#405: Memory Capture & Virtual Tourism for People with Physical Disabilities

roy-sherrillRoy Sherrill is enabling the time travelers from the future to get a sense of presence at a number of different tech and cultural events around the San Francisco Bay Area. Roy’s been shooting a lot of 360 videos from his wheelchair at a number of different VR events this Spring and Summer, and he thinks of his selfie stick with a 360-degree bubblecam as a “wizard staff” and “portal stone.” When asked to explain why he’s recording all of this footage he says, “I capture slices of reality one moment at a time and save it in a bubble so that I can project others into it in the future so they can get the sense of presence as if they’re there themselves.” He’s enabling future members of the Society for Creative Anachronism to have a more direct experience of history as it unfolds.


Roy is doing a sort of virtual tourism that is enabling other people with impaired mobility to get a taste of the different experiences that he’s having. While some of the footage may seem mundane to us know, it’s this type of footage that will be a lot more fascinating to people 20-50 years into the future. One example of this is the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which was shot before a Judas Priest concert in 1986 and serves as an anthropological study of the metal scene in the mid-80’s.

Roy is hoping to inspire others to start sharing 360 videos of adventures that he’s not able to go on himself, and that eventually he’ll be able to live out his sci-fi dreams of becoming teleastronaut and operating a scientific research vehicle on our moon or distant planet while immersed in VR as described by NASA’s Jeff Norris.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. When I was at GDC this year, I kept seeing a man in a wheelchair who was riding around recording 360 video with a selfie stick and 360 degree camera. He was wearing this steampunk-like goggles and a mobile VR headset around a top hat. So this is somebody that really struck my attention a number of times after seeing him go to different VR events at VRDC. And after running into him the third time, I decided to stop him and get his story and see what he was working on. So today's interview is with Roy Sherrill of thenewsbubble.com, and he's recording a lot of different tech events and capturing memories for future generations to be able to time travel to the present moment. So we'll be talking about the themes of memory capture and virtual travel, as well as using VR to serve the needs of people with impaired movement. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsors. Today's episode is brought to you by The Virtual Reality Company. VRRC is creating a lot of premiere storytelling experiences, and exploring this cross-section between art, story, and interactivity. They were responsible for creating the Martian VR experience, which was really the hottest ticket at Sundance, and a really smart balance between narrative and interactive. So if you'd like to watch a premiere VR experience, then check out thevrcompany.com. Today's episode is also brought to you by The VR Society, which is a new organization made up of major Hollywood studios. The intention is to do consumer research, content production seminars, as well as give away awards to VR professionals. They're going to be hosting a big conference in the fall in Los Angeles to share ideas, experiences, and challenges with other VR professionals. To get more information, check out thevrsociety.com. So this interview with Roy happened in March on the expo floor in GDC in San Francisco. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:22.432] Roy Sherrill: My name is Roy Sherrill. I go by the username MervinStarHawk. I run a website called thenewsbubble.com. I started it last August when I got my bubble cam, which is a 360 spherical video camera. And what I do is I'm doing content creation for mobile virtual reality. I'm targeting primarily cell phone users and mobile users rather than the high-end gamer.

[00:02:44.639] Kent Bye: So what is it about the 360 video that you find compelling then?

[00:02:48.300] Roy Sherrill: With 360 video, if you're watching a music video, like John VR creates with their Paul McCartney video, you're sitting on the stage watching the band play. It's like watching a music video on a TV. I do 360 spherical video from the audience viewpoint. I mean, at Super Bowl City, I record 20 hours of 360 video, including all of the major concerts, from the fans' viewpoint so that you're feeling the energy of the fans around you, not just the music on the stage, so that you're getting a sense of virtual presence like you're actually there. I mean, if you're watching it through a VR headset, your brain tricks it to thinking that you are actually there in person, so you create a memory, I mean, like you're actually attending the concert yourself, although physically you weren't there and it was recorded several months ago. My special interest is targeted primarily towards virtual presence, virtual tourism, all this kind of stuff, which is one of the reasons why I'm here at GDC is I'm recording content so that all the people who can't come here because they can't get the pass or it's too expensive or they're on the other side of the country can attend virtually through the photos and videos that I take here.

[00:04:00.377] Kent Bye: So what are some of the favorite places that you've gone virtually then?

