I talk with Shauna Heller from Clay Park VR about here thoughts about non-entertainment and non-gaming VR content in education, medicine, and enterprise applications.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. On today's episode, I have back Shauna Heller, who is the founder of Claypark VR. Previously, Shauna was working at Oculus as the non-gaming and non-entertainment developer relations liaison, and so she had formed all these different connections within the industries that are trying to adopt VR into their non-gaming and non-entertainment applications. And so she's since started her own company called Clay Park VR, and at just about every single VR conference that I go to, I end up running into Shauna and getting little updates. So this is actually an update from about six months ago at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference back in March. So at this point, the consumer launch of VR had just been a few weeks into it, and Shauna had really started to focus in on three major areas, which was medical applications, educational applications, as well as enterprise applications. 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 sponsor. This is a paid sponsored ad by the Intel Core i7 processor. You might be asking, what's the CPU have to do with VR? Well, it processes all the game logic and multiplayer data, physics simulation and spatialized audio. It also calculates the positional tracking, which is only going to increase as more and more objects are tracked. It also runs all of your other PC apps that you may be running when you're within a virtualized desktop environment. And there's probably a lot of other things that it'll do in VR that we don't even know about yet. So Intel asked me to share my process, which is that I decided to future-proof my PC by selecting the Intel Core i7 processor. So this interview with Shauna happened at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference that was happening at the San Jose Convention Center from April 27th to 29th. So, With that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:10.091] Shauna Heller: Hi, my name is Shauna Heller, and I'm the founder of Claypark VR. Claypark is a VR strategy and advisory service for corporations, brands, and institutions trying to make a meaningful entrance into the VR and AR ecosystem. In addition, I also serve as a board advisor to multiple virtual reality and immersive experience developers working at the top of their field, mostly in non-gaming and non-entertainment. So developers working in arts, culture, automotive, architecture, health, medicine, science, education, and the odd developer that's working on a good game.
[00:02:45.811] Kent Bye: The last time I talked to you was about six months ago, and so I'm just curious about what's new for you, and where do you see this going from your vantage point?
[00:02:53.283] Shauna Heller: Oh my goodness, it has been a really, really exciting and intense six months. It took a couple of months after I left Oculus to figure out where I could have the most impact and that was a really exciting time in terms of growing and learning as a company founder. And it became apparent that with that kind of lack of leadership in the VR space focused on education and enterprise and health, that there would be a place for me and the work that I'm doing at Clay Park. So I've begun to focus there a little bit more exclusively, even though I began with clients in the advertising and marketing space, which is, you know, an area that I had covered when I was at Oculus. And while those are interesting areas and innovation will come from those areas, you know, my real passion is for using VR to accomplish a couple of different things. To me, VR is a tool and we should be using that as a tool to solve problems and to share knowledge and to save lives. And there are so many more ways to do that within the enterprise and education and medical space than there is in advertising or in traditional gaming for VR.
[00:04:04.833] Kent Bye: And so when you come to conferences like the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference, you're speaking and you're trying to transmit different points of data for people to take home. What are you trying to give people in terms of evidence or numbers or what story are you telling there?
[00:04:19.805] Shauna Heller: Well the message I'm trying to share through the panels that I sit on and the presentations that I give is that first is kind of a message of encouragement. There are developers out there getting frustrated that they can't find projects for their ideas or ideas for their projects and for meaning of VR projects. So, the first thing that I like to communicate to everyone is that, you know, to be persistent and have confidence and if you're, you know, frustrated at any time that you're not being heard in the VR space for your special idea, that there will be a time for it. The body of my presentations tend to focus on areas of opportunity and challenge within the enterprise education and medical space when it comes to introducing virtual reality or augmented reality. So with that message that I first start with of encouragement, like keep on working at it developers, and hey if you're a corporation or a brand trying to incorporate those immersive technologies into their workflow, that keep on working at it. And then I present evidence and data about some successful launches, early launches of VR into the enterprise space. And the successes can be very small. And I think that if you look behind the headlines that come out all the time, you know, virtual reality and the Oculus name, they tend to still be kind of clickbait in the media. So people still will put out a lot of releases and about what they're doing in VR and what they aren't. But if you can kind of look behind those releases and see what's really going on at some of the big corporations. that they're trying small pilot programs internally, and they're testing out different headsets, they're testing out different technology, and they're having small wins. And it's exciting to see that because a small win with a pilot program becomes a giant win for that corporation 18 months from now when we have even more headsets in the market, when we have even more developers who are sharpening and honing their skills for creating immersive content. So, for me, it's really exciting to be able to share some of those data points. You know, how is VR being used in the oil and gas industry, or in the medical space, and all of these different areas, and even in education.
[00:06:24.351] Kent Bye: I'm curious as to whether or not you think some of this innovation is going to primarily come from within some of these Fortune 500 companies, or if you're going to see a lot of these startups kind of coming in, trying to do these applications and hope to get acquired.
