How the massive metaverse looks to a German VR startup

VRdirect co-founder Rolf Illenberger is heading from Munich, Germany, to Las Vegas in early January to promote the virtual reality software startup’s programs to B2B customers and media.

“Metaverse will be one of the top topics at CES,” he told Fierce Electronics  in a Zoom interview.  With VR at an inflection point, “2022 will be amazing in terms of growth.”

VRdirect offers a VR platform for enterprises. They use the software to coordinate creation of their own VR content to be used in various applications, including safety training and  on-boarding for new employees.

In addition to co-founding VRdirect in 2019, Illenberger is also managing director of the 18-person company. He counts as  customers Siemens,  Porsche, Lufthansa  and Nestle.  Nestle is expected to begin rolling out 10,000 VR headsets in 2022 relying on centralized software.

With the variety of VR hardware platforms announced or expected from Meta, Microsoft, Google, HTC and Apple, among others, “it’s just going to be crazy,” he said. There could be as many as 10 VR ecosystems -- and multiple metaverses -- for enterprise IT shops to sort through.

 “We are trying to be a solution for that,” Illenberger said. “Our core philosophy is to be as open as possible to the platforms, but the reality is the big tech guys are playing their own game of who’s going to rule the metaverse world. Nobody wants to standardize because they are competing.”

Illenberger sees the VR opportunity as enormous, not only for B2B, but also for B2C with gaming and other entertainment opportunities.  “The metaverse will be much bigger than the smartphone has been,” he said. “The opportunity for the big tech guys is much bigger than it was in the smartphone era.”

2022 will be such a big year for VR partly because of Meta’s promotion of the tech, but more recently because Intel and Nvidia have talked about the incredible amount of processing power, and semiconductors, needed to support growth in the sector.

VRdirect is set to capitalize on that industry trend with a broader understanding of the value and function of VR in industry and business settings, Illenberger said. “VR is now at the [explosive growth]  point in terms of hardware on the one hand, and software and the understanding of VR use cases at companies,” he said. “All three things are now at the point where you can start rolling out VR in large stages.”

Companies in the recent past would need 10 or 100 VR  headsets in the past to explore the technology, but now some enterprise clients are looking to purchase 10,000 headsets, he said.

 VRdirect’s software is similar to Power Point, where users can start with a blank slate and add content and distribute it through the cloud to locations anywhere.  “It’s one centralized VR app where all the departments can create and publish through this one centralized app,” he said.  A company can get started with a $10,000 investment that includes several VR headsets and the software.

VRdirect sees the VR future as very promising, with some of the concerns of years ago now overcome, including latency that caused some users to experience motion sickness.  Also, headsets will get smaller and easier to wear, he predicted. “The current devices are not yet at the point where you feel comfortable,” he said. “This will change over time.”

Illenberger’s team works with customers on how to make the best use of VR in a corporate setting.  One tip he offers them is not creating training modules that last longer than 10 to 15 minutes.  Several  modules can be viewed in a single day, but with breaks in between. He also urges comp. es to break down detailed content into smaller pieces: instead of packing 10 safety regulation concepts into a presentation, which should be broken into three or four experiences.  And he urges companies to intersperse VR sessions with sessions led by human trainers. 

What is so valuable about using a headset over watching a PC? “The value is VR is immersive,” he said. “It stays in the brain in a totally different way than if someone read it or saw it onscreen.”

A safety VR experience really can show an actual manufacturing floor and reinforce topics like “don’t touch the red cable” because of the danger of electrical shock or “walk on the right side” when walking  in the warehouse.

Some customers think the best VR experiences for the workplace need computer graphics in the Matrix mode, like those used in a gaming or entertainment experience, but what works best is depicting realistic images from the real world that a worker at a company  will encounter, he said.   “We work all the time [with customers] to find the right level,” he said. “CGI is really extremely expensive.”

The pandemic has opened the eyes of enterprises to the value of VR, he said. “Many of the large enterprises have come to the conclusion they need to deploy technology to make sure that business continuity is ensured in times of pandemic,” he said. Car manufacturers were not able to train workers, for example.

“They said, ‘We cannot let this happen ever again. We have to mitigate.' VR is on top of many innovations.”

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