the right spot. And if you’ve ever backed up a trailer, you know that’s not an intuitive motion to get comfortable with, because when you turn left–
Alan: You’re steering in the wrong direction.
Lou: –and vice versa. Exactly. So think about doing that with an airplane. So because it’s these gates, the left and the right gate — we call them gate A and gate B — the passengers board the plane, we’re relatively close together. And the airside professionals operating the pushcarts are basically trying to steer a giant trailer backwards. There would often push a plane departing from gate A along an L shape — kind of like a curved right angle — into the departing zone for gate B. And then what would happen is they would literally have planes that were trying to land in the airport that could not actually land to debark passengers, because they had another plane that was supposed to be taking off that was pushed from gate A into takeoff zone B. So they had an operational challenge and a training challenge to make sure that the people driving the pushcarts would actually follow the right curve and make sure that planes from Gate A were pushed back into takeoff zone A. And this obviously had financial implications, safety implications, and it essentially came down to better training and better operations. We’ve been helping him kind of develop this as a training exercise to evaluate and measure that people are actually competent to perform this task.
VR training is one of the best uses. I’m sure that’s not new for your audience, Alan. But it’s stories like this that actually illuminate some of the benefits that you can have, and giving people just the ability to practice that before dealing with these real assets in a kind of a live environment, that’s an example. And there’s hundreds of different cases of content that we’ve taught people on or help people built through our training and our courses. This is just one and it’s evolved into an interesting story. And now that’s fanned out to be everything from training on the bridge. So that piece of equipment that’s connects the gate to the plane itself, to other vehicle simulation and training throughout their portfolio of airports.
Alan: Have they rolled this out at scale yet?
Lou: They’re in the process of doing that.
Alan: What are some of the challenges around that, beyond just making the content? Because I know some of the challenges become around security. How do you get this out to people? How do you manage the feedback? What are some of the challenges that they’re experiencing now, and how are you guys overcoming it? Are you working with them to help scale or are you just–?
Lou: We are, yeah. So I’ll share some of the challenges from our perspective. And this ties in nicely to a system that we’re building called the Circuit Stream Platform. A lot of the challenges around scale are IT challenges. So where are you hosting the training? How are you managing the content? How are you administering the content? How do you measure the key results so that you can prove throughout the organization that VR training is beneficial along these key metrics, that could be financial or non-financial, could be time and productivity. We’re building at Circuit Stream a tool that’s meant for deploying, managing, and scaling XR content. So what that basically means is if you’re a company, you may use multiple different VR and AR headsets and devices. We give you a place to host all of your content and then let both employees, training, and operations managers log in to self-administer some of their training or operations applications and then manage those applications. Who gets access to the content, who uses it? Who has access to which modules, et cetera? And then actually measure some of the metrics behind VR training. So things like again, who’s using it, session times, rates of error, training times, etc. that a company can use to, again, tie those back to financial or non-financial metrics.
So in terms of scaling, those are some of the problems that we’re trying to solve and trying to remove some of the friction so that if you have a VR or an AR application that’s effective and you validated, that you don’t go to the IT group and say, “Hey, we’ve got this application that we’re working on it, it’s actually really beneficial at solving a business problem.” and then IT says, “Well, that’s great, but we have 10, 20, 200 devices. And every time the developers update the application, we don’t want to go back and actually update that content on our 200 devices.” So we’re building a platform to basically manage that content distribution, as well as all the versioning and updates. And that’s what we can contribute for some of these market-leading companies, like Vantage, who are scaling and trying to realize and measure some of the benefits of XR. And we’re trying to help them solve that problem and really be a partner in rolling out at scale.
Alan: How are you guys managing kind of device management? Because I know that’s another one that keeps coming up that [chuckles] you’ve got these headsets and then you ship them out to people and it’s like, how do you just deal with that? Are you guys working typically with VR, AR? Like, how do you help them manage that?