[00:04:03.820] Roy Sherrill: I did the CES trade show in Las Vegas. That was a lot of fun. I recorded 120 gigs of video there. I did Super Bowl City for eight out of the nine days and I mean lots of content there. I've done a number of different trade shows around the Bay Area, especially the technology and VR related shows. Because I'm disabled and in a wheelchair, there's limited range that I can get to currently. I'm hoping that by promoting these videos and stuff and virtual tourism, I want to get into making videos of going through like the Grand Teton National Park in Yosemite. other touristy type locations and stuff where the people who can't physically go to these locations go to like the ski resorts and stuff like this so that someone who's sitting in an office and says I wish I could go skiing but I'm in New York City can log into a VR headset and watch a video or play a VR game that gives them the impression like they're actually there.

[00:04:57.484] Kent Bye: So what are some of the places that you wish you could go virtually that you can't go physically?

[00:05:02.680] Roy Sherrill: Right now one of the things is down through the Grand Canyon on some of the horseback and riding trails in Yosemite and Teton and up into the Cascade Mountains and all of this kind of stuff. Up into some of the ski resorts and stuff. I mean it's something that I'm hoping to to get others to work with me to actually create this content because the entire purpose of my website is to promote others to make 360 content and mobile VR content. So I'm playing a VR evangelist. I'm trying to get others to make content so that this technology will be more readily accepted and more expandable and with my website I have connections to all of the different 360 cameras and a lot of the VR content and on my Facebook page I post articles for all of the major tech magazines and stuff that have their content so that people can come to my site to find the links to catch up with all of the current content from all of the different magazines that I regularly track.

[00:06:00.191] Kent Bye: What's some of your favorite memories of being in virtual reality?

[00:06:04.340] Roy Sherrill: Using the headset and playing Skyrim in VR and playing Ark Survival, I've been doing that for the last couple of weeks.

[00:06:12.584] Kent Bye: What is it about those experiences that are striking to you?

[00:06:15.225] Roy Sherrill: Because they're 360 worlds that you're actually moving around in the world, You've got an avatar that you're looking at. You can either do first person or third person viewpoint. But the graphics in the world environment is really spectacular because what I want to do is I want to promote the advancement of the average user being able to log into a metaverse environment. like is displayed in like books like Snow Crash and Mona Lisa Overdrive, Diamond Age, Hacker and the Ants, Halting State, all of the Shadowrun type books and stuff, all of the VR technology and the virtual metaverse technology. I mean, the Matrix is going to be way beyond us, I mean, for anything conceivable. But a lot of these other books and a lot of the other technology, the technology is getting more and more and more advanced so that we'll gradually work into that. And so that the average user can pick up an inexpensive headset and log into this metaverse environment and they can socialize with people from literally around the globe. there's no race, there's no color, I mean all of the prejudice are stripped off because all you're seeing is their virtual avatar, I mean not the actual person, so all of your subconscious and behavioral taboos and restrictions that are created by the environment that you grow up with are stripped off when you're working in a metaverse environment, especially in games like Eve Online, Second Life, The Sims, and all that kind of stuff. I'd love to play Sims 3 or Sims 4 first person in a VR environment with other people so that you've got mixed player characters and NPC characters.

[00:07:47.998] Kent Bye: And can you expand on a little bit about what it's meant to you as a person who has a disability to have these access to virtual reality technology?