[00:06:38.099] Shauna Heller: You know what, I think that there's going to be a lot of innovation that comes directly from corporations. No one knows their workflow like they do and no one knows their problems like they do. Occasionally you'll have a developer coming in with the raw hardware and saying, hey we've got this great hardware, show us a problem. And really I'm finding that entities who are saying, wow, we have these 10 pain points internally, and then looking at the technology and going, could this solve that problem? And I think that's why there will be more innovation that comes from internally, and then they'll start acquiring, right? Everyone keeps talking about that. Oh, I'm just going to start my VR company now because it'll get acquired in two years. Well, I think that there will probably be a medium of that, where some of the competition will fall away, and maybe the top VR startup working in a training and simulation for the oil and gas industry. There are many right now who are working on it. But maybe one or two will emerge and maybe they'll get purchased by, you know, one of the larger oil companies. But I think what's really going on is that the corporations are sparking to the innovation internally and solving a lot of their own problems and working externally with developers. But they're identifying the problem first and then matching a technology to it, not the other way around.
[00:07:59.237] Kent Bye: Yeah, and do you find yourself sharing any specific anecdotes or stories that kind of describe the power of immersive technologies when it is applied to either enterprise education or medicine?
[00:08:10.253] Shauna Heller: Well, one of the stories that I like to share is really from the medical space. There were some doctors down in Louisiana who had been exposed to DK2 a little over a year ago. And they immediately saw four different areas where the technology could relieve some pain points for them as doctors. And in particular, these are orthopedic surgeons. These orthopedic surgeons were sharing the 2D patient data, such as MRI and CT scan data, to diagnose an injury, or a break, or a piece of pathology within a body. And when they saw the hardware, they said, we could see so much more. than we currently are with imaging technology. If we could view this data in 3D and then that 3D data in a headset. They said we want to be closer to those models. So that was really exciting to hear how a year later they're in a very small beta in terms of taking real-time patient data, having artists, 3D artists, clean it up and present it back to them so that they can then share that data with the patients to help explain what the surgery conditions were going to be like. But then they were using that same data to share with the radiologists and the nurses and other practitioners that were going to participate in the surgery so that they had a game plan. And that has been really, really satisfying to see. And that's just one. I mean, over on the enterprise side, you see enterprise institutions beginning to use the Vive in particular right now, just because there are more of them available. for data visualization. Everyone has so much data that they're trying to figure out how to use. And in particular, there's one, I can't discuss it because I'm in the middle of the project, I'm sorry, but that they have teamed with two developers who are sharing a new way to look at old data. So these are really exciting areas.
[00:10:08.185] Kent Bye: And when I was at the IEEE VR conference in South Carolina just a week after GDC, there was a number of different academics and educators that were there that had a pre-conference workshop talking about VR and education. And one of the big topics that came up is that when thinking about trying to bring VR technologies into the curriculum of school systems, There's all sorts of different challenges with proving the efficacy of that, but also just the logistics of the hardware distribution and everything. And for me, I kind of walked away from that thinking like, okay, well. just to change anything in education is a pretty, right now we're kind of stuck in this, you know, no child left behind nightmare of testing. And so the education, public education system in this country is really kind of out of whack to think that VR could come in and change it. It might actually make it worse in some ways. And so I think that I see like education as maybe a supplement to what's already going on. But, you know, from your perspective, where do you see the entry point when it comes to education and VR?
[00:11:11.582] Shauna Heller: So I think a winning path for taking VR and AR into educational settings is really the same as I preach to everyone else about this. Start with a small beta. It really begins. You can test out so many theories. If you begin with just a couple headsets and just one class with one teacher who's motivated that can find the time in their course to begin introducing students to the technology. Great things come from really small pilot programs, and you can do that in a public school, you can do that in a private school or a magnet school, but everyone is in such a rush to prove that the technology can work, that they're not stopping to say, How? So, by putting together a small pilot program where you have, you know, a really good sponsor and, you know, we're looking for government funding for that type of sponsorship, you curate maybe three or four different lessons, curriculum, that are supplements to an existing program already going on within a school and you do a parallel track so that that content is a parallel learning experience physically with the words and the end point learning that the student needs to obtain from it. And then you do an AB. Here's your small group of students who learned only through their book and their teacher. And then you have the B, which is they learned through a virtual application. and the teacher. There's not going to be replacing a teacher, nor should there be. VR and AR and technology in general is a supplement. It is not a full replacement. Maybe 50 years from now, you know, when we're all in the Oasis and we're, you know, buzzing around in our virtual hovercrafts and what have you. that that would be a different story. But right now, teachers are invaluable. They are our guides. They are our link between students and technology. And they really are the key. So people shouldn't forget the value of the teachers in the equation for this. But I really, I feel very strongly about this. You might be able to tell, but that what is going to win long-term for virtual reality in an education setting is starting with short-term small betas.