Lou: Device management is an interesting one. Depending on the device, we’re working through some other partners, kind of depending on the needs of our clients and our and our customers. Like we have the software development capabilities in-house to build solutions, be it the Hololens. And if someone needs to shut down or wipe their Hololens, if someone forgets it at an airport or whatever, or just other device management systems for some of the VR headsets, be that kind of like a log-in system or device management on a PC. So it’s something that we’re kind of investing in and evolving. And I think our philosophy is to truly try to position ourselves as a collaborator and our partner. So some of the people that we’re working with, we’re trying to kind of identify their needs and then leverage some of our software development expertise to build out the capabilities around device management that they need to run their organizations effectively.
Alan: That’s awesome. The service you guys are providing is really needed. And one of the things that– I actually did a talk last week about this. Some of the results, the early results that companies are starting to release. So Walmart says we decreased our training times 900 percent. Sprint saved $11-million on their training. These are really big, crazy, out-there numbers. But even if you’re increasing retention rates by 10 percent — like, maybe it’s a 10 percent decrease in travel times — these numbers add up dramatically. And one of the things that I think is gonna be a really big problem as companies start to realize the potential of this technology, we’re not going to be able to train people fast enough to start building the amount of content that’s going to be required, at scale. Having Circuit Stream as an education leader in this, have you thought about partnering with universities and colleges to deliver this education at more scale?
Lou: Interesting. So we have thought about that in the past. The educational model through universities is tricky. There are quite a few universities that have their own VR and AR groups and divisions and part of different faculties. One of the problems here is that universities are like a lot of their programs are, for example, going to look at the ability to create jobs and have people go out and get jobs in the XR field. So based on our research — and we’ve had conversations with it with a couple of universities — they are often kind of beginning to build curriculum in-house. And like on a scale– if you were to plot that on an X and Y graph, in terms of the rates of jobs and opportunities for their students versus the timing, I think we’re still quite early on that scale.
Alan: The problem is that if they don’t start to implement it now, by the time– so the industry’s growing from about, let’s call it $10-billion this year, it will be between $8- and $10-billion as an industry. That includes headsets, software, everything. In 2021, they’re anticipating that will jump to $110-billion. So in a 10x growth of an industry, we’re not seeing the ability to 10x the talent.
Lou: Right. Right.
Alan: And that’s– I mean, that’s where I think you guys have a very unique position. One, you’re able to deliver training quickly and practically. And I would assume that your system — and maybe you can speak to this — I would assume that your online platform — or your online system for learning — is evolving as the technology is evolving. And that’s something that universities and colleges are going to struggle with, because as they spend maybe a year, two years to build a curriculum, by the time they start rolling that curriculum out, it’s obsolete.
Lou: Yeah, 100 percent. Coming back to one of our core philosophies and is just that in order to be effective teachers– and there’s a great quote from Richard Feynman, who was a physicist, and he said, “If you want to master something, teach it.” So that’s something that we live by. But I think the inverse is also true, that in order to really teach something well, you have to be doing it day in and day out. So we’ve architected our training around the fact that we are constantly evolving and adapting to best practices and new workflows, new patterns in design, because we’re constantly building VR and AR software for our clients. So that kind of flywheel of information we try to funnel back into our courses. And aside from some of the economic challenges of universities, that’s one of the challenges around curriculum that they have, where they are obviously doing research, but may not be working directly in industry, which is really tip of the spear when it comes to XR, which is kind of forward in terms of computing itself. So the industry is evolving so quickly. And to your point, that’s something that we’ve tried to leverage where because we’re in the trenches building XR software, we’re always kind of staying on the front of the curve in terms of what the best knowledge and best practices are.
