What we experienced at Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference (SVVR) 2017

Last week, our team attended the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) conference, a three-day marathon of virtual and augmented reality. Similar to previous years, this conference is the mecca of VR/AR. Over the three days, we learned how to do a thrombectomy, fought hoards of medieval attackers, followed a white rabbit, played with a magic cube, recorded our first VR presentation in a virtual auditorium, shot a super realistic virtual machine gun, sculpted, tried zero latency 360 video streaming, played an augmented reality multiplayer blaster game, fought off rogue robots and smelled coffee, chocolate and a girl in VR.

Here is a quick run-down of what I experienced yesterday.  I know today is going to be even more exciting.

Performing a Neural Thrombectomy in VR

One of the first experiences I did at the 2017 Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference (SVVR) was to perform a neural thrombectomy in VR.  Now I know, just because I have a degree in Molecular Biology and used to own a medical billing company, does not make me someone who should ever be performing a procedure to remove a clot in someone’s brain, but that is exactly what I did (or should I say my robot avatar did).  This was a great example of how virtual and augmented reality is starting to change the way companies do business.

The company who brought this medical training demo was a VR innovation shop called Sixsense, lead by CEO Amir Rubin.  Their client, Penumbra, a company specializing in the equipment that makesthis life-saving procedure possible.

After I ‘scrubbed in’, I was given two controllers which turned into my robot stylized hands as the procedure began.  I was guided by a nurse/assistant who talked me through each step to insert the catheter, inject visualization fluid and pumped out the clot.  The entire session was around 7 minutes and by the end, I remembered why I did not pursue medicine.  I did, however, have a complete spatial awareness and mind memory of what I had just done and that’s what Penumbra is hoping real physicians will experience when they use this new state-of-the-art training simulation.

Fighting Hoards of Medieval Castle Attackers

The second experience I had was Seige VR, a collaborative effort with my partner at MetaVRse, Dan Flatt.  We were each on a castle wall defending it with only a bow and arrow.  The best thing about this experience was everything!  

  1. We were playing collaboratively together
  2. We could shoot each other with arrows and they stuck out of your head when shot
  3. There were exploding arrows that decimated the attackers
  4. The sound was mind blowing
  5. Graphics were excellent.

I am told that this incredible new game will not be available to the public anytime soon as it has been developed in conjunction with casino gaming giant, IGT to be part of Vegas’ attempt to capitalize on the massive e-sports movement by offering Seige VR as a tournament, winner-take-all program.

Follow the White Rabbit

This GearVR experience was quite possibly the best in-game mechanics for navigation without controllers I have seen.  Their use of gaze control for almost everything makes this escape room style mystery game super fun to play.  I am told that the full game will be released as 6 episodes, each running about an hour of gameplay.  Without giving too much away, Follow the White Rabbit VR is a game about the Great Manifesto, part-time magician, health tonic salesman and charlatan who suddenly finds that his ‘tricks’ have been replaced by real ‘magic’.  The experience is great, the visuals are well done and the gaze control mechanism is world class.

The Magic Augmented Reality Holo Cube

This incredible physical cube looks like you are holding the Borg ship in the palm of your hand and when you point your phone at it, the entire cube comes to life in the form of a Brain, Heart, PacMan, Lasers, Fractals and much more using the power of advanced augmented reality.  My guess is this is going to be the holiday toy of 2017.    This really cool toy made by Merge VR has recently been made available as a developer kit in hopes that people can make other useful and exciting experiences using the Holo Cube.  If developers are even half as talented as the people who made the demo, this thing is going to be FIRE!  (oh and it does have a fire setting!)

Recording My First VR Presentation

Walking through the SVVR exhibit hall, you never know what you are going to find so when I saw a green screen with a live presentation software in VR, I was stopped in my tracks.  Business applications in VR excite me so seeing an easy way to import a PowerPoint presentation into VR and present in an auditorium style venue for unlimited attendees really got my juices flowing.  The ability to present to numerous people around the world as a hologram may not be the sexiest use of VR, but it certainly is practical and I jumped right in learning all about VRAVO, the new presentation system by VRidge.  There is really no need to write more except to say this is awesome and no one I have seen thus far has anything like it to date (oh and you can also import 3D images into your presentation, so there is that incredible gem too).

