ABOUT MY GUEST
In this conversation, I speak with Jeremy Dalton, the Head of XR at PwC UK, and author of Reality Check: How Immersive Technologies Can Transform Your Business. Jeremy’s work aims to help clients understand, quantify, and implement the benefits of virtual reality and augmented reality, a set of technologies sometimes collectively referred to as XR, immersive technologies or spatial computing.
Alongside his fascinating book on the subject, Jeremy has given talks all over the world on the future of XR and his work has been featured in newspapers, radio and online through The Financial Times, the BBC, and many more.
As part of his mission to educate, connect and inspire, he has worked with the World Economic Forum on XR initiatives and currently sits on the advisory board of Immerse UK, a UK government supported cross-sector network for businesses, research groups and educational organisations that are engaged with immersive technologies.
Recorded on 15th January 2021.
Nathalie: Jeremy, thank you very much for talking with me today.
Jeremy: A pleasure to be here, Nathalie.
Nathalie: So I’m very excited about this conversation because you have just written an extraordinary book called Reality Check: How Immersive Technologies Can Transform Your Business, and it seems like it’s a really poignant moment for that to have come out. And before we dive into it, I’m going to ask you a bit of a bigger question, which I ask all my guests, which is from your perspective and in the light of this book, what do you think is going on in the global human psyche right now?
Jeremy: Ooh. So I think everybody’s being massively challenged by the current climate and as a result, they’ve really had to adapt to new ways of working, but also in their personal lives, new ways of living. And that can be helped by technology, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, which is the subject of Reality Check, but also, I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not always about technology and not every solution is a technology-enabled one and that people are learning to cope with these situations in different ways, in whatever way they can. I’ve seen people from our local community coming together and forming online groups, for example. I’ve seen the City of London, where I live, come together and create these forums where people remotely can connect.
So, in summary, it’s a major challenge for everyone and it’s really pushing people outside of their comfort zone and, for many, in quite extreme ways that have a massive impact on their mental health and their psyche. But the wonderful thing is and the positive side of that story is that we’re also seeing the best of humanity, in some cases, as well, where people are actively finding new ways of coming together and building those connections, even under the limitations of the current climate.
Nathalie: A question related to that, then, because, obviously, you started writing this book before COVID hit. What was it that moved you initially to write the book?
Jeremy: So you’re right, I did start writing this before COVID hit and as a result, I was delayed in my release of it. I actually saw an online meme, and I’m going to talk about it here because I find it funny and I saw it yesterday. It’s got two frames in it, one frame is of a cartoon doglike character sitting at a table, just a normal living room table, with flames all around it.
Nathalie: Oh, yeah.
Jeremy: Yeah, you know that one. The next frame zooms in on the dog a little bit more and there’s a speech bubble above their head and it says something like, “So, everyone, I’m about to release a book,” and the flames are still burning wildly around them. That’s sort of a good encapsulation of how I felt and feel as I was writing this during the crisis.
So my main job at PwC is to lead the virtual reality and augmented reality team here in the UK, so it’s part of my career. However, to go back a bit and to give you some background, I started this team in PwC back in 2017 and before that, I had spent many years campaigning for the firm to build this capability. So, in summary, I have a lot of passion for the technology for virtual reality and augmented reality, I see its potential not only to massively impact our personal lives, but also our professional lives as well. So the professional element comes through in the work that I do, but also, personally, I’ve been dabbling in virtual reality and I have all manner of virtual reality headsets in my own home. It’s becoming a bit of a chaotic mess, to be honest. I’m trying to figure out how to display them all and I’m turning to the VR community for that, for different shelving solutions, different mannequin solutions that I can put headsets on and stuff like that.
Jeremy: I think there is so much potential there across every aspect of our lives and I’m super excited about it, but also, I think there is a lack of real understanding on the technology and what it can really do. I think a lot of people think of VR and AR purely as gaming and entertainment technology, one that has no application in business or very little beyond it being just a sort of a gimmick or a pure marketing play. And I wanted to try and dispel those myths, so I wanted to write this book to help business leaders understand that there is more to virtual reality than Beat Saber and there is more to augmented reality than Pokemon Go, and to really drive home that message through case studies. And not theoretical examples, not examples of this business could do this with the technology or imagine what would be possible in 10 years’ time, I really wanted to ground it, in reality, right now, what are businesses doing and thereby create a little bit of pressure on these organizations across all industries to help them understand that look, you can use virtual reality and augmented reality right now and it can add real business value right now. So, that was my real motivation for the book.
Nathalie: It’s funny because VR, as you mentioned, there’s lots of misconceptions around it and it gets quite a bad rap. Some suggested oh, it had its moment and failed and it boomed in the ’90s, but then people also said the same thing about QR codes, which have made a massive comeback since the pandemic hit.