[00:07:56.222] Roy Sherrill: Well, a person that's disabled or say a person that's in a wheelchair or in a hospital or like a senior citizen, we have limited mobility. There's a lot of places that we can't get to. I mean, even here, I mean, I'm stuck in a wheelchair that doesn't fit on the bus. So even getting around town, I have a big problem. The wheelchair accessible cabs, there's no such thing for most of the Bay Area. I mean you've got paratransit that's all but useless. So like night before last I got stuck in Fremont because I couldn't take a cab from the Fremont BART station back to Milpitas after the bus had stopped. So I was stuck out in the cold for six hours. Now I mean there's a lot of places that I physically can't go to because of my physical limitations or because of economic circumstances or other stuff. But if you're doing virtual tourism with like a 360 camera or a VR environment where you're doing augmented reality and all this kind of stuff, you can teleport yourself into these alternate realities. Now let me explain sort of a couple of taglines that I created for the work that I do. Arthur C. Clarke says that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And a lot of this virtual reality, augmented reality and stuff, even from the modern viewpoint, is very magical. I mean, say, 10, 15, 20 years ago, it would be beyond magic for a lot of people, let alone back in the Middle Ages and whatnot. But you can simulate all of these environments in a virtual world. So I've been using the name Merlin Starhawk for 30 years because of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Now, I've got a selfie stick here with a bubble cam on top of it. So this is my wizard staff. This is my portal stone. I capture slices of reality one moment at a time and save it in a bubble so that I can project others into it in the future so that they can get the sense of presence as if they were there themselves. I mean, like what I did at Super Bowl City. It gives them the sense of presence Because you're immersed in this environment, you're creating memories as if you're actually attending the concert or attending the event or the game or the trade show yourself, although you're just watching it in a 3D VR environment. Now, if you're going through Yosemite or Yellowstone or stuff like that, and you've got someone going on a horseback ride where you're riding along, you've got the camera, so that you're seeing all of the environment around you and you've got someone who's playing tour guide saying okay look at this look at that you can pause you can back up you can look at all the stuff that goes around you in a lot of the videos i don't edit the video because if you're familiar with the matrix movies you never know when the lady in red is going to cross behind you so I don't want to cut anything out that someone else may find interesting or so because when I'm watching it primarily or when I'm recording it I'm looking ahead of me and I don't see all the stuff that's going on around me but that's all being captured with the bubble cam or the other cameras that are out like the Theta and the Gear 360 that Sony's putting out over the next couple of months. And back it up you can watch this stuff and every time you watch it you're looking at it from a different viewpoint so you're picking up more and more and more of the content so that the more data that's being provided to you the more you remember and the greater the quality of the memory. I mean, even if the image is a little bit substandard or there's a little audio buzz, the sense of presence of being there, it's like the difference between watching a music video on TV and actually attending a concert. I mean, with the VR environment or a 360 photo or video, you get the sense of presence like you're actually physically there. Now the other tagline is that my trademark and my business card on my website is Earthrise. It's a picture that the Apollo astronauts took of the Earth rising above the Moon's surface. So instead of having the Earth rising on the horizon on the Earth, you're looking at the Earth rising on the horizon on the Moon. So that whether you're looking from the inside out or the outside in, I'm looking to change the way you see the world around you.

[00:11:54.964] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that's really striking to me is the profound empathy that you have for people that are in similar situations as you, but don't have the access or mobility to be able to come to events like this.

[00:12:05.536] Roy Sherrill: It's not just for people who are disabled. I mean, I've done videos like mall walking videos for people who want to do exercising and stuff, but they're like snowed in if they're in the Midwest in the middle of winter. And in the Midwest, people go mall walking because when it's frozen outside and it's 30 degrees below, you can't actually go out jogging. So a lot of senior citizens and other people will just walk the mall for exercise. But if you've got an exercise machine and stuff and a VR headset or just a computer with a 360 pan on a tablet or something, I mean, you can do your tours virtually for mall walking. A couple of days ago, I did recording some 360 video of a Tai Chi master who's visiting here from China. And I recorded six different Tai Chi sets in 360 video so that people can watch the video and see how he moves. Because if you're just watching a regular 2D video on a computer screen, if he moves out of the frame, you can't see what's going on. But in 360, because you're seeing all of the environment, you're seeing everything that's going on. I'm trying to shrink the world to make the entire globe more accessible to the average person. I mean, the saying on the arch where I recorded the Tai Chi videos is, the world is one big family. And I'm trying to bring this family closer and closer together through alternate reality and virtual presence. Now with like the 360 video, imagine you have a friend that's getting married and they're on the other side of the country and you can't get there. You record it in 360 and I mean you can be standing there as if you're I mean one of the the best man or the bridesmaids or in the audience I mean watching it and you can look around and see everyone that's there. You're not just looking at this little video clip of the marriage ceremony itself. You're going from the small box window to an entire spherical world where you can see everything that's going on. I mean, say you've got kids and you want to record your kid's birthday party, I mean, so that your grandparents can attend the birthday party virtually. Or, I mean, you've got some other special event or stage production for high school or something like this. You can record it so that other people can view it and feel like they're actually there themselves with a sense of virtual presence that you get through, I mean, VR and 360.

