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On the back of the popular gaming show, E3, in Los Angeles last month, Virtual Reality (VR) is a really hot topic right now. Microsoft, Sony, HTC, and Valve are all backing the technology in different ways. And while it’s still early days for the hardware, startups from around the globe are leaping at the opportunity, building immersive virtual experiences for customers and businesses alike.
Ventureburn spoke to co-founder and co-CEO, Tyrone Rubin about SenseVirtual — a Cape Town-based VR startup in South Africa and all its exciting applications.
The idea of VR is what I love. I love the idea of going inside something where anything is possible.
SenseVirtual is a relatively new startup that consists of a four-man team: Rubin; Grant De Sousa, co-founder and co-CEO; Richard Ramsbottom, co-founder and lead VR artist and developer; Nico Van Der Merwe, VR artist and VR developer.
As with over half of the tech startups in South Africa, SenseVirtual is bootstrapped and not all of its members are full-time.
Rubin says they’re trying to keep costs as low as possible but have invested in a few Oculus Rift development kits just to get things going — equipment which doesn’t necessarily come very cheap, but is oh so fun to experiment with nonetheless.
Rubin exuberates passion for VR, the industry, and its many possibilities. He is driven to make more local companies and consumers aware and passionate about VR as he is:
For me, because, I see a lot of potential for it. Love it. And passionate about it. And I see it being able to solve certain problems in education and healthcare.
Among its many exciting projects, SenseVirtual’s working on Awakenings which is a movie-like science fiction experience set on a space station. The protagonist awakens without knowing how he/she got there or anything else. During this show the user will be able to move their head 360 degrees, but it will not be interactive. Rubin suggested making it interactive will require far more resources for the project and system it runs on.
From our love of film, we believe that it is going to be a thrilling story referencing Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner, Moon and Battlestar Galactica. It’s taking all of those inspirations and you’re going to be able to watch that and just sit back and enjoy it. Interactions happen in front of you but you as the view are passive.
Technically it’s going to play out as a film.
The first VR trailer will launch at the TEDx conference in July in Cape Town, South Africa.
Rubin is still unsure exactly how the project will be funded, and did suggest perhaps having adverts in the final project, or having it sponsored by another company.
Rubin sees a market for VR in South Africa, but not necessarily Business to Consumer (B2C) projects like sci-fi films and the like. Business to Business (B2B) is where the money is right now. Some of the startup’s services in this space include VR tours for architects to show their clients, a project in the healthcare sector, as well as a VR booth for a local museum, but the specifics weren’t elaborated upon.
“At a hotel or a bar you can go and experience all different travel experiences. You can see what it’s like in space for instance,” explains the co-founder. “You can get that experience and that market with VR.”
Apart from general startup concerns, one of Rubin’s primary frustrations comes from the lack of passion and developers for VR in South Africa. It’s understandable with such a new technology though he’s worried the company will have to resort to outsourcing its work overseas instead of working with local individuals and companies. There is the possibility VR developers will begin to make a lot of money; he doesn’t know of a “starving” VR developer right now, but that comment is more on the international scene.
“We see a market for Virtual Reality here in South Africa as I am convinced many companies will be needing to explore this technology in some kind of way. Whether it’s advertising companies wanting activation or architectural companies creating VR properties for clients,” Rubin says.
According to the co-CEO, showing off the tech to consumers requires the right approach. It’s simple really: if roller coasters cause someone to feel ill then don’t show them a roller coaster demonstration.
Taking into account the hype coupled with a lot of skepticism, he likens the current technology to that of the original iPhone or iPad: “The technology is still early as in iPhone one or iPad one… It’s going to take a while to live up to the non-early adopters’ expectations.”
Ventureburn asked Rubin what his thoughts are on other technologies, such as the Google Glass offering. He cannot see where the money is in developing a hit app for Glass. He notes that if the company had more resources, such as a larger team, they’d look into it, but right now they’re focused on Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
Google Cardboard backing is different to backing VR, is different to backing AR. Cardboard and developing for it is for me a different customer and consumer experience. It’s way less immersive.
[We’re] backing Oculus because they’ve got their SDK available. You can use Unity or Unreal to develop for it. The HTC is not out yet, but people will develop for it and the Sony Morpheus. We’re sticking with that.
Rubin, De Sousa, and Ramsbottom, were present at the launch of the VR Barn at the Bandwidth Barn in May and have already started planning a second VR event for the end of July, which will consist of key speakers and other items all passion for VR.
It remains to be seen if VR will be picked up the general populace, which will be a pushing factor. Programmes — from gaming and pornography to showrooms and military simulations — as well as price and system requirements, will be part of the deciding factors. Even if VR doesn’t take off, but spawns something new, SenseVirtual is a step in the right direction.
Edit: clarify on minor points