Recently we met with two companies, BadVR and NucleusVR, that, from different directions, show how deeply work will change in the 2020s due to virtual and augmented reality. They are worthy of your attention.
The first is BadVR, a woman-run company with a funny name. More on that in a second. We visited its headquarters in Marina Del Rey, near Los Angeles, to meet with founder/CEO Suzanne Borders, and her team.
She showed us several examples of how her company is helping enterprises work with massive amounts of data like will come off of retail stores thanks to new sensors, cameras, and transaction data, or off of factory floors.
Right away you see why this startup is gathering accolades. It makes its own hardware so its customers can “dive through” massive amounts of data much easier than trying to see the same data in older tools like Microsoft Excel, or charts.
The kind of data businesses are generating now just requires new approaches. Think about dwell times in retail stores. That’s data that soon will be gathered by cameras and sensors in store shelves and in the ceiling (Amazon’s new Go stores do exactly that, for instance). But does seeing that data in a chart, or trying to find patterns in it by looking at grids of numbers make any sense?
Borders thinks no.
Instead, she’ll build something like a digital twin of the store and then overlay the data on the grocery aisles themselves, so that managers can walk around and “see” where customers actually hang out. This would help them redesign stores, or think about where customers actually hang out considering, say, what brand of cookies to buy.
This kind of 3D thinking has deep impacts on all sorts of business data and strategies. Factories and warehouses, today, often have thousands, of sensors and thousands of robots. How do you visualize data streaming off of those servers and robots?
BadVR has the answers.
She showed us a factory floor (we were walking around this factory floor while drinking tea in a San Francisco). I saw the way the factory floor looked in real life but then we saw numbers and user interface elements over each machine that you could walk up to and study, or, even, change.
This isn’t how we used to run our businesses, which usually was a spreadsheet or a view of a database.
“I can augment myself and ultimately give myself superpowers,” she says, while explaining how this new way of looking at business data will change how our work lives and careers will change.
In the interview we discuss the next few years and what she expects to see in devices, in wireless thanks to 5G, how she funded her company, and why she got into VR itself. Back to the absurdist claim. She told me about some trouble her name has gotten her into with investors and the status quo. Customers, she says, love it, and so do many others, particularly people walking by her booth at conferences, but some investors have said BadVR brings up troubling questions for them and they recommend changing it to something more “enterprise appropriate.”
“You have to have a sense of humor,” she says. “Enterprises are made of people. A lot of the tools designed for the enterprise are intentionally bland and boring.” She continues that a lot of people in the enterprise space think that anything with a sense of character or personality won’t be taken seriously. “I don’t believe that.”
“Enterprises are made of people.”
“I believe people are hungry for a tool that is both powerful, and useful, and fun and engaging to work with,” she says.
The second is NucleusVR, located in France, which builds new kinds of factory floors: ones that have new collaboration, training, and user interface elements.
Founder/CEO Alexander Bolton walked us around a demo of what his company does at last week’s SVVR meeting (which was its sixth anniversary meeting) in Mountain View, California.
He explained that by building a “digital twin” of the factory workers can use his system to leave notes, PDFs, videos, on top of machinery, which makes training new workers much easier, but he says it goes way beyond that.
Multiple workers can be in Spatial Computing headsets, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, or VR headsets, like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and they can work together and add data collaboratively in real time. Plus, because you have a digital twin you can actually use Nucleus to rethink out the factory floor itself, and work to redesign your factory or warehouse, or other enterprise workfloor, like a space station or a nuclear reactor control room, in an interactive way.
If you are doing car design or other 3D design, you can also work collaboratively on the design itself. This leads to real productivity gains.
Both examples show just how deeply your company will be able to see real return on investment and in both we discuss the impact of new headsets, like Oculus Quest, or new wireless, 5G, will have an effect on these kinds of deployments too (hint: they will only get more capable and lower cost).