Nathalie: Who’d have thought?
Nathalie: And so in terms of the examples that you give now of businesses that are actually using, what you sort of call, XR technology, which is nice, it combines the virtual and the augmented, what are some of the things that give you greatest cause for excitement? How are businesses applying some of these technologies to their process, maybe to their culture, maybe to remote work?
Jeremy: Yeah. Sure. Sure. What I’m going to do is just tackle that comment you made initially, Nathalie, where you’re talking about people being very sort of negative about the technology, saying it had its time, it never really amounted to much. And I can understand that feeling because yes, virtual reality has been around for a long time. This is something a lot of people may not know, but, technically, in its technological form, virtual reality’s been around since the late ’60s, when academics, like Ivan Sutherland, created what is arguably the first XR head-mounted display. And ever since then, there’s been progress, most notably to consumers in the early ’90s. So, anyone who’s listening or reading this may recall that there was a lot of excitement in the early ’90s and some of these machines, these huge, monstrous machines, actually made it into the public sphere and you could go down to the local arcade, put a few coins in the slot and actually have a virtual reality experience.
Jeremy: Not a very good one albeit. I’ll try and help you picture it. Imagine these massive headsets that are two, three, four kilograms, in some cases, sitting down, pressing down on your head, you’ve got really thick octopus of cables coming out of your head and your body and into the machine. And on top of it all, the graphics at the time were very much the video game graphics at the time. So if anyone played any of video games in the early ’90s, we’re talking about really pixelated stuff, not at all the standard that you’ll see now. And on top of everything, because we didn’t have a lot of processing power, the experience itself was quite slow to react to your actions. So, every time you moved your head to the left or the right, the view, which is supposed to change almost instantaneously, took a little bit of time to move. A very, very small amount of time, but even that little lag or that little delay is enough to make people feel nauseous. So, a lot of people did feel nauseous at the time, a lot of people felt underwhelmed, a lot of people felt uncomfortable and a lot of what consumers were seeing was just purely in the gaming space.
So VR, unfortunately, back then, sort of died down and went into hibernation mode and a lot of people see it as having never recovered. However, in 2012, a chap called Palmer Luckey put his Oculus Rift on Kickstarter and, effectively, resurrected this industry, got everyone really excited about it again and it was a great time, great timing. Now we have the processing power to make this viable, we’ve had a lot of time to think about it, a lot of universities have had time to study it more and help people better understand the wide range of applications it has. And ever since 2012, we’ve had a string of major activity in the VR space. So in 2014, Facebook bought this fledgling company that Palmer started up for three billion dollars. Incredible amount of money. And since then, pretty much, almost every major technology company in the world has been involved in virtual reality or augmented reality in some fashion. So, count among them Microsoft, Samsung, Lenovo, Qualcomm, HP, Google, Sony, they’ve all… And many of them are still involved in virtual reality and augmented reality. So, things have changed quite tremendously.
Now, people may be saying okay, but virtual reality still is not mainstream, and yes, I would agree with you that it’s not quite mainstream, but look at the technologies that have reached us in the past and understand in a data-driven way, not an anecdotal way, how long have these technologies taken? So this is something that I tackle in my book as well. If you look at landlines, if you look at microwaves, tablets, computers, the internet, radio, all of those have taken quite a disparate amount of time to really go mainstream, from first being sold to consumers. You’ll be very surprised about this, but radio took six years.
Nathalie: Oh, my God.
Jeremy: Six years only. It was faster than the internet-
Jeremy: Took. Internet took eight years to spread. Computers took 19 years to become mainstream. And the worst of all, or the poorest performing of all, landlines took 29 years-
Nathalie: Oh, my God.
Jeremy: To become mainstream technology, and you never would’ve thought that. By comparison, virtual reality, even if we go as far back as we can to when it was first sold to consumers as a commercial product, that was in 1993, so we’re only talking about 27 years, coming up to 28 years in a bit, compared to landlines at 29 years, microwaves at 26 years. Virtual reality’s path and progress is not outside the realm of these other technologies of the past, ones that have become a mainstay in our society, like the landline and like the microwave.
Nathalie: It’s interesting, the way that you’re contextualizing it within the arc of history of these other innovations, because I think one of the things that’s interesting is you’re naming these different things that have meant huge progress could happen, so whether it’s the telephone or TV, for instance. I think something that’s curious about our time now, that perhaps they didn’t have then, was our ability through existing technology, like TV, like the graphics that allow us to create CGI films, et cetera, we now have the capacity to physically visualize and share our own visions of what these things could somehow create. So, I’m thinking now in terms of Star Trek. I’m an avid Star Trek fan and I’ve always loved the idea of the Holodeck, which-
Jeremy: Oh, yes.