[00:13:21.840] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that there's also a risk when doing this because there's an effect of the technology that's so novel that makes it so new that we remember it more because of the novelty of the technology. So I think it's also, at the very beginning, perhaps difficult to really see what works well as well as which topics work particularly well because I don't think throwing VR at every topic is necessarily a win as well.
[00:13:47.763] Shauna Heller: I agree. And it's the same as how you decide whether VR makes sense in an enterprise space or in art or culture or automotive or architecture, you know, all these other areas. It's not an answer for every problem. But I think if we start out with some of the basics, where we hear year after year students fall off because the learning material becomes more difficult, in particular math, more particular trigonometry. We start to lose students right around trigonometry. Over in science, we start to lose people around chemistry, where the formulas get complex, where the theories get more abstract. How can we use virtual reality to help bring back a simplicity to really complex equations just by using visualization and spatial audio to create a more engaging and immersive learning environment and a learning context for these subjects.
[00:14:41.228] Kent Bye: It also seems like there's not enough research to say definitively the impact of virtual reality technologies on people who are under 13. Oculus themselves are saying, don't use this if you're younger than 13. And so is this something that you would see used in high school? Or if we're really talking about early education, then what are the health concerns and how do you move forward in terms of testing that out to prove that it's safe?
[00:15:08.105] Shauna Heller: So it would be my guess that each platform is working on individual studies for this sort of thing and there are going to be research grants afforded to a lot of people wanting to study the effects of using virtual reality, positive and negative, and what the appropriate age is. And, you know, because I worked at Oculus, I was exposed early to the idea that, you know, 13 is kind of a good age and they have their reasons for that. And I think that it's not too late to be working with like freshmen in high school or sophomores in high school to expose them to the hardware and also to encourage them to be creators, not just consumers of this content, but to be creators within the technology. And so to me, I think you can still achieve good sound studies, longitudinally speaking, over time, but you have to start somewhere. Like we're not going to get data 10 years from now that means anything if we don't start doing some small pilot programs now that we can start pulling metrics from to set the stage for longitudinal studies.
[00:16:10.205] Kent Bye: And so we've talked a little bit about education, a little bit about medicine. When it comes to enterprise, that's sort of a catch-all for almost everything else. So I'm curious, from your perspective, where you've seen VR kind of really take off in the enterprise space.
[00:16:23.820] Shauna Heller: Right. Well, VR is certainly a tool to help solve problems and virtual reality has been taking off in the enterprise space in verticals where they were already using design as a core component of their work. So for example, architecture. automotive industry, aerospace, defense. These are all industries that have had a strong design division. In the architecture industry, you have architects physically designing buildings and homes and what have you, you know, in AutoCAD with 3D models. And so there's been a lot of early adoption of that. And one of the problems that you'll hear from an architect or from someone in the automotive industry who's tasked with product design, is I create these 3D images and then I have to share them in a 2D environment and then I have to walk the person through that 2D environment to get them to sign off on the design that I've made. And it takes them longer to sign off on that process because you have to spend that time selling it as a 3D model. So now, using virtual reality, architects and someone from the product design division of a car company, they can put someone in a headset that then showcases the 3D models, the architecture, take them all the way through the home, a finished home even, or through a car that you can go through and do different configurations of. in half the time, more than half, I mean it's insane how much time you can save using virtual reality to prove a design concept or idea and then iterate on that to get to a final product.
[00:18:00.426] Kent Bye: So I've had a lot of people come up and tell me, like within the last few days, like the interviews that I'm doing here, people are going to be looking back on and listening to them to kind of trace the history of virtual reality. And so for you, you've had kind of a privileged position to kind of see this unfold. And so what kind of story do you think should be told about this evolution of virtual reality?
[00:18:24.547] Shauna Heller: This is definitely a moment in history and it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of it. There are so many of us that are passionate about this, that feel that there is a force greater than each of us individually moving through this time. And I think if I were to leave a message behind that others would find maybe like a message in a bottle about this moment in time is that we are at the dawn of something really incredible that is most likely going to fundamentally change the way we learn and live and engage with one another and how we find personal success and personal achievement at a level that we weren't able to before. and also we're going to be having a lot of fun in ways that we didn't know and we're going to be able to share with our families in ways that we didn't know and remember the past in ways we can't fathom right now and prepare for the future in ways that we can't fathom now.
