Imagine experiencing the thrill of a zip line or skydiving while keeping both feet on the ground. Or gaining a deeper understanding of the Civil War by seeing it through the eyes of an infantryman. Or interacting with – rather than just looking at – dinosaur exhibits in a museum. Several DFW-area virtual reality companies are proving that no matter which alternate universe speaks to you, North Texas is a great place to innovate, connect, learn and play.
Paul Bettner, co-creator of Words With Friends and head of virtual reality (VR) powerhouse Playful Corp., prefers North Texas as the location for launching his company’s big ideas. Proximity and talent are two big reasons. Gaming giants like Ensemble Studios, Gearbox Software, id Software and other tech giants have created a market in the area. Oculus has its virtual reality division here. Educational programs including SMU Guildhall, one of the top graduate video game education programs in the country, are growing rapidly.
Bettner only sees endless possibility for the virtual reality industry, which analysts predict will grow from its current $5 billion a year to $120 billion by 2020. Bettner likens the proliferation of VR to the disruption seen after the iPhone was announced by Apple.
“You could literally name any single industry and I could come up with several examples of how that industry will be changed by virtual, mixed and augmented reality. Take education, for example,” he says. “Classrooms won’t even make sense anymore. Why would you sit at a desk and read about the Civil War? Why couldn’t you just go be in the Civil War?”
Reel FX, a Dallas-based production studio, also believes in the power and potential of virtual reality. In 2014, the studio established a division solely dedicated to it. The group combines storytelling, visual and technical expertise to connect customers with brands like the United States Air Force, AT&T and GMC. Virtual reality captures the imaginations of their recruits, customers and followers by taking them on adventures such as flying planes, skydiving or experiencing the trauma of a car wreck, all to communicate messages in a way that only an immersive first-person experience can do.
“Augmented reality (AR) is going to change the way we live our lives,” said Steve Nix, general manager of the division. “Ultimately, we’re going to have some sort of headset or glasses and you’ll have constant feedback and information about the world around you, most of which will be automated.”
“There is no question that every organization is transitioning further into the experience age – not just the digital age or interactive age – but in a way its followers can truly experience that brand,” explained Steve Deitz, co-founder of 900lbs of Creative.
900lbs of Creative, an innovation lab and creative marketing studio in Dallas, is creating a diverse range of experiences, such as interactive museum exhibits and visual content on sports jumbotrons. One of their clients, the Boy Scouts of America, worked with the studio to integrate VR and AR technology as a way to engage a new generation of scouts.
“We have done a lot of really cool projects with them,” said Deitz, “including a zip line holodeck which virtually transports them to The Summit in West Virginia, and a scuba-diving adventure off the Florida Keys. From a public standpoint, this helps them be innovative and not be an old-school brand.”
In addition to corporate brands, 900lbs is devoting its time and talent to the Dallas Innovation Alliance, a coalition of citizens, corporations and academia that seeks ways to accelerate sustainable economic growth, resource efficiency and quality of life improvements. To help build engagement, 900lbs created a virtual tour of a “future Dallas” as an even smarter city – complete with green bus stops; streetlights with sensors that measure crowds, air quality, provide Wi-Fi; solar rooftop farming and gardening; electrical vehicle charging stations; and more.
“We want to help DIA with education, raising awareness and buzz, to help with funding,” said Deitz, “as well as to make Dallas a more innovative, smart city.”
Immerse yourself in North Texas’ virtual reality innovations by checking out the full article in NTX Magazine.