Meet XpertVR, the Canada-based immersive technology company with the goal of bringing XR to the masses and giving people the ability to experience data
Co-founders Drew MacNeil and Evan Sitler explain how XpertVR built the Research Access Portal, a website where researchers can easily create virtual environments, select what data they would like to collect from interactions in the virtual world, and send their studies to VR headset owners around the world
VRWT: What’s the story behind XpertVR?
Drew MacNeil: I founded XpertVR with Evan Sitler. Our goal was to bring XR to the masses and give businesses the ability to experience data. As Goodman School of Business students, Evan and I met through the entrepreneurship programmes at Goodman Group Venture Development (formerly BioLinc), in St Catharines, Ontario, which helped us through our early-stage growth. We bonded over our shared fascination with VR, related XR tech and the impact we saw it having in the near future.
Over the past four years, our shared fascination has led to many ideas, from 360 video marketing to VR entertainment booths to training simulations, until we finally settled on creating XR tools to help the research community. Today, XpertVR has grown to a team of 10 employees, still with the same goal of bringing XR to the masses and giving people the ability to experience data.
Looking to the future in this way is what inspired us to create the Research Access Portal, a website where researchers can easily create virtual environments, select what data they would like to collect from interactions in the virtual world, and send their studies to VR headset owners around the world. Although many of these tools already exist in one form or another, bringing them together and building a network of VR headset owners around them is how XpertVR is giving researchers the power to experience data.
Beyond the researcher benefits, we hope paying VR headset owners through our portal will make it more financially viable to own VR equipment. Plus, over the coming months, we’re working hard to partner with XR accessory companies so that our community can get the latest and greatest equipment for a large discount, if not for free.
The Research Access Portal from XpertVR
VRWT: How well suited is VR to research and training, and what does XpertVR bring to the table to get the most out of this immersive technology?
Evan Sitler: Over the past two years, XpertVR has specialised in creating VR simulations for research and training. Over this time, working on custom projects, we have built up quite the suite of in-house development tools, allowing for faster development and, more importantly, improved analytics. Some of the analytic tools that we have developed at XpertVR include in-depth eye, hand, and path-tracking, as well as, in-simulation and pre/post-simulation surveys.
Combining these tools in research creates a more fluid experience for participants while providing better data to researchers, overall leading to faster and more reliable research.
As an example, we recently ran a study with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University where participants interacted with a VR environment depicting either a utopian or dystopian future of what ocean life may look like in 2050. Because of the speed at which participants were able to go through the experience while still grasping the message, the researchers behind the experiment were able to capture data from over double the required number of participants. This has led to more concrete research findings and encouraged the researchers to present their findings to the United Nations.
In the training space, we have found VR combined with our analytic tools leads to a more repeatable, safer, and educational simulation. Firstly, VR offers exact and randomised repeatability. Meaning a learner can go through the exact same scenario an unlimited number of times to learn a specialised task, or they can go through a simulation with slight randomisations if they need to learn how to handle multiple variations of the same task. Secondly, VR is safer as you are training in a fully virtual space and aren’t at risk of hurting yourself.
But beyond that, we can add analytic tools that not only allow a trainer to ensure a trainee is going through the right motions, but by looking at indicators such as pupil dilation, we can understand if a trainee is confident, scared, excited, and so on. Bringing all of this information together allows a trainer to point out mistakes that they wouldn’t have noticed traditionally and better understand when a trainee is ready for the real world.
VRWT: In terms of what can be gleaned from VR for research purposes, how big of a role do you see the immersive technology playing in retail and marketing in the future?
Drew MacNeil: Looking at the retail and marketing sectors, there are a lot of roles for VR to play in the space. On a basic level, we can look at what we have built at XpertVR with the Research Access Portal. With the portal, companies can very quickly create a virtual representation of their store and test consumer behaviour. This not only allows for retailers to understand how to position products to increase sales but can be a vital tool in planning store layouts to prevent Covid-19 spread, or to create a better customer experience.
For example, a retailer could test where to put sales associates in a store and how they should interact with customers. Do average customers want a sales associate to hold their hand through a shopping experience or should they only be waiting at the front counter? Questions like these are hard to measure through surveys and even real-life testing, but are easily answered through VR.
As more consumers adopt XR technologies, it will quickly evolve to be more than a research tool in retail and into a consumer experience. We can already see this today with tools such as the IKEA/Wayfair AR apps, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
XpertVR pictures a near future where consumers control their data and when they share it with their favourite brand’s magical things will be able to happen in XR. Picture experiences like choosing new basketball gear with Lebron James and then playing one-on-one with him in front of a crowd of thousands, while Drake raps in the background. These types of crazy unique experiences will be possible in just a few years and if a brand can create that for a customer, then the customer will be loyal forever.
VRWT: What do you have in store for the rest of 2020?
Evan Sitler: Between now and the end of 2020, we have multiple research studies lined up to launch on the Research Access Portal. They range from consumer behaviour studies for new store designs to academic studies that research ethical behaviour. As we launch these studies and get more client and user feedback, we will continue to add features to the portal that make experiencing data easier and even more immersive.
The next major feature that we will be adding from our client feedback is a store creation tool that will allow our clients to easily create their own stores so they can research with a life-scale model of their own retail locations. Over the same time period, we are also working on a few training simulations with our academic clients that will help students get the vital hands-on training they need but are lacking because of Covid-19
From there, we are excited to see what the future holds as we begin looking for investment so that we can expand our team and further build-out our data experience tools.
VRWT: How can interested parties get in touch?
Drew MacNeil: The best way to get in touch is via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Main image: XpertVR co-founders Drew MacNeil and Evan Sitler