Alan: That’s gonna be essential, is keeping the content current, but also being able to use industry-leading techniques. And the thing is, you’re like, “Hey, well, let’s look to industry to give us what we need to teach.” But the thing is, we are the industry, so we’ve got to make it up as we go. It’s one of those things. And when I was first getting into VR, I listened to one of the podcasts on Voices of VR podcast. And one of the guys was saying that VR and AR is so early now that if you’re a Hollywood producer or you’re somebody making something in your basement, the playing field is completely leveled. Nobody knows what we’re doing. And it kind of struck home with me, that there are obviously now — fast forward 3 years or 4 years — companies and people that have more experience than others. But it feels like we’re still at that early phase, where anybody can be a Beat Saber or a Superhot or create a training module. It seems like we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Last week I was in Orlando at the Simulation Summit in Florida, and I had the opportunity to try the haptics gloves, where you put on these giant gloves, but they simulate touch and picking up things. You were able to reach down, grab a virtual object physically and interact with it. And it feels like when you pick up something, it feels like it’s there. And it was– it was that combination of the touch mixed with the VR and the sounds and spatial audio. Everything together made this experience, that I was just literally blown away. And then when I– it was was a military simulator, so it was a bit graphic. But when I took off the headset, it took me a few minutes to kind of re-acclimatize to being in the real world. And I think that’s the power of this technology to really hijack all your senses, to give you that sense of doing it. And to your point about if you want to learn something, teach it. I think that VR lends itself amazing to kind of that, see it or watch it, do it, teach it. There’s something visceral about it. There’s something that that just locks in your memory. It just, it is there forever. And there’s another group teaching VR productions stuff, called Axon Park. Are you familiar with it?
Lou: No, I’m not.
Alan: What they’re doing is they’re actually doing all their lessons in VR. So you actually go in VR, and you get lessons from the instructor in VR, about how to create VR. It’s very meta.
Lou: That is very meta, indeed.
Alan: OK, so let’s move on to specifics around businesses, because I know you work with a number of companies. What are you seeing as the killer use case? I know everyone talks about the killer use case, but what are you seeing as far as use cases that companies are–? Maybe it’s universal, like training is one of them. There’s very little argument around the fact that training using VR and AR is better than not using it. But what are you seeing as other use cases that are emerging that you didn’t maybe think that we’re gonna be a killer use cases, but are?
Lou: So my killer use case is training. What I’ll do, is I’ll try to dive into some of the value drivers in training that may be less obvious, to try to be really specific and create value for someone who’s listening and interested in rolling out XR training. So in that use case, there’s– what we always try to do is, we try to make sure that we’re generating value and can prove out that value. So in terms of return on investment or financial value, an interesting way to think about it is that there’s two types of ROI. There’s a hard ROI, where you’re going to see, quarter over quarter, your applications and solutions that you’re rolling out with XR actually hit the PNL in terms of cost savings or financial impact. And then there’s a soft ROI, which is more interesting. And here’s a way to think about soft ROI: Let’s say that you’re a large company and you gave the example that this can really move the needle, even with small percentage gains when there’s macro kind of stakes at play. So you’re implementing VR training and we’re looking under the theme of soft ROI. If your company has the philosophy of increasing productivity, saving people’s time, to generally increase the value of the business. One way to look at it would be to say, if we can virtualize all of our training, which was– for a portion of our training — which in the past was done in a training classroom, on a PowerPoint, one to one, on the job shadowing — and we can virtualize some of that away, because we can now, with VR and with commercially priced headsets. The pricing of VR is fundamentally right now. It fundamentally makes sense, where it didn’t maybe 25 or 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago.
Alan: Let’s be honest, it didn’t really lend itself nicely to industry even two years ago. Because if you look at VR, you needed a computer. You needed to run updates all the time. It was just generally a pain in the ass. It feels like we’re just past that point where it’s now deployable at scale. The timing is everything and the timing for VR and AR is right now. The devices are there now. To quote Ori Inbar, “We have all the tools necessary to create massive value right now. If we never invented anything else, the tools we have right now are enough to create enormous value.”
Lou: Right, I totally agree. I mean, you’re highlighting the past, kind of two to three years, just the–
Alan: It’s nuts. [laughs]
Lou: Yeah, it’s totally transformed to just some of the kind of IT enablements and hardware enablements that have happened. Dialing back like 10, 20 years, 30 years, that’s where a headset was 10 or 100 thousand dollars and only the military had access to it.
