Immersive in the Business of Disruption with AR & VR Technology

Photo by Susan Post.

The first time Will Burrus put on virtual reality system Oculus Rift he asked for the most intense experience possible. He wasn’t in the middle of Best Buy, but 150 feet up on the side of a mountain. One look down, and he had a very physical response to a completely virtual world – his legs started shaking uncontrollably.

It gave him a good scare, but also provided the impetus for a calculated bet into the world of immersive technologies.

Fascinated with his experience and the technology behind it, Burrus launched virtual reality content creation studio Immersive in June of 2017.

“The thing I loved about VR, and just immersive in general, is that it’s a creative medium, I can always build a new world,” he says.

Burrus initially thought that creativity was prime for short burst arcade games. But then he found an autism simulator in VR and it fundamentally changed his perspective on what immersive technology could do. The mantra became “change perspectives, change the world.”

Burrus wants immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to give individuals a new perspective on the experiences of others. He believes that empathy could go a long way to creating a dialogue to chip away at societal issues.

Immersive uses VR, AR and 360 degree video to create those empathetic experiences. Burrus says a lot of companies want to bet on one or the other, but they’re just different delivery systems for the same type of technology, and can all be used in complementary ways.

But first, it’s important to understand the nuances between the technologies.

In VR, “I’m taking your existing reality, replacing that with something different,” Burrus says. “In about two or three minutes, you’re going to accept that as your reality.”

Even if the world doesn’t look “real” the experience is cognitively impacting an individual, hence Burrus’ mountain-side response. While that experience erred more towards entertainment VR, Immersive is focused on cognitive VR – how can they leverage the technology to help people?

He provides two examples. A roofing simulator helped Feazel streamline their sales process and differentiate themselves in a narrow market. Alternatively, a medical marijuana lobby called on Immersive to create an epilepsy simulator to give people a chance to experience some of the conditions that marijuana can help treat. The team has also worked on a simulation for vertigo.

These learning experiences are where Burrus sees immersive technologies having the biggest impact.

“I think that immersive tech, VR and AR, are going to fundamentally rewrite the way that we learn,” he says.

While VR provides a fully-immersive learning experience, “Augmented reality is the ability to take physical objects, have a computer scan and recognize them, and then superimpose digital objects in that space,” Burrus explains.

AR has applications from marketing and wayfinding, to showing how a piece of manufacturing equipment might fit into a warehouse. Some movie-like scenarios might not be far off, either, if AR goes the direction Burrus anticipates.

“It makes the world an advertising surface as well as a search engine,” he says. When the technology can be delivered in glasses – that’s when it will really tip.

With such powerful technology comes a word of warning.

“The rates of addiction and the rates of desensitization are going to exponentially increase with this technology, so we have to be very, very mindful of what we’re building and how we’re building it and the impact that it’s having on people,” Burrus says.

Accountability is built into the culture of Immersive. Burrus says each project isn’t just about building something, but exploring how “experiences impact one another, resonate with one another, and how they influence your behavior.”

Immersive has completed about 50 projects since its launch and it hasn’t always been an easy sell.

“We knew going in that we were going to be early and it was going to be a challenge, especially in Columbus, Ohio with a VR company,” Burrus says.

For the first several months, the sales cycle was long because most individuals hadn’t experienced VR. The Immersive team witnessed many an a-ha moment once clients experienced the technology. Then the wheels really started turning about its applications.

Burrus says building the company in Columbus has been a journey. A few months after launching Immersive by building a social work training simulator, he connected with investor and Wave Innovation Group Co-Founder Michael Redd. Redd took an interest in the company and wanted to be involved.

Immersive set up shop at Redd’s coworking and collaboration space Wave Innovation Center and it has been full steam ahead ever since. Burrus says Redd has been a champion for their technology, and gracious in opening doors to his network.

Business-oriented community spaces like Wave are adding to Columbus’ startup ecosystem, which Burrus describes as “on the edge of awesome.” Collaboration and encouragement are pros, but a still developing ecosystem and lack of funding make it difficult to try out new ideas, especially at early stages.

“We have done quite a bit of business on both coasts in the last year and the consistent thing we hear is that we are in the wrong place to really scale,” Burrus says. “I love Columbus and I’m all about beating the odds, so time will tell.”

Burrus’ ideal goal is for Immersive to become the go-to resource for augmented and virtual reality content creation in the Midwest over the next few years.

“We have learned quite a bit in the last year and a half about the devices, the industry and the workflow and throughout this process we have developed a really sound approach to solving all kinds of business problems with this technology,” Burrus says.

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