Nathalie: If you… For those of you listening, if you are not Star Trek fans, it’s a holographic kind of entertainment suite that can transport you into other worlds and times. The closest equivalent I’ve seen so far, and, probably, it’s unfair within this arc of adoption and development, is the immersive tech that’s been used, as you mentioned, in games and entertainment and, in particular… I don’t know if you tried this, but there was a beautiful experiment, it was her eighth album, Björk’s Vulnicura, which is an immersive album experience in which you go in, you wear a headset and you kind of get transported into these Icelandic locations and she’s interacting with you. It’s quite heady and trippy.
Jeremy: I did. Funny you should mention that, I did actually visit… I visited Björk’s exhibition here in London, when she was running it, and using virtual reality.
Jeremy: And I thought that was really… It really puts you in a completely different world, it was really exciting.
Nathalie: It really does. And I think one of the things that I found really compelling, obviously the graphics were really good, then you had the emotive power of the music and surround, which changes as you move through space. So, it adds in this sense of spatial presence, which is lacking in a lot of AR stuff or VR stuff, where you can’t really move that far because you’re in a restricted space. What we’re talking about here, it’s quite a sexy, exciting idea about what VR looks like. Are there sort of less sexy but really revolutionary things that you’ve seen companies use VR to achieve?
Jeremy: Absolutely, yeah. Let’s bring it back down to business. So virtual reality and augmented reality has incredible potential and a wide range of applications that apply, in many cases, to every single industry. So, some of the big ones, learning and development. Virtual reality, in particular, is incredibly powerful in terms of putting you in other people’s shoes, in terms of putting you in different situations and different scenarios that genuinely invoke a sense of emotion in you, so fear, anxiety, worry. And you might think to yourselves, well, why would I want to put employees through fear and anxiety? It’s to prepare them for real life situations in which they will feel that and to better prepare them for that.
So, some basic examples, public speaking training. A lot of people really fear public speaking and they fear being in front of a large auditorium of hundreds of people, and how do you get over that fear? You put yourself in that scenario time and time again until you learn how to manage it. In a lot of ways and for many people, that fear doesn’t disappear, you still feel that sense of fear when you get up on stage, but you learn to manage it through experience. Now, how do you accelerate your experiences in those auditoriums of hundreds of people? It’s quite difficult to rack up talks of that nature and that sort of level, one after another, really quickly. But, obviously, in virtual reality, everything is just software, it’s all digital, so you can click buttons and you can be wherever you want to be with however many people you want in the crowd and you can put yourself in those scenarios quite easily at the click of a three-dimensionally tracked controller or the gaze of your eye, and that’s quite amazing.
And that’s on the soft skill side of things. So, from a learning and development perspective, soft skills is a big application that virtual reality can be used for, even within that, but, in a way, it deserves its own area. Diversity and inclusion is absolutely big and very topical nowadays, putting yourself in the shoes of others, helping you to understand the challenges they go through in their everyday lives, both personally and professionally. Yes, you may hear about it, yes, you may watch a video about it, but if you are in a virtual reality experience that encapsulates that, that is when you truly get to live in someone else’s shoes.
In addition to that… So we talked about soft skills under learning and development, but on the other side, hard skills are practical skills. That is a big area, as well, for VR and the reason being because your hands and your head is tracked in three dimensions, you can conduct training activities and hands-on activities in these virtual environments in a very realistic and accurate way. So, consider the alternative to that. Consider you’re an engineer that needs to perform some sort of task in the real world on a piece of machinery. Now, the options are you can go to a computer and do an e-learning package, and you can click buttons and say this is what I would do on this machine and I would click there and I would do this and I would pull that lever. But, again, you are not doing that, you are clicking buttons and you are moving your mouse to basically tell a computer system that this is what you would do in that scenario.
Jeremy: So it’s not incredibly accurate. On the other hand, what about more real life classroom-based training? Maybe you take part in discussions with an actual tutor in front of you, who tells you about the machine and tells you what you need to do. And yes, that can be very exciting in a number of senses and can be very useful in terms of learning from them and their experiences, but it’s not as good as a real life experience of working with that machine. Okay, so if we go to the real life experience now, that’s amazing, that’s the gold standard. You get to be there firsthand and actually perform the action, but at what cost? Is that machine available where you are? Do you have to travel somewhere to get to that machine? If you’re using the machine, nobody else can use the machine. And if nobody else can use the machine, is the company now losing money because they can’t use the machine to produce actual products, which are selling?