Lou: Yes. I totally, totally agree with your point. So in that lens–
Alan: Can you imagine what we’ve come through in the last three years and imagine what’s going to be the next three years from now? It’s going to be these crazy, exponential improvements on everything. When you look at Facebook or Oculus’s announcement of their varifocal lenses: basically, they’re creating lenses inside a headset that will allow you to focus on multiplane. So if you look at something far out, it’ll be in focus. But if you look at something close up, it’ll also be in focus. And I mean, that’s just– somebody had to sit down and think of how do we focus on multiplanes using a fixed screen? It’s nuts.
Lou: Right. So, I mean, what you’re referring to is — for those of you who are interested — is Michael Abrash’s talk from OC6, which happened recently, and that’s an amazing hardware development because it means smaller, better form factor, more ergonomic, lighter devices, which is kind of where we all want to go. The hardware is just year over year just changing at a blistering pace, which is amazing for anyone who’s getting into the ecosystem.
Alan: I mean, to put it in perspective, just to put a final point in that: four years ago we started doing 360 video for companies, and it was about $10,000 a minute. And you had to stitch it, you had to basically 3D print a rig, and put a bunch of GoPros, and then hand-stitch all the different seams together. Then we started seeing these consumer-grade 360 cameras that did almost the exact same work we were doing. It’d sacrifice a little bit of the resolution, but it stitched on your phone instantly. You kind of had this a-ha moment, where it’s like, “OK, this $10,000 per minute thing is no longer valid, when I can buy the camera for 500 bucks and it’ll do everything for me.” And then fast forward to now, you’ve got 11K cameras, stereoscopic stitching in the cloud, and that camera is less than 10– it’s less than one minute of what we were doing 10 years ago. And you can make as much as you want. I digress.
Lou: [laughs] No, I mean, it’s a good point. I’m reading this book right now called The Dream Machine, that’s about the invention of the personal computer. Michael Abrash, who’s — I think he’s the chief scientist or similar title at Oculus — he was talking about comparing VR to the revolution of the PC and it feeling very, very similar to that point in time. So it’s an interesting comparison that you bring up just in terms of all of these different systems, in terms of content creation and connectivity, hardware platforms all coming together to make this really economical and really valuable.
Alan: I got to say something.
Alan: We have a crazy idea. We’re actually in the middle of pitching investors right now, and we’re pitching for a new product. And our mission for the new company is to democratize education globally by 2037.
Lou: [laughs] I love it.
Alan: Think about it. But that’s my 60th year. When I turn 60, I want to be able to give away global education. But it’s not as crazy thought as when you first say it. It’s like, “Oh, that’s insane.” But if you think about it, the glasses that we’ll wear in 10 years from now will be super lightweight. They’ll be inexpensive. The processing won’t be on the glasses, it’ll be in the cloud. And we’ll be able to push content to everybody fairly easily, anywhere in the world. But the hard part is still going to be creating that content, which is why we gave ourselves another five years to figure out how to democratize the creation of the content. Because we can give content away, but who’s going to create all that content? And so yeah, add five years under that, and platforms like yours and ours and everything that being able to create content or allow anybody to create content really easily, that’s going to be a thing. You fill that within a bit of AI, then all the sudden AI’s pulled some 3D objects from different game engines or whatever, pulled it all in, you get the point. And moving into kind of 15 years out, we’ll wear these glasses daily. And anything we look at will have a layer of data on it, that can either teach us how to use it, about it, or purchase it directly from looking at it. And that’s what I think exponential growth does, and we can’t really see past ten years from now, especially when we’re entering into exponential growth. So I think within 15 years we should have all the technologies in place to democratize not only the hardware, the delivery, and the content development, and then give ourselves two years to figure out how to give it all away.
