For years (and years) now we've witnessed VR head sets and heard about the rise of virtual reality worlds. Yet we still seem to exist on a 2 dimensional screen. THAT IS GOING TO CHANGE. The application of virtual reality to our lives is here. From medical uses to sports, to communication to entertainment (Ready Player One heyyyyyy) humans and technology are finally in sync with what VR can offer.
Ben and Erik of Vrtigo, a data analytics tool for VR applications, are on the front line of this new world order. Their company allows applications to improve a VR's use, experience or functionality. This means the VR world will make leaps and bounds in innovation that will directly affect how we, normal humans, interact with the technology. Very excited to introduce the two brains running this gig and how its going to affect our lives.
Ben and Erik tell me in your own words what your company is and how is solves a problem?
Ben: Vrtigo is an analytics tool for virtual reality applications. It works a lot like web or mobile analytics where you add some code to your app that sends data to our servers for analysis in a web dashboard. The key difference is that you have information that’s unique to VR, like where users are moving and looking around in the virtual world. Our most popular tool is for 360 degree videos, where we help creators understand what the viewers looked at, since content creators no longer “control the frame” like they did in traditional video.
Erik: Vrtigo helps VR content creators understand how their users are behaving while engaging with their content. To me, it’s a fascinating intersection of data analysis and software development. It’s pretty easy to collect a lot of data on an experience, but the art and science of summarizing, interpreting, and visualizing that data is what excites me most about the product.
When did you two start working on this?
Ben: We started Vrtigo two years ago when we were entrepreneurs in residence at the Samsung NEXT startup accelerator in San Francisco. We had been working on some data-driven mobile apps that weren’t gaining traction, and we saw an opportunity to create tools for VR since the consumer headsets were just being released. We’ve both been building analytics products for years and we saw a need for a good analytics tool for VR since the user has so much freedom it can be hard for creators to know if they’re interacting with an experience the way it was intended.
Who does this technology apply to? Ben you and I discussed 360 movies but there were other industries we chatted about that would find this useful for the future you think.
Ben: Any VR application can benefit from analytics, and they all use the same sensor data so there are some parallels. In addition to 360 degree video, you could gain insights into any VR or AR (augmented reality) experience using the same data sources. The hard part is finding ways to summarize and visualize it in actionable ways.
Virtual reality - the public's most common view of this is entertainment value. But what do you guys see VR becoming more useful?
Erik: I’m really interested in how VR can be used in the medicine and sports. Athletes in football, baseball, and Olympians have already used VR as part of their training regimens. And as a fan of many sports, the opportunity to watch live contests in VR would be welcome. MLB has already made some efforts towards this, and I’m looking forward to what comes next! In medicine, training applications for nurses, doctors, and surgeons may ultimately help improve patient outcomes and safety measures.
What stage are you in now?
Erik: Vrtigo is currently available as an invite-only beta, for use in VR apps and 360 degree video platforms.
Do you have the same work schedule? For example I work better at night or I'm more efficient later in the day.
Erik: We both work pretty standard hours, maybe starting our day a half an hour to an hour later than a normal work day, which isn’t always ideal if we’re connecting with people in the Central or Eastern time zones whose days end earlier.
For the future of the company you two have together what are the next roles you'll be filling?
Ben: We’re always looking for talented engineers, especially generalists who are comfortable working on both front end and back end.
What is that diagram behind you? WTF does it mean?
Ben: It shows some of the ways we think about measuring experiences in VR apps. One of the challenges of analyzing user interactions in VR is that the data represents motion in a three-dimensional world, but analytics tools are usually consumed on two-dimensional displays. So you need to use techniques like geometric projections and statistical summaries to convey insights. The problems aren’t so different from when I was working on robotic manipulation in graduate school.
What do you have on your at all times?
Ben: A notebook and a pen.
Erik: I always carry headphones. Living in SF means walking a lot, so it’s a great time to listen to audiobooks while getting some exercise. I’ve been listening to some of the lectures from The Great Courses series lately and really enjoying them.
Best song of the 80s? 90s?
Erik: 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins is my favorite from that time period.
Ben: Dare To Be Stupid by Weird Al Yankovic. It should be a startup anthem.
Where do you look for work inspiration? websites? Pinterest? articles?
Ben: Ed Tufte’s books are always a good place to find ideas for data visualizations.
Erik: I just attended an R conference and was completely inspired by all the amazing things that community is doing with data. Listening to talks on topics ranging from customer churn modeling to machine learning in Minecraft helps me imagine novel ways to use our data.
Liquor or Wine?
Ben: Since moving to California, definitely wine.
Best dinner in San Francisco?
Erik: State Bird Provisions is my go-to when visitors are in town. The quality of the food and unique serving style are always a hit.
What’s the last thing you ordered online?
Ben: Probably some sort of supplies for my newborn.
Erik: I’ve been feeling nostalgic for 90’s-era video games recently, and just ordered a Super NES Classic. I’m looking forward to trying to beat some of my lap times from 1993 in Super Mario Kart.
What start-ups in the Bay would you list as inspiring or you're a big fan of?
Ben: Some exciting VR-related startups are Vivid Vision, which uses VR to correct strabismus, or lazy eye, and Supermedium, and new WebVR browser by the guys behind Mozilla’s A-Frame project.
Erik: I’m a fan of what teams like Domino Data Lab are doing to help surface the important work done by statisticians and data scientists within organizations.
Thank you gentlemen! Really excited to see what is around the corner for you two.
Summer Wilson - Creative Director and Photographer of Battle Cry
Photo by John Thatcher