So there are lots of disruptions and challenges, even when it comes to the real life training environment, but virtual reality excels here because we can help you, using the technology, actually feel like you’re performing the action on the machine. So you can see it in front of you, a virtual simulation of the machine, you can walk up to it, physically, you can pick up a virtual tool from your tool belt and you can reach out and pull wires, press buttons, open hatches and all this sort of stuff, and it’s all virtual, it’s all digital software. And the wonderful thing about that is it makes it incredibly scalable because now, all of a sudden, you don’t need to be at a machine, you just need that equipment, which is very easily distributed to all parts of the world very quickly. So it’s software and hardware, so now it’s really accessible.
In fact, we did a study on the value of virtual reality, and this was for soft skills training, mind you, but I thought I’d add some data into this. So when we compared VR learners to classroom learners and learners who were using e-learning packages, we found the VR learners were four times faster to train than in the classroom. They were 275 percent more confident to apply the skills they learned after training, and they were four times more emotionally connected to that content than classroom learners, and four times more focused than their e-learning peers. Even from a cost perspective, a lot of people may be wondering okay, but buying all these headsets and building the software, incredibly expensive. And yes, it can be costly and when you have a smaller number of learners, the cost per learner for virtual reality is noticeably higher than e-learning and classroom training, but when you start to move that number up, when you get to 375 learners, VR training actually is the same cost per learner as classroom-based learning. And at 1950 learners, VR training is the same cost as even e-learning, which is quite amazing.
Nathalie: That’s extraordinary.
Jeremy: Yeah. That’s the learning and development sphere for you, Nathalie, and that’s one area. And I know we’ve spent a lot of time on that one, but tell me if you want me to go onto operations and sales and marketing or if you have any thoughts about anywhere else you’d like to go.
Nathalie: Yes to all of it, but I’m really curious just to dive in a little bit deeper into some of the fascinating insights you’ve just shared because there are so many positive outcomes that can come from that. So you’re talking about VR training being more effective than e-learning and I’m thinking from the perspective of businesses who perhaps, let’s say, just for shits and giggles, you want to train a pilot or a plumber on something that’s actually quite a complex piece of machine.
I want to preface this with some of the research that I’ve read around spatial interaction and virtual interaction, and my question’s going to be how can we get the best of both? So I was reading, for the book, some research around spatial mapping of what we know of as the inner GPS of the brain and it was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 2014 to three scientists for their combined research, looking at this inner GPS. And they found that the neural system that determines our perception and recall of where we are in the physical environment also connects to the events that we experience there. So, there’s a deep relationship between physically traveling through space, so through the halls of a cockpit, for instance, and our capacity to mentally travel through memory.
And then there was another curious research, but this was looking at rats, so we’ve got to think about generalizability, of course. This is a neurophysicist at UCLA, they found that when they put rats in teeny, tiny harnesses and then they put them in an immersive, virtual environment versus the same environment, but a real physical room, so they both look the same, but one, they could move through virtually, the other, they could move through physically. When they would move through the virtual room, the pattern of activity in the hippocampus, which is to do with spatial learning among another things, was completely different than when they moved through the actual physical space. And so even though their behavior, from the onlooker’s perspective, if we were watching them, it looks the same, when the rats were in the virtual space, half of their hippocampal neurons shut down and the remaining fired randomly. So, the internal mental map, the researcher suggested, kind of disappeared and yet, they were still able to perform their task.
So, I guess, my question is to you, knowing that we have some of this emergent research on VR and this difference between physically moving through space and what happens when we virtually move through space, in your wildest imaginings, how might we bring these things together so that we can make the best of both the physical and the virtual, if we’re training a plumber or a pilot, in a space where you’re trying to get them to work with complex machinery?
Jeremy: Yeah. Yeah. And I actually remember the… I know the paper you’re talking about because I’ve read it as well, and it’s really, really interesting.
Nathalie: It’s fascinating.
Jeremy: It is. It is.
Jeremy: It’s incredible. And I think it shows that there is certainly more research that needs to be done on virtual reality to really understand its effects or even its mechanisms, let’s say. So, how is it doing this, or how is it impacting on memory retention and things like that, which affect us in the real world. But in terms of bringing it all together, in a way, this is really the recommended way of doing things. Virtual reality shouldn’t be considered a silver bullet that solves learning and development, for example. And even when we say things like virtual reality is better than e-learning, we caveat that by saying ‘in this circumstance’. So when we were doing this soft skills study on this particular application, it was better in these ways. However, that doesn’t mean e-learning is completely dead and doesn’t have a point to it. E-learning still has massive advantages in terms of scale because, obviously, no equipment, apart from perhaps a mobile phone or a laptop, is needed and you can create things and push them out quite quickly at the moment.
