SXSW Interactive & Austin's AR/VR Scene

Ahh... the sweet smell of Texas BBQ and technology innovation in the morning! Yes, I'm talking about SXSW Interactive. Last week Veena and I drove down to Austin for a quick peak at some of the public events both major companies and local developers were throwing for us enthusiasts without a badge:

Samsung's Gear VR Experience - Despite the 1.5 hour long line Saturday afternoon, Samsung and Six Flags came together to provide a fantastic VR roller coaster experience demo using the Gear VR and a moving chair. (Though if you've already ridden Tatsu at Magic Mountain you might be a little underwhelmed considering you normally ride that ride on your stomach making it even more exhilarating!) Six Flags is opening their new VR ride at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington March 26th:  "Using Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus, you'll experience a completely immersive, 360 degree virtual reality adventure while riding Shock Wave. You'll fly in a futurist fighter jet and engage in a battle to save the planet from an alien invasion. The virtual experience is synchronized to the action of the coaster, so you'll experience every twist and drop just like you would if you were in a real plane." Sounds like I'll need to head to Six Flags next weekend! In addition to the roller coaster demo, Samsung set up a Gear VR library that I was even more impressed with - I watched Ski Jump with surround sound audio that felt even more immersive than the roller coaster. I walked out wanting the S7 + Gear VR bundle ASAP.

IBM's Cognitive Studio - IBM's main attraction was mainly filled with robotics and Watson powered AI activities, but it did offer a VR experience using Oculus Rift and a specialized stationary bike. You could try one of 3 experiences, road, racing, or mountain biking. Each had a different bike timed to the program which adjusted the resistance of the pedals as you hit hills or adjusted gears. 

Me VR cycling - I definitely was out of shape even for the least strenuous road mode!

Me VR cycling - I definitely was out of shape even for the least strenuous road mode!

SX Job Market - Why am I mentioning the job market? While there weren't any AR or VR development firms recruiting,  MEC an advertising agency used the fly360 to give job seekers an inside look at their culture and offices using Google Cardboard headsets set up at their booth. I was impressed that the recruitment team went out of their way to develop a simple experience to engage with potential future employees!

Austin's AR/VR Event - Thrown by local meetup group leader Simon Solotok, this event was filled with interesting experiences and demos of products needed at all levels of VR and AR production. Below are a few I enjoyed:

Here I am trying to have good form - Glad I can pretend no one was watching...

Here I am trying to have good form - Glad I can pretend no one was watching...

      Baseball Vive Demo: I had a blast trying to smack balls into inanimate objects! The developers did a nice job making the objects a little more interactive like a fire hydrant exploding and a gong. My partners in crime on the adventure felt like the hit box on the bat was a bit to easy to be realistic, but I appreciated it!

      Kodak's 4k VR Camera: This dual system 4k camera seems like an interesting option to buying 6+ GoPro Hero 4s. At $1000, the package offers a high quality image and a single seam which Kodak's software does a fairly decent job of stitching. I was not overly impressed by their demos, but the price point doesn't completely break the bank for a new entrant into 360 video.

My brother testing the joystick chair.

Chair + Joystick = Awesome:  Another designer created a chair that allowed you to lean forward and backward to move yourself in a game. You could also turn your chair to steer. People of different weights had issues with sensitivity and strafing, but I had fun getting it going and being able to explore without a handheld controller.       

Reelhouse: This company helps you monetize your VR films. They have a partnership going with Sundance and have a number of well done VR shorts in their library. The one I watched was about a deep space rescue mission. As you sit in the cockpit of the ship your eye is guided by various light sources as the scene cuts between shots. I enjoyed knowing where I was to look next, by both utilizing the full 360, yet focusing the action. The film became more disturbing in tone toward the end. I definitely interested to see what other films they release in their library.

There were a few more including the engineers behind OSVR, the designers of The Wave a VR music experience, SplashApp, G Tech drives, and more. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and had to hit the road back to Dallas before it got dark. I learned so much from everyone and loved the experiences I did get to try.

Although I missed some of the most cutting-edge stuff without a badge at SXSW, I still was pleased to see the VR/AR community really engaging the general public and building the community necessary to keep this industry moving and growing! I cannot wait to see what VR content comes out next here in Texas!