These are exciting times to be at work and play in digitized realities. On April 18, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Spaces, a new virtual reality (VR) platform that lets its users connect with their friends in a virtual world. (This followed its purchase three years ago of VR firm Oculus for $2 billion.) Not to be outdone, Snap Inc. announced on the same day updates to its augmented reality (AR) feature, called New World Lenses. Furthermore, a recent analysis suggested that mobile AR could be worth the bulk of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021.
All of these data points show the extent to which large multinational firms are investing heavily in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR). The University of Washington is exceptionally well-positioned to take advantage of these developments. Where other universities might just be gearing up their programs, students at UW have had access to VR/AR equipment since the summer of 2016.
In CoMotion Labs @HQ, for example, they can experiment with the fully operational Mixed Reality Lab, an installment that is the product of a partnership between CoMotion and Booz Allen Hamilton. In the lab, they can explore a gothic cathedral, or play around with panda bears in a bamboo forest – and that’s not all. Projects have focused on everything from Mars exploration, to haptic integration, to art and design.
CoMotion Labs @HQ continues to specialize in VR/AR startups. Currently, it is home to 15 different companies, including Mechanical Dreams, MultiModal Health, and Invrse Studios. These startups focus on a wide variety of industries, ranging from entertainment and gaming to real estate, education, and healthcare, among other fields. They benefit not only from the workspace CoMotion Labs can offer, but also from extensive resources in mentoring, business plan and market analysis, and innovation funding.
Being comfortable with VR is going to be a necessary skill in the future, just as computer literacy is now. In light of this, CoMotion is working to bring VR/AR/MR to the Puget Sound Community to make sure people of all backgrounds and industries can experience the technology of the future. Earlier this fall, we were part of a group of VR representatives to show legislators in Olympia how important the industry will be to the area’s future economy. We held our second annual Maker Summit at the end of April, inviting the public into the CoMotion MakerSpace to experience VR. Additionally, we were proud to host the Washington State Department’s Women in STEM delegation where we showcased virtual reality to female professors from Iraq and Pakistan. This was their first experience in VR and the interaction excited them about the prospect of bringing VR back to their respective communities.
Most recently, this past weekend, we held our first Virtual Reality Pop-Up shop at the New Holly Gathering Hall, in the Othello neighborhood. This event was entirely free, open to the public, and geared towards introducing communities to virtual reality that may not normally have access or exposure to the technology. More than 150 attendees were able to test out different VR/AR devices including HTC Vives, Oculus Rifts, RICOH Theta 360s, and Google Cardboards. Additionally, representatives from the local Seattle VR community including members of our own CoMotion Labs startups came to the event, presented on their particular specialty in this burgeoning field, and remained to network and answer questions with the event attendees. This event could not have happened without the gracious help of our partners at the Washington Technology Industry Alliance (WTIA) and the City of Seattle. While this event was the inaugural of its kind, we are hopeful to be able to host VR pop-ups in more locations around the state to continue spreading awareness and access to virtual reality and other technologies.
This event and the others mentioned before demonstrate CoMotion’s continued commitment to inclusive innovation, as we endeavor to remove the place-barriers that traditionally stand between people and new technologies. We want to expose everyone to these technologies, and make sure no one is excluded from this exciting industry as it continues to develop.