So I’d say the best way to think about virtual reality and augmented reality is in context with these other technologies, both ones that are established as well as ones that are nascent and emerging, and consider the strengths of each, the strengths and weaknesses. So virtual reality and augmented reality, they have strengths and weaknesses themselves. The strength of virtual reality comes from the fact that you’re able to feel completely immersed in this environment, it helps you to create an emotional connection to the content, it helps you to provide a distraction-free environment and, in a lot of ways, it removes the constraints of the physical world. Now, for the objective you’re trying to achieve, is that helpful? Do you want to create an emotional connection with your content? Maybe you do when you’re talking about diversity and inclusion, but if you’re talking about, let’s say, compliance and risk and regulation, risk and quality with an organization, maybe you’re not so bothered about the emotional connection to the content there. So, always use virtual reality where it makes sense and apply that, in fact, to any technology or any solution, even. Technology or not, use it where it makes sense. Look at its strengths and weaknesses, understand it in the context of what you’re trying to achieve and make sure you’re making the right choice.
Nathalie: I love that you mentioned the importance of context, because I think one of the things that sometimes gets lost in this conversation around technology is the consideration of what it is we actually want to use it for because everything gets lumped in together and, really, it’s quite a diverse, rich field that you’re talking about.
Jeremy: Exactly. And the thing is, virtual reality and augmented reality are so many things. When we say VR and AR, we’re using a shorthand, we’re abbreviating what is a massive world of technologies. Virtual reality and augmented reality, they are not just two points, they are entire spectrums and, in some ways, they are a single spectrum, which sort of overlaps each other in many different ways. And to give you an idea of… Or to bring some color to what I mean by this, you can have a virtual reality experience on a headset made of cardboard, by shoving your mobile phone in it and that can show you content which was recorded using a 360 video camera. On the other hand, you can use a head-mounted display of the highest order that connects to a super powerful computer that costs thousands of dollars, that is used by NASA to train astronauts-
Jeremy: And you can have an experience in which you are able to look around a space shuttle. Not sure there’s enough space to walk around there. But at least move your position within that environment and actually interact with it in a super accurate way. And, of course, that is worlds away. That computer-generated, immersive and interactive environment is miles away from the previous example of the consumer cardboard headset that you shove your mobile phone into. And that’s just one illustration. There are so many sub-technologies and forms of content and ways of engaging and immersing yourself within this technology that you cannot simply use the term VR and AR to communicate with others and all be on the same page. That’s the difficulty of this technology. And, in fact, I don’t think it’s particularly related only to virtual reality and augmented reality, this applies to any other technology. You take artificial intelligence, you take blockchain, you take drones, everyone will have a different idea of what you mean when you say that word or that phrase.
So, I think, to tackle that, education is needed. And to educate yourself when it comes to virtual reality and augmented reality, given that they are such a unique set of technologies, they’re so immersive, they’re so experiential, they’re so visual, you need to really experience it firsthand to get a fuller education about what this technology is all about. So, yes, you can listen to things like this, you can read about them, but that’s only getting you 50 percent of the way. To get closer to 100 percent, you need to experience virtual reality and augmented reality firsthand.
Nathalie: One of the things that I’m very excited by, in my wildest dreams, I’d love for someone to make this happen, there’s an immersive theatrical experience that you can have, obviously, right now, we can’t have it, but that started out in the UK and has since migrated to the US and possibly elsewhere. It’s by a company called Punchdrunk, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them.
Jeremy: I have heard of them, yes.
Nathalie: Yeah. So they basically take over large buildings, in this instance, there was a warehouse in London and then another in New York City, and they create what is essentially an environment within an environment, where you enter the building, you go into a lift and there kind of is that liminal threshold over which you step into this completely other world. So, you could walk in and there’s a floor where part of it’s an actual forest that they’ve brought into the space, there’s actual earth on the ground. So, you’ve got this multisensory world that you’re inhabiting, moving through, that you’re connecting with.
And in my wildest imagination, I would love to experience something like that, where they design a set which is physically connected with whatever you’re seeing virtually through your VR screen, but you can skin it in different ways. So, then, you’ve got something physically to interact with, maybe there’s different smells depending on where you are, but the way it’s projected visually within your VR headset and maybe the different sound that you listen to, whatever, you could end up with different storylines, different people… Maybe this is just a wild fantasy, but-
Jeremy: Absolutely. And the funny thing is, what you’ve described, this immersive form of theater, is, by my definition, at least, effectively just another form of virtual reality.
Nathalie: Right. Right.
Jeremy: So, adding to the definitions that we were speaking out before, virtual reality’s all about immersing you in a different environment.