[00:14:19.996] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:14:25.979] Roy Sherrill: The ultimate potential of virtual reality, I think, is situated very much in books like Snow Crash and Halting State, where people have a VR headset that's paired up with their cell phone. In Halting State, the headset's sort of like a pair of military glasses, big, heavy, black plastic glasses that have augmented reality so that you can enhance the reality around you. or going into something like Snow Crash or the old Shadowrun books where you're actually jacking into a metaverse type environment so that you're socializing with other people online in a first-person viewpoint. It's very much what Blue World and Second Life had been doing since the 90s, they got started with the VRML. And back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was building 3D models of houses before they were being built so that people could walk around the house virtually through a VRML browser on Netscape at that time, so that they could see the house before it was built and say, okay, I like this, I like that, I want to move this staircase over there, I want to expand this room, and so that you can customize it. Now in things like Snow Crash, you log into this metaverse environment. So you've got different nightclubs and stuff where you can go socialize with other people. There are places where you can go into different games and stuff that you can do different interaction type of stuff. In Halting State, they're talking about a shared networking where all of the online games that you're playing now, like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, all this kind of stuff, they're all running on platforms that are distributed networking over the internet. It's all running on cell phones because you're sharing the unused processing power of the cell phone across millions of cell phones to run a big data network like they use for EVE Online. So EVE Online, you've got 50,000 people online at one time in a single environment. Now, if you've got, say, 500 million people having cell phones that are sitting idle, and you're borrowing the extra processing power from that, the cell phone companies are actually paying you for the bandwidth, because they're using that processing power, and then selling that to the game companies to run these engines and stuff, because the modern smartphone right now has more processing power than a supercomputer, say, 10 or 15 years ago. As the technology expands and stuff, that curve is just going to be expanding and expanding and expanding because Moore's Law is far from being over.

[00:16:52.162] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:16:56.065] Roy Sherrill: Basically, I want people to be able to enjoy the sense of presence that they're actually there. I mean, my dream job, say 10, 15 years from now, I used to work in telerobotic manufacturing. Back in 2000, I was working for a company called OmniTech Robotics in Inglewood, Colorado, which is a suburb of Denver. We're building remote control systems for military vehicles, where we added video cameras onto the vehicle so that you can operate them remotely. We were doing like minesweepers, Humvees, forklifts and stuff. So that we could clear obstacles and stuff so that the soldiers are out of danger. In 2002, I bought a robotics kit from Evolution Robotics called the ER-1. That eventually, after 9-11, got bought out by US Robotics and turned into the PackBot. So it got militarized, but the technology and stuff was fantastic and it still exists. all of this virtual presence and stuff that the military is using we're trying to pull it back into the commercial level because my ideal job is building and operating telerobotic vehicles on the moon construction manufacturing mining exploration scientific experimentation all this kind of stuff where i sit down in a simulator here on earth. I'm driving a vehicle around the moon that's using 360 cameras or other VR type environments where I'm sitting in like a man cave or some flight simulator type vehicle. So I'm driving a vehicle around the moon all day and then I'm home with the family and the kids every evening. Now a lot of what I'm doing is I'm promoting I mean, Palmer Luckey says that he's after 250 million high-end gamers. I'm all for that because it's a higher resolution, higher bandwidth, all this kind of stuff. I'm after the other six and a half billion people whose only internet connection or whose main internet connection is their smartphone. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. My pleasure. Thank you.