Lou: Hey. I mean, I agree. And that’s genuinely what we’re pushing for. Even if we only contribute a very small slice of that, that’s what gets me out of bed every morning. And a lot of people on our team here have helped contribute in some way to bring spatial computing to the world and try to accelerate the adoption of spatial computing. So it’s a great point. I love your mission. It’s very noble around democratizing education. I think rewinding back to– we tangented off here, which is great, it’s good. But I think we’re– in this industry, you’re always trying to find the balance between today and kind of also this vision and the potential.
Alan: The business challenge; build for today, but design for tomorrow.
Lou: Exactly. So coming back to the training use case, like you mentioned, education. But when we think about training and the model that we use today, coming back to that piece around a soft ROI, if you’re inside a company like getting your organization to buy into XR from a training capacity, one great way to look at it is to say if, you can virtualize — which we can do today with the technology — if you can virtualize some part of your training process — that could be an aerospace, that could be a manufacturing, whatever the industry is — you’ve essentially now bought time for your training manager, where you’ve actually freed up because you’ve virtualized a lot of the training that they do through your VR or AR simulation or training aids. So what happens to that person now is they can, in theory, make a horizontal shift in the organization and go work on something else that creates value for the company. So we often– training as a use case get people who say, “Well, it’s hard to tell the story and hard to convince the team here to buy in.” And that’s a story that we found is successful.
If your company is willing to make that investment and say, we know that this might not be a hard ROI that’s going to hit the PNL next quarter. But what we’re essentially doing is virtualizing away some of our training or saving time for the training manager, which lets him or her go work on other higher-value tasks — which may not hit the PNL this quarter, but it may hit the PNL in a year or two from now — and either help the company create more revenue, reduce its costs, etc. and essentially make the company more effective and more efficient. So that’s one way that we’ve been kind of looking at, you know, dialing back into today. And how do you make the case? How do you tell the story? This kind of model around soft ROI and increasing productivity through XR is quite powerful for someone who is open to that kind of thinking around value creation.
Alan: You know, there’s two other things that have come up on this podcast recently. One being it portrays your company as an advanced company, as a forward-thinking company. So companies that are using VR and AR training now, their employees are more likely to stay with them. And actually there was– can’t remember who was this morning. I was doing a podcast this morning, and they were saying that they’re seeing an increase just by using– oh, it was James and Justin from Immerse. They were saying there’s an increase in retention rates, not of the knowledge, but of the actual employees. Because they’re staying longer, because they’re getting better trained, they feel more comfortable at work, and they also have this kind of feeling that their company is doing the right things. And I think that’s a soft AR way that you can’t really measure. It’s very hard to measure. But the other one around soft ROI is that people when they go into virtual experiences, they have a very visceral, hands-on experience within virtual and augmented reality. But that translates directly into on the job skills training and management and people that are more comfortable at their work perform better, they come to work enthused. And I think we’re only scratching the surface with this. But at the same time, it’s important for companies to realize the real value is in all of those things combined. And one thing I always highlight when I’m speaking to a customer is like when you’re in VR, you cannot be on your phone. So you’re literally hijacking people’s entire focus. And it’s very rare when you have hijacked someone’s entire focus — even for a small amount of time, for 10 minutes while they do the training — they cannot be doing anything else. It doesn’t work.
Lou: Yeah, I agree. And people are finding benefits just in terms of the training environment, so being able to do it in a controlled environment, something that’s safe, comfortable, maybe not noisy, you can get that personal attention that you may need. You can have effectively unlimited repetitions.
Alan: You can. Oh, and another thing is people don’t like making mistakes, because in all of our school, we’re kind of taught not to make mistakes because we’ll get a lower grade. And people in VR, they can make as many mistakes as they want.
Lou: Yeah. 100 percent.
Alan: It’s OK. Nobody’s seeing what they’re seeing. Now, on the other hand, on the flip side of that, the people that are instructing, they have access to unlimited amounts of data about the learner. And if we can figure out how to take all of that information in — their head pose, gait analysis, speech recognition, eye tracking, biometrics, there’s so many things we can capture about a learner — and then take that and apply that to customized contextualised learning for people, then it gets really crazy.