Jeremy: Yes, you can do this via head-mounted displays, so this is what everyone’s used to when they hear about virtual reality, they conjure up an image in their head of someone wearing a headset, but it doesn’t have to be a headset, it can be a completely mocked up, real world environment that convinces you, you are in a jungle or in a desert and so on. And, in fact, in addition to the Punchdrunk examples you mentioned, I’ve also been a big fan of Secret Cinema-
Nathalie: Oh, yes. Yeah.
Jeremy: And their ability to produce these environments, and really loved going to… Getting my costume on and becoming a character in the Star Wars universe, 28 Days Later-
Jeremy: Zombie apocalypse. Blade Runner. There were so many. So many good memories of being immersed in these different worlds.
Nathalie: Because it is captivating. And I think linking it back in to something that you mentioned earlier about learning, one of the things that I find exciting about these more immersive experiences is that they are fundamentally embodied, in some form or other, that you do have access to gesture. And I think, certainly from the research that I’ve read around how we learn and retain new knowledge, being able to gesture one’s way through something can help us understand and convey things more clearly, it can help us to understand more complex ideas, perhaps, with greater ease. There’s a huge capacity for a much more rich experience of learning than, for instance, if we go and read something in a textbook, so there’s also kind of that comparison to be made.
Jeremy: Definitely. Definitely. Again, that doesn’t mean the death of the textbook, the textbook-
Nathalie: No, right.
Jeremy: Still has value. But it’s thinking about how do you pull all of these different modalities together? The virtual reality, where it makes sense to immerse you in the environment, the textbook to deliver you the theory of what you’re trying to teach, the e-learning program to test you on what you’ve learnt. All of these bits and pieces, they all have functions and when you bring them all together, that’s when you really get the most value.
Nathalie: Yeah. So I wonder, then, how do you think advances in XR across the board, because, obviously, this is a very rich mix, how do you think advances in XR will change the ways in which we work? I know this is a broad question. I’m thinking maybe how it relates to our ability to work remotely or how we conceive of and create organizational culture, especially when it’s an atomized, virtual workforce.
Jeremy: So if you think about the current climate that we’re experiencing right now, it’s obviously accelerated a desire to be connected to others remotely in some sort of fashion. Connecting to others and collaborating with others, that’s arguably the bedrock of humanity and it’s what we’ve been doing since the dawn of time. Now, of course, we can’t collaborate face-to-face. Thankfully, solutions have been building up over the years that make it easier to collaborate and communicate, so tools like the telephone, the landline, the video conferencing application, but they have their disadvantages as well. There is no single technology that is a silver bullet out there, and video conferencing is certainly not exempt. Video conferencing is great as a convenient way to instantly start communication or open communication with somebody else. However, as many of you have probably noticed, it’s not an incredibly meaningful or deep or connective way of building a rapport with someone.
Now that’s where virtual reality comes in, as the best of both worlds. So it is a way of you to build that connection with someone, feel like you’re in the same place as them. That place is virtual, mind you, but it doesn’t really matter, even though you are miles apart, physically, and it does so in a way that is reasonably convenient as well. Maybe not as easy as video conferencing, where you click a button on your computer, but one day, it will become as easy as that, where you literally put on a headset and you are in the world with them now. We already do that with clients from all over the world, we send headsets out to them and we engage with them in creative workshops and things like that, but it will become even easier.
Once everybody has virtual reality equipment on them, on their person, just like they carry around a mobile phone with them now, just as they have a laptop for work. We’re all using these different devices to help us work together in different ways. I see the future as everyone having an XR device, in some sense, with them all the time. So that could be, most likely… A lot of people are seeing this as some sort of glasses form factor, so people wearing a wearable over their glasses and eventually, contact lenses that go with them wherever they go. And that’s really quite… Opens up quite an exciting world, if you think about it, in terms of connecting you digitally to everything. But, also, hopefully, we’ll develop some safeguards along the way so that it doesn’t become too oppressive or invasive at the same time.
But, I suppose, in summary, what I’m saying is virtual reality right now has the potential to help people work creatively and effectively and impactfully together and in such a way that you feel almost like you’re face-to-face, you’re sharing the same space with people, you’re saying hi to them, you’re making eye contact with their avatar, their digital personification in the virtual world. You are walking together to the whiteboard, which you’ve just conjured up by pressing a few buttons on your controller, you are physically reaching down and picking up a digital pen and ideating some different ideas and concepts around how to solve this business problem together. And then maybe you’re coming together, after 10, 15 minutes, with other groups who have done the same thing from different parts of the world to bring your ideas together. It’s just a wonderful way of bringing a lot of the real world advantages of collaboration as well as the digital advantages of tools, like remote conferencing, to give you the best of both worlds.