[00:19:26.323] Kent Bye: Yeah, for me, I kind of go back to the 60s when it was originally born and then it's sort of slowly evolving from there and it's kind of in secret military paths and industries that, you know, don't really talk about what they were doing because it's a competitive advantage and then having a popular explosion in the 90s, it's like the peak of a hype cycle, and then it kind of crashed down. But yet, on this cycle of this revolutionary breakthrough, and I think that as we look back, the challenge that I see is that there's all these layers of story that get laid upon, like the founding of Oculus, or this is what happened. And in some ways, it's like a high-level metaphor to try to just get to the essence of truth, even if there's things that are left behind. So I'm curious from your perspective, how do you make sense of the founding of Oculus, or what's the story that you tell of that?
[00:20:16.557] Shauna Heller: You know, to me, the founding of Oculus signaled the beginning of the consumer VR revolution. A bunch of really motivated, incredibly, incredibly intelligent people coming together to push an actual product out the door that had been kind of stuck in, as you say, in military settings, that had been set in college settings, academic settings. where they weren't able to fuse an academic idea with a business model, if you will, and that little bit of a special dream. And Oculus captured that spirit, certainly Palmer being responsible for that, coming together with Brendan and Nate and Michael and John Carmack. that it took a very special group of individuals to come together to break that hardware out of military and academic and enterprise spaces and turn it into a consumer product that we all can afford, that we can all use, and that we can all benefit from. But that will be just the beginning, right? And I think they acknowledge that, is that others will be a part of that. And maybe Oculus was the first chapter in what is going to be this incredible volume of virtual reality history.
[00:21:35.621] Kent Bye: And so finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:21:43.566] Shauna Heller: To me, the ultimate potential of virtual reality is whatever it takes to get you to stop asking that question. It is absolutely the bane of the entire virtual reality industry. I'm just kidding. You are absolutely one of the gold standards for the virtual reality industry. So this time around, it's six months later. What do I see being the ultimate potential for virtual reality? Well, Kent, my answer has not changed that much from six months ago. To me, virtual reality's ultimate potential is realized when we use it to solve problems, share knowledge, and save lives. And I think that last one in particular is super open to interpretation. How is virtual reality going to save lives? Well, there are a lot of different ways to save a life with virtual reality. One is just pure using it for training and simulation to prepare people for events that they could not experience in real life. And that's just flat out, that's how you save a life. But then there are people who suffer from disenfranchisement and disconnection and disassociation. And I think we can get to them through virtual reality and pull them back into society in a way that is meaningful for them. And to me, that is maybe the ultimate potential of virtual reality.
[00:22:59.455] Kent Bye: Anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?
[00:23:01.776] Shauna Heller: As always, Kent, I just want to thank you for being such a valuable member of the virtual reality community. To see you as an anthropologist and a documentarian of this moment in history, you are absolutely crucial, crucial to this. And I want to thank you for your work.
[00:23:18.422] Kent Bye: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
[00:23:19.843] Shauna Heller: My pleasure.
[00:23:21.175] Kent Bye: So that was Shauna Hiller. She's the founder and CEO of Claypark VR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, the thing that was probably one of the most striking things about this interview was hearing Shauna talking about some of the strategies and approaches that certain virtual reality startups are taking when it comes to trying to apply the technologies of virtual reality to enterprise or education or the medical field. So the thing that Shauna is saying is that a lot of people are kind of starting with the technology first and trying to figure out how to apply it. But actually what she is recommending is to start with the problems that these different entities are having and to start there and then start collaborating with these experts to see how virtual reality might be able to solve some of the problems, if at all. So it's interesting to hear how a lot of big enterprise companies are starting to try to use VR for data visualization and analysis. I know from some of my early explorations into the academic world of the IEEE VR, talking with some of these data visualization experts, and you know, it's a bit of an open question right now as to whether or not VR is going to be able to help people understand certain data sets. There's going to be some data that is tied to very specific geographic location or time-based data. But yeah, in some ways, 2D may be enough for some virtual reality interactions. And I just listened recently to one of the data visualization experts. One of the things he said was VR really has a great way of doing interactive data visualization. So being able to interact in real time with data, because a lot of times in data visualization, there's not that interactive component. So it'll be interesting to see what interactivity is going to be able to add to this data visualization. So another thing just for the educational realm, it sounds like what Shauna is recommending is to just get out there and start doing beta testing to be able to try to measure one small thing at a time and to be able to start to try to prove out the efficacy of immersive education in certain applications and contexts. And that the best thing to do is to just get out there and start trying to solve a very specific problem. Get out there and start making VR applications to teach certain things and testing it from traditional ways of trying to teach that same information. And it sounds like in the enterprise space that there's a lot of 3D visualizations and design reviews that I've heard a lot of times about how virtual reality is going to be able to completely revolutionize and change the process of design and design review and using immersive technologies for that, especially anybody who's making physical products, which are in essence, a 3D object. And finally, I really like the succinct ultimate potential from Shauna, saying that ultimately she just hopes that VR can be able to solve problems, share knowledge, and save lives. So, that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for joining me today on the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then spread the word, tell your friends, and become a donor at patreon.com slash voicesofvr.