October 5, 2017

Spectrums of (Virtual) Reality

Bottle Rocket helps brands connect to their customers with the latest technology. Though this tech is being talked about on a wider scale, some of it is still emerging. That makes for a learning curve when brands want to know what’s available for the most compelling user experience. As one of Bottle Rocket’s Senior Engineers, I can help shed some light on what’s available for affecting our reality.

Extended Reality

Extended Reality (XR) is an all-encompassing term to include all forms of reality manipulation. Under XR are two primary categories: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Let’s break all of these down to better understand them.

Augmented Reality

AR is the process of combining digital information with real-world environments in real time. The simplest form of AR is imposing digital content on top of a camera feed. One of the most well-known recent examples of AR is Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO utilizes your phone’s GPS to provide activities at different destinations. When you arrive at one of these activities, the game imposes a 3D scene on top of video from your phone’s camera, allowing you to feel like Pokémon are in your environment.

Advanced Augmented Reality (Advanced AR)

Advanced AR is primarily an AR experience with a deeper understanding of the environment. The experience uses techniques like face detection, positional tracking, object detection, and scene recreation to impose augmentation into the world and make them more a part of your reality.

You may have experienced this with Snapchat, which uses computer vision techniques to detect the location and rotation of the face and attaches graphics to different parts of it (they call these filters). Snapchat also detects changes in facial features to add fun interactions.

ARKit, a development kit that Apple recently released, uses a system that can calculate the device’s position and rotation to project virtual objects onto detected planes.

Microsoft’s HoloLens takes a slightly different approach by processing the environment and returning a digital representation of the user’s real world.

Augmented Virtuality (AV)

AV is the merging of real-world objects into a virtual world. This is used to capture the feeling of a VR experience by adding a real-world user to the visual experience.

Tilt Brush is one example of AV technology. It allows a user to visually integrate themselves in the virtual environment. This provides a way for others to experience what the user does.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR immerses users into a complete digital experience. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR, and Google Daydream are all platforms that support VR. All these experiences require a headset, which prevents you from seeing any actual reality.

One example is Valve’s The Lab: a completely virtual experience that allows you to try some small games and experiences on the HTC Vive.

Now that you have a clearer sense of what realities are available to explore, where would you like to get started? Let us know at [email protected]

September 19, 2017

5 Big Ideas from our Product Owner’s Guide to the Universe at MWCA

We had a stellar program for “Mobile Product Owner’s Guide to the Universe” at Mobile World Congress Americas. There were a ton of ideas that came from our speakers during the all-day event, and these are five of the most interesting:

1. Exponential Acceleration — and Convergence — of Lots of Tech (AI, AR, VR, MR, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Mobile and More)

“We used to say disruption is the new normal,” said Tom Edwards, Chief Digital Officer at Epsilon in his keynote address. “But now, I see this more as exponential acceleration. It’s more about consolidation and bundling of existing technologies.” With the rise of interconnected systems, marketers will need to keep up with customer expectations for seamless, intuitive, lightning fast, “magical” experiences with technologies. See Tom’s video that dives into the themes in his keynote here:

2. Leaving Room for Innovation (and Making Sure Your Definition of Innovation is Helping Not Hurting You)

Organizations can’t stop everything to innovate — but they can’t afford to fall behind either. It’s important, said panelists Todd Stricker with MarriottScott Cuppari with Coca-Cola Freestyle and Dorothy Jensen from Southwest Airlines to leave bandwidth on your teams to experiment, ideate and stay ahead of the game — even if many of the ideas never make it into production. They also advocated for carefully considering how your team defines innovation.

 Todd Stricker with Marriott, Scott Cuppari with Coca-Cola Freestyle and Dorothy Jensen from Southwest Airlines at MWCA17

“We frequently define innovation as unlocking value we weren’t unlocking before,” said Stricker. “Re-defining innovation in those terms helps people think in the problem spaces we’re really attacking to unlock customer value. That helps break the paradigm that innovation has to be a massive new crazy thing. It can be at a micro-level, and super meaningful when you’re dogging customer problems and making things better for them.”

3. It’s Time to Revisit A Few Technologies You Might Have Written Off

Technologies you might have tried a few years ago have matured: write them off at your own risk. For example, AI and natural language processing have helped create vast improvements in chatbots and voice assistants, as Vera Tzoneva, Global Product Partnerships, Google Assistant demonstrated.