Nathalie: And, actually, that speaks to some of its operations advantages, the ways in which you could implement it from that perspective. And from a sales and marketing perspective, which you touched upon very briefly earlier, how do you think the medium of XR can be used to better understand customers and market products and all the rest of it?
Jeremy: So we haven’t talked a lot about augmented reality, so I’m going to bring augmented reality up on this one because I think, also, it is the more relevant of the two technologies when we talk about sales and marketing. And that’s partly because consumers, in most cases, already have enough technology in their pockets to deliver these high quality, high fidelity augmented reality experiences. Now, how do those experiences connect to sales and marketing? If I were to summarize the theory, there are a number of studies that show that the closer a consumer feels to a product, the greater their sense of ownership over it and the more they’re willing to pay for it. Now this holds true even if the product is digital in nature. So one study showed that when consumers were presented with a three-dimensional image of a product, for example, that they could rotate with their mouse on a 2D screen, it increased their feelings of ownership by nearly 19 percent-
Jeremy: Versus just a 2D image of a product on a website listing, for example. Now if you take this a step further and you think about augmented reality, with my mobile phone, I can point it at my desk and bring to life, let’s say, a printer, because I’ve been looking for a printer recently to exchange for this one that seems to have failed on me. But if you’re looking at printers and you want to understand how big is this printer, what does it look like, how does it gel with everything else I’ve got in my office space? It’s very difficult to do that mental translation or it requires a little bit of effort, when you’re trying to convert it from the listing and figures around its X centimeters width and Y centimeters height and all this sort of stuff and you’re trying to picture it and you’re getting your measuring tape out and it’s all just a bit of a nightmare, really, and it’s massive hassle.
But consider augmented reality via your mobile phone. You just take out your mobile phone, you point it at your desk, you click a button and the real life-sized printer that you are thinking of buying appears on your table and you can walk around it, you can see it from different angles, you can see if it’s going to fit, physically, you can see if it’s going to fit with the aesthetic of your office. And as a result, you are far more likely to convert as a customer, let’s say, from the company’s perspective, to buying that product than you are if you have to put more effort in via an online listing. And, in fact, that’s backed up by studies as well. So there are studies that show that augmented reality has a 174 percent greater sense of presence with consumers compared to 2D images. So, 174 percent over 2D images versus the 3D images of a product on the screen over the 2D images, which we said was only an increase of 19 percent. So, very incredible there.
And I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of using augmented reality to enhance sales and to market products. I haven’t even talked about stuff that is more personal. So you imagine makeup, you imagine accessories, watches, jewelry, anything that is on your person, you don’t have to test out in a store anymore and you don’t have to order and then get it wrong, get the wrong color, you can literally point your mobile phone at your face, test out different shades of makeup on yourself using the camera on your phone, and you can point your camera to your wrist and see how a watch that you’re thinking of buying is going to look on you. And this is amazing from a company’s perspective, a retailer’s perspective, because now they can bring the products to you without expending a lot of effort and you can experience those products without expending a lot of effort.
Nathalie: That’s wild and absolutely fascinating.
Jeremy: It’s truly an amazing space, and that’s just scratching the surface of it, that’s just augmented reality. Virtual reality comes into it as well, in terms of giving you different experiences and different views of, let’s say, when it comes to travel, different parts of the world and taking you to those locations. There are loads of ways that VR and AR can enhance or hint at what it would be like for you to have a certain product or experience and then encourage you, as a result, to purchase that product or experience.
Nathalie: And I wonder just… Off the top of your head, are there any that are coming out of places like South Korea, China, Japan, examples of how this is being used in some of these ways that spring to your mind?
Jeremy: Absolutely. So there is a Chinese e-commerce company, actually, based out of Shanghai, and they’re called Poizon, Poizon with a Z, and they’re the world’s biggest sneaker trading platform. You might never have heard of them, but it’s pretty amazing the progress they’ve had. They are actually a unicorn by digital standards, and what that means is… A unicorn is a term used to describe a startup that’s reached a valuation of more than a billion dollars.
Jeremy: So, a very rare sight. Almost as rare as the mythical creature itself, hence the connection there. But Poizon worked with an augmented reality startup called Viking, and what they did is they created this augmented reality feature on their mobile application that allows their customers to actually try on more than 2000 of some of the world’s rarest sneakers instantly. Just by pointing your mobile phone camera at your feet or your shoes, you can instantly have this application switch out your shoes, digitally-
Jeremy: Via the camera, to any of those shoes that are being listed by Poizon. And that’s amazing because now, customers can see okay, so this is what these shoes would look like on me, and, as a result, they can move onto buying them. The interesting thing with the Poizon case study is that it resulted in more than 100,000 customers using that feature every day.