Shooting a Super Realistic Machine Gun in VR

One of the largest booths at SVVR was the Optitrack motion tracking system.  This is the system used by Hollywood producers to make action films and up until now the price to get a quality mo-cap solution for VR was simply out of the budget for most.  Optitrack has introduced their new Slim series cameras that sell for less than half what their big-boy movie magic brothers do which makes them perfect for tracking all sorts of things in VR including…. MACHINE GUNS!!

I strapped on the Oculus Rift with an MSI VR Computer backpack and was handed an incredible Stryker VR machine gun.  Once given the 10-second tutorial, I was put into the matrix to shoot at giant floating paintballs.  The gun itself was heavy, well constructed and had an absolutely fantastic kick to it.  There were four modes; semi-auto, full-auto, grenade launcher and get this… Chainsaw mode where the front of the gun became a chainsaw.  EPIC!

After speaking with the founders of Stryker, I realized how dedicated and passionate they were not only about their products but about VR in general and it was really great to find more people in this industry who are working to create the next generation of VR peripherals and pushing this industry forward.  

Sculpting in VR

Over at the Oculus area, (they have dispensed with the large setups and implemented a much more retail friendly kiosk-style display), I had the chance to try Oculus Medium, a sculpting program that lets you make virtually anything with additive or subtractive tools, paints, and other sculpting tools.  While the controls are not nearly as intuitive as Google Tilt brush (tutorial took 6 minutes), and in my opinion, not as exciting, Medium certainly has its place among the top artistic things you can do in VR.  

Fighting Rogue Robots in VR

OK, so this is probably my most favourite VR game to date and it is called Robo Recall.  This triple A game made by Epic Games comes shipped free with the purchase of the newly priced Oculus Rift.  Rather than butcher the description of this one-of-a-kind gaming extravaganza, I will just copy what the game developers say Robo Recall is an action-packed virtual reality first-person shooter built by Epic Games exclusively for Oculus Touch. Explore realistic environments as an agent tasked with recalling rogue robots while unlocking an expanding arsenal of weapons.”  

Zero Latency 360° Video Streaming

Another Canadian company we met yesterday was called Vantrix and they have the most professional 360° VR solution I have seen to date.  These guys have been in broadcast for decades and their professionalism shows.  While I don’t know that we will be running out to purchase their $100,000 Live Stream VR rig, I am certain there will be a market for this.

Smelling Coffee, Chocolate and a Girl in VR

One of the more fringe products I experienced was in the Japan pavilion.  I was asked if I wanted to ‘smell VR’ and let me tell you the experience, while not polished yet, has great potential.  The small startup called Vaqso, put an Oculus Rift on my head and told me to pic up the virtual coffee cup and bring it to my nose.  When I did, I spilled most of the coffee on the floor (which was fun too) but the faint smell of coffee was there.  I was then prompted to pick up the chocolate bar on the table and again ‘smell it’ and this time the odour was undeniable.  The last and strangest request was to turn to my left and ‘smell the girl’ standing beside me.  While thinking this was a little weird, I was intrigued and I leaned over to smell the virtual girl.  While the smell was not too noticeable, the idea of smelling in VR is incredible and the delivery system that they had created was really small and easy to use. I assume they will make an SDK for it so programmers can code all sorts of smells, maybe even something like the gross, Nosulus Rift.

Playing a Room Scale Augmented Reality Blaster Game

So last but most certainly not least in my first day at SVVR was the augmented reality blaster game Hado by MeLeap.  Promoted as a ‘Techno Sports’ game, this room scale experience was using an iPhone 6 in a custom made headset with camera tracked wrist strap that acted as my weapon.  Putting the headset on, I could see my opponent, my partner Dan and was given a quick instruction and then GO… we were off and starting to blast each other by simply moving around the space and punching into the air at each other.  What I really loved about this experience was the fact I was using the real world with AR overlays to show fireballs coming at me and more importantly at my opponent.  After 6 minutes a defeating blow was launched and my screen said in big letters “YOU LOSE!”  I guess Dan had me beat, and so was I.  This experience was excellent and I can see this being used by schools to give kids a workout.  

So to sum up my first day at ‘The CES of VR’ I can say that was incredible!  I can’t wait to finish writing this and get back to the convention centre to see more today!  Here we go!