VR technology is also better and more immersive than it’s ever been, said Andy Mathis, Mobile Partnerships and Business Development Lead at Oculus. For brands that want to connect with customers through indelible, immersive experiences, VR is an avenue that’s waiting to be explored. Red Bull’s VR hub lets you go cliff diving, fly a plane in the Red Bull air race and more, connecting with their adreneline-fueled branding. Tom’s in-store VR experience (see below) makes you an eyewitness and participant, making their brand promise of “buy a pair give a pair” come to life for customers.

4. Creating a Continuous Stream of Crowd-Sourced Customer Feedback to Help Drive Your Product Roadmap

Getting more (and more balanced) customer feedback helps product and marketing teams act on better, more balanced data about what customers want and need more quickly said Rob Pace, CEO of HundredX — and helps bake a listening culture into your organization. That’s critical for ensuring your products and features align to what real customers really want — not just what your team thinks they want.

Rob Pace, CEO of HundredX at MWCA

5. Data-Fueled Context is Increasingly Critical for Personalized Marketing

“The internet of things is too focused on the things,” said Dimitri Maex, President of Sentiance. “It’s on its way to becoming the internet of you — and I believe that will happen through AI and data.”

Maex shared how — using movement, location and time data from mobile phones — it’s possible to learn an enormous amount about a user’s context (Are they walking, driving, boating? Are they near home, work or school? Where are they likely to be going next?) and customize their experience for 1:1 interactions fast and at scale.

The exclamation point at the end gives me cavities, but a period is too bored... Thank you to our speakers, everyone in attendance, and our super smart, super helpful sponsors who helped make it all happen!

Also a big thank you to Urban Airship for this amazing recap! (original article)

July 7, 2017

Calvin Carter Speaks about the Human Experience of VR

Listen long enough around brand circles these days and you’re likely to hear the word “experiences”, and hear it often. Like disruption and innovation before, experiences are by no means a new idea, but it’s a concept that’s at top of mind for many in marketing and technology today. There’s a sense that, while physical products and services will always be around in some form or another, the way to create a lasting relationship with a consumer is to give them a moment or feeling they won’t forget. We may not recall the brand of the camera that captured that remarkable family photo, but we definitely remember how that moment made us feel. We remember the experience.

“Almost everything in life is just an iteration on an existing direction or trend line,” Calvin Carter says. “VR is just a really big one.”

There’s really no doubt then why so many brands are keeping an eye on virtual reality. When you merge experiences with the other word we hear all the time in marketing circles—authenticity—you’ve basically found 2 synonyms for the words that make up VR. Calvin Carter, CEO of Bottle Rocket, sees virtual reality as the future of brand communication because it provides the most human experience. While today’s technology is brilliant, there’s still plenty of room to grow, Carter says.

“Remember the first time you used a mouse? You thought, wow, isn’t this amazing?” Carter says. “I can use my hand, my actual hand, move this little thing around on the table, and it makes something happen on my computer.”

What sounds primitive to us now, Carter reminds us, was and still is a truly amazing technological achievement. The fact that we could take objects from the physical world to a digital one remains amazing. As the technology has improved, we’ve moved more than ever into an online world. We graduated from the PC to the iPhone and iPad, touch-based devices that bring us closer to the content we were engaging with. But as Carter points out, our technology may allow us to share things more quickly with people far away from us, but that benefit has come at a cost—we’re dealing with representations.

“With the computer, it was still a different type of interaction. If we needed something to have a button, we had to draw one or create one within the program we were working with,” Carter says. “But now, let me put you in an immersive world, in VR. Instead of having to draw or create something for interaction, now I can simply reach into this new reality and interact with items. I can pick up a photo, toss it, fling it, just the way I would with an actual photo in the real world. I can take the edges and stretch it using just my hands. If I want to alter the photo, I can just use my hand to brush over it. If I want to cut it, I can just grab a pair of scissors. VR allows us to interact with things the way that we are used to, in a way that we always have in the real world, in a way that we already know-how.”

As Carter describes, the future of VR is a world where we have removed the abstractions, even ones that in a smartphone world we’d forgotten are indeed representations. A video of a memorable moment in one’s life, or of a moment of breaking news, or of a sports highlight is still, indeed, an abstraction. What VR has the capability to do that no other previous technology has done is to nearly eliminate the barrier. Enter again the keyword: Instead of seeing how other people experienced something, you can come ever closer to experiencing it for yourself.