Jeremy: And the percentage of those customers who went onto add an item to their shopping basket after examining it using the augmented reality try-on feature, it was tripled when the AR try-on feature was used. And each customer actually spent an average of 60 seconds using that augmented reality feature. So it wasn’t a gimmick, they actually found enough value to spend that amount of time on it. And by digital standards, 60 seconds is a long time to hold the attention of a consumer.
Nathalie: Really long time.
Nathalie: Especially when there’s so much competing for one’s attention. Given all of these amazing different use cases you’ve given examples for, how might you envision what the future of business, ideally, could look like? And you can take that in any kind of direction that you want.
Jeremy: Ooh, how exciting. How exciting. So I think, given everything that’s going on in virtual reality and augmented reality at the moment, and all of the potential that it has to enhance the operations of organizations – to take you to different places, to help you supervise different sites, take you to different environments, collaborate remotely, sell products, market them, learn and train on how to be a better person and employee and do your job in a more effective and efficient way – I think there is no doubt that virtual reality and augmented reality will become a core technology that is used within organizations, regardless of what industry they’re working in. As a result of that, the technology will become so widespread that it will form another device for us. So we carry around a laptop, a phone and sometimes a tablet, you can add a virtual reality or, let’s say, an XR headset to that repertoire as well.
I see us, in our personal lives, having headsets at home that we use as a primary form of entertainment. And the reason I mention that is because it will have ramifications on the business world as well, or the B2B side, in terms of the entertainment that we consume. So if we go to the sporting world or, in fact, any live event, whether it’s theater, sports, some sort of performance, a musical performance perhaps, virtual reality can open up incredible new revenue streams because all of these venues where this is taking place, the sports stadiums, the music halls, concert halls, the theaters, they have limited capacity, right?
Jeremy: So you can’t get a front row seat unless you are willing to pay a hell of a lot of money, but the wonderful thing is, with virtual reality, you won’t need to because that 360 degree camera that is occupying a seat in the front row, that can record the event and allow, potentially, an unlimited number of people to access that seat, that front row seat, and have that experience. And because of the economies of scale on that, those tickets can be given to you for minutes amount of money that are equivalent, in many ways or in similar ways, to what you’d pay for a broadcasting on a pay-per-view type program, but you’re getting a front row seat experience almost. So, I think the economics of that have yet to really hit us in the world, but they will have far-reaching ramifications on the business and the consumer world.
Nathalie: Brilliant. And if you had to choose one thing that you felt was absolutely key, more broadly perhaps, to the long-term success or resilience of a business, what might that be?
Jeremy: I would say it has to be an open mind, a willingness to experiment and explore, and this is not only related to XR, but for the business’s sake, you need to be willing to test out new solutions, you need to be willing to experiment with them on the understanding that they may not necessarily succeed. But even if it doesn’t succeed and it fails, that you always benefit, it’s a win, win because if it fails, you’ve gained the knowledge of having been through that experience knowing why it failed and applying that knowledge to future iterations and future experiments. So, I think that open-mindedness to exploring new technologies, but, even more importantly, new solutions that are not necessarily technological, that is key to any business’s survival and growth.
Nathalie: And the last two questions, then, to end on such large a note as we started, what kind of world would you want to build?
Jeremy: Ooh. So I’ll probably take this away from a technological perspective here, but it would be nice to live in a world where there is a greater understanding of each other. I know there’s a lot of strife currently on various issues and it feels like we’re heading in a direction that is becoming ever more polarized, with people more aggressively than ever defending their turf on both sides. It doesn’t matter which side of any of these arguments in the world you’re on, everybody’s moving towards the edges, towards the fringes. And I think there needs to be some sort of initiative to bring people back to the center, to balance things out because, unfortunately, that’s usually where the answer lies and the most value lies. You rarely find answers at the extremities, but the extremities are sometimes necessary to help bring perspective and to help land in more in that direction.
So, you think about it as a little bit of a negotiation. You always start at a price higher than you’re willing to accept because you know there’s going to be a bit of negotiation and you’re going to land somewhere beneath that, but you’ll still be happy with that end result. In many ways, I hope we end up with a world where we’re fighting less on the edges and more closely to the center.
Nathalie: So if I were to ask you what one thing you might suggest that we can use or do to help us move in that direction, what would that be?
Jeremy: I’m probably going to be ignored massively here, but I think the only way that this can happen is really by extending an olive branch, and it doesn’t have to be an acknowledgment that the other side is right, it only has to be a willingness to have a dialogue with them in a respectful fashion, simply because that’s really the only way that anybody’s going to listen and open up. You’ll never get someone to move more towards your point of view by deriding them and shouting at them, so I think a calm and collected and respectful, as much as you can, regardless of your beliefs, open dialogue with the other party would help.