All posts by Callum Tyndall

Igloo Vision brings large-scale shared VR experience to the US

A shared virtual reality experience that sees users view VR content together inside a large geodesic dome is coming to the US.

Shropshire, the UK, based company Igloo Vision is opening operations in both New York and Los Angeles, aiming to bring their ‘shared VR experiences’ to the US commercial VR market. According to the founder, in terms of content and commercial application, the US is at least three years behind the UK, making it the perfect market for British expansion.

The company itself is the creator of an immersive VR experience called the Igloo. Rather than relying on a headset, multiple users sit together inside a dome or cylindrical pod that then provides a 360 degree VR experience. The dome itself is available in four sizes, ranging from the smallest, a 6m, 12 person Igloo, to the largest, which, with a 21m diameter can house an incredible 750 people.

A dome being used as a recruitment tool by the UK’s army. Image and featured image courtesy of Igloo Vision

The Igloo is principally used for three different commercial applications: ‘experiences’ (to engage, inspire or entertain), ‘simulation’ (to immerse teams in a given scenario) and ‘visualisation’ (to bring design concepts to life).

“While the headset market is perfect for consumers and individuals, the commercial VR market needs something different and is changing rapidly from being an awkward and isolated experience to one where a business’ potential customers, partners or employees can sit relaxed or stand together and view and interact with it,” said Colin Yellowley, founder and MD of Igloo Vision, who will head up the US operations.

“Shared experience makes VR more engaging and more powerful – especially in commercial environments. We have a real opportunity here to be a home-grown UK business who exports innovation and takes a leadership position in an exploding global market.”

Importantly, Igloo Vision has created an advantage by using the principle of what it refers to as ‘frugal innovation’. Rather than taking a top-down approach to create bespoke 360 degree VR projection environments with expensive projectors and screens, the company instead uses off-the-shelf components to build simple, reusable igloos. Taking this approach has allowed the company to reduce the entry level cost of a shared VR experience from millions to less than £100,000.

Igloo domes have already been used at a number of exhibitions and events, including the Giorgio Armani‏ exhibition at this year’s SXSW. Image courtesy of Giorgio Armani‏

Already employed by consumer and retail brands to bring a new product experience to customers, Igloo Vision has also been employed by the armed forces and oil companies to run simulations and training for personnel. With the US already accounting for more than 50% of the company’s revenue, and leading VR spending globally, Igloo Vision is hoping that the region’s heavy investment into the tech, versus the UK’s greater caution in adoption, will help to take them to new heights.

Igloo Vision’s CEO, Dennis Wright, believes that the UK is at risk of losing its technological lead in VR.

“The US market is investing heavily into VR technology, and as a leading supplier of VR projection technology we need to ensure that we’re at the heart of that investment,” he said. “The UK has the best skills and content developers in the world. As a nation we need to adopt a US mentality and attitude to growth and success or risk losing out as the VR market develops further State side.”

Google’s Alphabet is Developing the Neighbourhood of the Future in Toronto

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has announced that Sidewalk Labs, its urban innovation unit, will design a high-tech neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront. The neighbourhood, called Quayside, will prioritise, “environmental sustainability, affordability, mobility and economic opportunity”.

The initial phase for the development, part of the broader Sidewalk Toronto project, has received a $50m commitment from Sidewalk, but is predicted to cost at least a billion dollars by the time it’s fully completion.

As part of the broader project, Quayside seems to be the first attempt at creating what Sidewalk refers to as a “new kind of mixed-use, complete community”, an attempt the company presumably hopes to eventually expand across the waterfront and ultimately into other cities.

“This will not be a place where we deploy technology for its own sake, but rather one where we use emerging digital tools and the latest in urban design to solve big urban challenges in ways that we hope will inspire cities around the world,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said on Tuesday.

Early concept images for the neighbourhood include self-driving cars and other infrastructure technologies. Images courtesy of Sidewalk Toronto

Located in the primarily publicly-owned 800-acre area called Port Lands, Quayside looks to be the test bed for potential future community design. With the planning process for the development starting with a community town hall on the 1st of November, we are still some ways off from knowing just what the neighbourhood will look like, but early illustrations include bikeshares, apartment housing, bus lines and parks.

More importantly, however, is Doctoroff’s previous discussions of what he believes future city design will look like. Technology focused, there’s been mention of sensors that track energy usage, machine learning and using high-speed internet to improve urban environments.

Specifically, at a summit hosted by The Information last year, he mentioned “thinking about [a city] from the internet up”. As would be expected from a company under the same parent as Google, Sidewalk seems to be concentrated on development that prioritises innovation and building communities with an eye to how technology can help found neighbourhoods.

“I like to describe it that we’re in the very early stages of what I call the fourth revolution of urban technology,” Doctoroff previously told Business Insider.

“The first three were the steam engine, which brought through trains and factories that industrialized cities. The second was the electric grid, which made cities 24 hours, made them more vertical, made them easier to get around in with subways and streetcars.

“The third was the automobile, which forced us to really re-think the use of public space in order to protect people from the danger of the automobile. We’re now in the fourth one. We’ve had an urban technology revolution … We’re seeing a real change in the physical nature of our cities.”