[00:18:45.539] Kent Bye: So that was Roy Sherrill of thenewsbubble.com and he's been traveling around to different tech and cultural events taking 360 videos. So I have a number of different takeaways from this interview is that first of all, I really love the way that Roy thinks about the tagline for what he's doing. So just to repeat what he said, he's got a selfie stick with a bubble cam, and he says, this is my wizard staff. This is my portal stone. I capture slices of reality one moment at a time and save it in a bubble so that I can project others into it in the future so they can get the sense of presence as if they're there themselves. So this type of memory capture, I think, is a really interesting use case for virtual reality. And I could see it for two big applications. First of all is from within the context of family. Just imagine being able to not only just look at a photo of your great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother, but to actually see a 360 video of them within some sort of specific context to get a better sense of their energy and their presence. So this is something that Tom Furness talked about, is being able to actually connect your ancestral line and lineage in this way, beyond just videos and photos, but actually getting a sense of being in the same room with them. The other thing is just documenting history. As mundane as it is, I think that there's going to be potentially somebody in the future who may want to go back in time to a specific moment in time and see what was happening. I think the interesting thing about taking 360 video of mundane events like this is that at the moment, it's actually not all that interesting. It actually becomes a lot more interesting way into the future. So 5, 10, 15, 20 years into the future. Some of these videos that Roy is recording are going to be a whole lot more interesting to people to look back on. We could just imagine that in the future people will have augmented reality glasses, virtual reality may be all pervasive, artificial intelligence will be taken to the next level. And so just like people have this nostalgia of going back and looking at different time periods and seeing what life was like and kind of remembering it as a part of their childhood. I think people are going to look back on this time as kind of before all pervasive immersive computing platforms like AR and VR. This may be considered a very fertile time of a lot of very new things, just like people look back on the 80s with so much nostalgic respect with all the video game consoles and just novels like Ready Player One that take you back to that time, to all the different amazing new video game technologies and movies that were coming out. Just this weekend, I watched all of the episodes of Stranger Things, which is an amazing kind of throwback to the 80s, and it's pretty striking to see a movie that uses dial-up phones, and, you know, nobody has cell phones, the kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons, they're riding around on their bikes, and It was just a different era and time in our history and one that I grew up in and it was kind of before the internet. And so I could just imagine that as people are taking these different 360 videos, I think people from the future are going to want to look back on this time to see what things were like. And so I think it's really interesting that Roy is out there and taking these videos. Now, the other dimension is that Roy is disabled. He's in a wheelchair and he's not able to do all the things that he wants to do. And so he's going out and recording a lot of things that he can do that other people can't do. But he's wanting for other people to do the same thing so that he can experience the things that he can't experience on his own. Now, there's a dimension here of the 360 video versus fully immersive computer-generated graphics. And I think that Roy himself says that some of the things that he really enjoys doing with Skyrim and other immersive 3D experiences is that there's something that is different when you're in an immersive experience in 3D that makes it more VR in some people's eyes than just a simple 360 video. And what I'd say is that there's still a valid use case for 360 video and perhaps we'll be moving to something more like a digital light field to be able to fully capture more of a 3D sense of a scene that gives you more parallax. But when you look at memory capture as well as virtual tourism and enabling people who have impaired mobility in some way to experience different aspects of life they otherwise wouldn't have access to, then I think that's going to be still a huge use case of VR and one where live capture VR is going to be way different and better than something that's computer generated. And so I think there's still a different use case, especially if you think about memory capture within your own family lineage of your children or videos of yourself that your future ancestors will be looking back on. I think they're going to want something that's a little bit more akin to live capture video than something that's computer generated. So I think there's still valid use cases for both of the technologies. So the other thing I just wanted to appreciate is Roy's enthusiastic reading of a lot of the different science fiction literature that's out there. In some ways you could categorize some of what Roy is doing as a gargoyle within the Snow Crash novels where he's going around and capturing all this raw footage to put out there. There's not sort of like this sinister connection to working for the intelligence agencies or the Library of Congress to then get money off of it. It's more from a profound sense of empathy and wanting to give access to the experiences that he's having to other people who don't have access to all the resources of mobility or money that Roy has access to. One other thing that I should mention is that I think actually recording 360 video from a wheelchair has the potential to be a lot more comfortable experience for people to be watching than somebody who's actually walking around with a selfie stick and a 360 camera. I think there's still issues with stabilization, where if I watch some of the videos of moving around, it still kind of shakes around enough to make me motion sick. So motion sickness is an issue with people who are watching some of these 360 videos of moving around and kind of taking a tour of different spaces. So the safest bet is to just have one static shot and have that not move around, but moving around on flat surfaces is a lot better than moving around on grass, for example. So there's a whole range of different levels of comfort, but motion sickness is something to take into account when recording these 360 videos and for people watching them in the future. So that's all I've got for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening. And if you are enjoying the podcast, then, uh, please do consider, uh, spreading the word, telling your friends. And I'm going to be in LA over the next week, going to first the mind and body VR hackathon. And then from Monday to Thursday, I'll be at SIGGRAPH doing a lot of different interviews and coverage of all the different news and technologies that's coming out of this graphics conference. So keep an eye out for me, and I'd love to connect if you have something that you'd like to talk about about VR. And also, if you'd like to support the podcast, then please do consider becoming a contributor to my Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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