Lou: Data is another huge piece of this, capturing all that learning data as well as– just if I think of AR like other processes in terms of system checks, that are traditionally done with paper, part and component checks, audits, all of these certain things that if you can serve up contextual information at the right time and place, that you can take these from multi-step processes or multi-steps of gathering and reporting on data, down to maybe one or two.
Alan: I had dinner with Shelly Petersen from Lockheed Martin last week, and they are using the Hololens to help people assemble these NASA space shuttles. They went from eight days, it took two people eight days to put these bolts, these screws in. They switched to the Hololens, and because it was real-time, being able to look up and just kind of do your work, rather than look at the manual and measure and do all that, they went from two people for eight days to one person in six hours, doing the same exact task.
Lou: Yeah, that’s amazing. I mean, I heard a similar story. We were at EWTS, which is kind of the Mecca for XR technology, at least for kind of at a business level. And there was the CEO from Thyssenkrupp, explaining how Thyssenkrupp used to have a very paper driven process, that I think the number was four months around. They install elevators into people’s homes, for people who have disabilities or it’s difficult for them to get up and down their stairs, they’ll install those personal elevators. And the old process was a paper process where they would measure dimensions of the railing and of each steps, because each installation and manufacture process is essentially custom tweaked to the person’s home.
They’re equipping their field service and installation teams with Hololenses, and what was a four-month process has basically been reduced down to two weeks. Because on the first site visit, the technician will go through with a Hololens and they’ve written software that’s able to take a fairly accurate measurement of all of those steps and it basically just scans the steps as he walks up them with the Hololens. That data is immediately streamed back to the designers and engineers who are going to tweak the manufacturing and installation process for the elevator equipment that’s being built in their home. And this from four months down to two weeks and hope those– I believe those are the accurate numbers. He was literally saying this is a piece of our business where we’re fundamentally changing our business model. And to me, that stuff is just fascinating. And it’s amazing that giving people computing in the form of XR that maybe traditionally haven’t had computing or have had it in a different form, is able to literally change a business model, that’s an amazing, amazing story of success.
Alan: It’s absolutely incredible. So we’re coming to the near the end of this podcast, and I want to make sure that we’re cognizant of your time to let you get back to the great work you’re doing at Circuit Stream. But what is one problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?
Lou: Hmm. This may be a strange answer, but I’m fixated right now in helping doing what we’re already doing, which is helping companies become more productive and improve their operations. Because my belief is that for many of the companies that we’ve been working with, they genuinely have great missions and great products and services that they’re offering. So if we can help them and enable them — through XR — be more efficient, then we help them free up time to continue creating kind of more value through their products and services. For people like myself and all of the people around the world that they serve, keep safe, provide services to, provide products to. I know that’s pretty macro, but that’s genuinely something that I’m passionate for and I’m willing to invest and be in this for the long haul, so that we can build technology that better serves those people and companies that we’re working with.
Alan: That’s a beautiful thing. And I think every time we create efficiencies in the entire ecosystem of a company, we’re actually reducing the resources that we need for the earth. If we can reduce the time to get things done, we can actually reduce the resources that we need. And one of the things that stuck with me years ago, I listened to the Voices Of VR podcast, and one guy was saying, imagine we as humans. We just love to build things. We love to build. We love to design. We love to strive to build new things. But what if those things — being our clothes or cars or our buildings — what if they didn’t have to be real? What if they could be electrons, which are very highly scalable? They don’t require the resources of the planet to be used, other than energy, which I’m sure we’re gonna figure out unlimited energy in the next 20 years. So being able to reduce the human load and impact on the world using virtual buildings and worlds and stuff. I think it’s an interesting theory, anyway.
Lou: I totally agree.