“It becomes more human and more natural and more intuitive,” Carter says, with a follow up that will no doubt make brand marketers perk up. “And so we start to express ourselves more emotionally, and we connect more to who we are when we’re doing these things.”

As VR technology continues to improve, so will the experiences. Because when it comes to barriers, VR does have its share. Creators are still figuring out how best to tell stories and provide that emotional connection through a medium and platform that is so different from those of the past. As for hardware, the current headsets remain a bit heavy and clunky, not to mention expensive for the average consumer. Following the pattern of previous game-changing technologies, VR headsets will indeed get lighter, cheaper, and easier to use as time goes on. Carter even sees a world not too far off into the distant future where there may be, literally, no barrier.

Continue reading on Ogilvy.

May 24, 2017

The AR/VR Takeaways from Google I/O with Matt Johnson

Bottle Rocket is at the forefront of helping brands gain a competitive advantage with AR/VR experiences. That’s why we were all ears when the topic shifted to AR/VR during this year’s Google I/O opening keynote.

Our AR/VR Specialist, Matt Johnson was eager to learn the latest Google developments in the AR/VR space. He was not disappointed. We asked Matt what piqued his interest during the keynote. Here’s what he had to say:

Standalone Headsets

“The announcement of the new standalone headsets in partnership with HTC and Lenovo is exciting. This somewhat mirrors the Samsung/Oculus partnership, but appears that Google will be focused on their core VR SDK on the devices (unlike Samsung, which utilizes Oculus VR software). Every major manufacturer is now working on inside out, or WorldSense, tracking. This is the first step in convergence to a high presence VR platform without the need for external sensors or cumbersome cables. This will give brands more options for interactivity and engagement without sacrificing fidelity—specifically bringing virtual hands into a mobile VR world to augment its already great ease of use and flexibility. We will continue to live in a somewhat fragmented ecosystem with multiple groups innovating on their own platforms. Our job will be to guide our brands through these choppy waters by recommending both the best hardware and software solutions for their particular business engagement needs.”

Google Visual Positioning System

“I'm probably most excited about the Google Visual Positioning System or VPS. This is another addition to Google's Tango platform, which is built into a few specific tablets and phones. Tango is a smartphone based AR system that uses the same inside out tracking that Google is implementing in their new VR headsets to very accurately map interior spaces and objects. The example they used was using Geolocation to get you to the front door and VPS to get you to the item (within 1 centimeter). The system collects visual, positional, and other marker data as it’s trained within an environment. Imagine brands like Ikea using this to navigate you exactly to products that are in your wishlist at the store, then visualize them within 360 videos taken within your home!”

Daydream Compatibility for Samsung Galaxy S8

“Finally, the addition of the Samsung Galaxy S8 line becoming Daydream compatible opens up a huge new potential market for Google on the lower end mobile VR market. While most of these users probably already have a GearVR device, Google should have an exponential number of compatible phones (due to their open ecosystem for phone manufacturers) on the market towards the end of the year, which will drive content developers towards their ecosystem.”

Talk to the branded AR/VR experts at Bottle Rocket about what these developments could mean for your brand.

January 10, 2017

Tethered Heartstrings – The Emotional Side of VR

Many people who have experienced it first-hand say “if you haven’t tried VR, you can’t understand what it’s like.” You can learn about how it works and see that people are enthralled by it, but you have to try it to truly know why its an experience unlike any other.

In our recent panel video, Matt Johnson, EVP of Innovation here at Bottle Rocket, had this to say about the medium:

"Over the past couple of years, we’ve had these great contextual, in the moment devices that allow us to dive in quickly and retrieve the information we want. What we’ve been lacking are these deep conversations that brands can have with their consumers.
I won’t forget, the first time I experienced Henry - which is the Oculus Story Studio - I felt like a kid, and I haven’t felt that way since I WAS a kid… I had a relationship [with the character and technology] that wasn’t distracted by emails, texts, and all that stuff coming in."

Virtual reality experiences go beyond basic sensory inputs. With emerging multiplayer games and more on the way, developers are quickly discovering emotional responses not seen in other, traditional forms of interactive media.