We talk a lot about the business use cases of XR on this podcast, but any good business comes with a great fitness plan or exercise room. XR is no different, and VRdōjō founder Michael Eichenseer runs Alan through a few of the cardiovascular benefits to the technology. And that’s just the first six minutes! Many other topics are touched on in this episode – virtual writing spaces, remote assistance, spatial learning, his own XR makerspace, and more. Alan: Welcome to the show, Michael, how are you doing? Pretty good. How are you? Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today. It’s going to be a really exciting one. Let’s tell everybody at home. What is your vision for virtual augmented reality? Was the best virtual reality or a AR experience is what is the best thing that you have done? And explain to the listeners why that is so. Michael: For me, it’s definitely the fitness aspect of VR. As a gamer, I definitely enjoy the fact that I can play a game, not be sitting the entire time, and afterwards, I’ve burnt 500 calories, and feel really good about it the next day. The research coming out in XR in reducing pain and increasing motivation, to me, is fascinating. Alan: There was a lot of medical use cases coming up in pain reduction, using virtual reality for pre-surgical — and also perisurgical — where you’re wearing a headset to distract you. I know one of the things that blows my mind is, my daughter, she’s 10 and she is terrified of needles. Like, we’re talking blood-curdling screams from the nurse’s office. The next time she goes, we’re gonna use VR to try to distract her ...
Macy’s has been in the news a lot this week, and many are worried about what the latest round of store closures mean for the long-running retailer, and the future of in-person shopping in general. But Macy’s resident XR guru Mohamed Rajani came by our podcast a little while back to suggest that the future of retail exists in the virtual world. Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Mohamed Rajani, responsible for VR and AR initiatives at Macy’s. Mohamed is part of the new Business Development and Innovation team at Macy’s, and is responsible for driving change through the development of new retail concepts and partnerships amidst an evolving retail landscape. “Mo” also leads Macy’s immersive technology initiatives, including VR and AR in furniture, which is removing key friction points for the customer, enabling an AR view in-room capabilities on the Macy’s mobile app. To learn more about the work he’s doing, you can visit macys.com. Mohamed, welcome to the show. Mohamed: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Alan. Happy to be here. Alan: We had the opportunity to to have a few calls prior to Augmented World Expo. We were on a panel together, and you were talking about the amazing work that you’re doing at Macy’s. So let’s start unpacking that. Mo, tell us about what you guys are doing at Macy’s. Mohamed: So just a little bit of context that our team does. Our team’s about two and half years old. I’ve been with the company for over eight years, across a variety of different functions. But about two and a half years ago, as a company, we decided to establish a dedicated team that’s purely focused ...
Verizon’s XR development lead, TJ Vitolo, dreams of a day where he can download an entire TV series in an instant, or visualize info about the entire world with AR glasses, even living in a connectivity dead zone by the beach. In his position, he’s able to work to make that dream a forthcoming reality by developing the technology that will make 5G possible. Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today, I’ve got an amazing guest, TJ Vitolo. He is the director and head of XR Technology Development at Verizon. Today, he leads the commercial strategy and product execution behind Verizon’s VR, AR and 360 organization environment. Recently, TJ and his team launched AR Designer, the world’s first streaming-based AR tool kit that allows brands and developers to quickly and easily create augmented reality experiences, with no technical expertise. You can visit Verizon.com or envrmnt.com. I want to welcome TJ to the show. Welcome. TJ: Hey, thanks for having me, Alan. Alan: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. I’m so excited to have you on the show. This is like– all the things you guys are doing, from working with the accessibility team at Cornell Tech, to your acquisition of Riot, to working with the Sacramento Kings, Yahoo! News. There is so much going on at Verizon. You want to just give us a high level summary of what you do, and what the plan is at Verizon for introducing 5G and XR? TJ: It’s quite dynamic here. You know, the VR space is ever evolving. Teams that do a number of things within VR here. But specifically you mentioned Riot. Between our team and Riot, we manage both of the content and creative end of XR, and that’s Riot. And our team manages the ...