This Digital Evolution May Lead to Disruption
Ivan Nikitin, Product Director and Head of AI Research at Sensorium Corporation explains why 3D virtual reality and shared communal experiences will radically change our understanding of social media and pave the way for landmark changes in our digital lives.
What is social virtual reality (VR) technology and how does it differ from other VR platforms?
Social VR is not a technology as such but rather a virtual space in which users can immerse themselves, socialize and interact with others. Today we live in little bubbles of digital solitude, which are ironically amplified by modern social networks and existing VR experiences that you engage with as an isolated individual. Social VR, on the contrary, is a portal into an environment wherein people from all over the world can gather together and share new experiences.
You put a headset on and suddenly you’re in a parallel digital world; a hub that connects you with experiences across virtual locations. You choose your avatar, call your friends within VR and share a digital environment. You can share concert-going experiences and meet new like-minded people even if you are thousands of miles away from the real event.
Social VR is not meant to be a substitute for real-life experiences, rather it’s the evolution of today’s digital life. It builds on top of the best of what modern personal computing has to offer but significantly removes some of the physical boundaries that separate us.
Can you describe the Sensorium Galaxy platform, for instance the role of the stars and the planets that orbit them in terms of what they offer users?
Sensorium Galaxy is a triad of star systems, each representing a different dimension of human interest. The planets that orbit the stars act as relevant thematic hubs. The system we are currently focused on is Entertainment. Its planets include music, dancing, movies, gaming and other themes. On the Music Planet, for instance, you can participate in a music festival with celebrities, go to a live performance by world-famous DJs, witness a modern dance production, or relive the excitement of being at a classic rock show.
The Galaxy is also inhabited by computer-controlled characters. Their behaviors are driven by genetic algorithms, so they evolve and acquire skills and interests not unlike their real-life counterparts. Each artificial character is an individual, with a set of traits, and personal relationships with real users. Content and platform developers don’t control the evolution of the characters and do not define their characteristics, they occur naturally over a period of time. They socially engage with users: talking to them, going to events together, introducing people to each other, matching interests and so on. And these characters will inhabit each planet, further reflecting the different planetary themes.
I am assuming that to get the full Sensorium Galaxy experience, one needs a high-end gaming rig with top-processing power. Where does this leave people who would like to take part in Sensorium Galaxy but don’t have the high-end kit?
We will offer streaming content directly from the Sensorium Galaxy for users who don’t have access to powerful hardware, or who wish to experience Sensorium before making a decision to purchase VR hardware. They can watch panoramic broadcasts from the many events without the need to install special software. A single click on a link using a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop is all that will be required to engage with Sensorium events as a 2D spectator.
Sensorium has struck up some powerful partnerships with world-renowned artists and famous night clubs in Ibiza such as Ushuaïa Ibiza, Hï Ibiza and festivals organized by ID&T. Do you think this type of content would be well-received in the Asia-Pacific region and do you have plans to produce localized content?
Sensorium is a global platform, and we target each region individually. Naturally, some of our partners have higher relevance within particular regions. However, we are looking forward to developing content in Asia, by working with local celebrities and influencers as well as content platforms and producers, to make Sensorium a first-class and engaging experience for Asian customers.
China's market spending on augmented reality (AR) and VR is forecast to exceed $65.21 billion in 2023, according to a report published by the International Data Corporation (IDC). What sort of market share are you anticipating in China and Asia-Pacific countries?
I would not want to commit to a figure or even a percentage. However we do believe that significant market share could come from gaming audiences in China and Asia-Pacific. There is already an established trend for modern multiplayer games and particularly within Asia, there is a lot of receptivity to new digital concepts and experiences such as Sensorium.
Between 2018 and 2023, the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of the spending on the VR/AR sector in China will reach 84.6 per cent, according to IDC. In contrast the CAGR of the global market is only 78.3 per cent. So in terms of VR/AR, it clearly offers enormous potential but is there a corresponding broadband infrastructure that will help you reach a wide audience?
Broadband infrastructure demands for Sensorium Galaxy VR client are only slightly more demanding than for any of the 3D multiplayer online games currently on the market such as Fortnite and Call of Duty. 2D streaming, on the other hand, requires substantially more bandwidth than an average video stream on YouTube. Global roll-out of 5G networks would make it possible for us to stream 6K and even 8K panoramic content to users who experience Sensorium via smartphones, laptops and so on, instead of VR hardware.
South Korea is considered a gaming haven and given that the Sensorium Galaxy is more of a collective participation experience, rather than a game how will you woo users in this country?
VR is a new frontier for gamers and we believe it will be well received in South Korea which has a forwar looking digital culture. The Gaming Planet in Sensorium can be seen as a video game arcade of the future, a hub where players can seamlessly flow from one game to another. Sensorium Corporation is actively working with several VR development studios, integrating their projects into the Galaxy. We are also co-developing new gaming experiences to engage casual, as well as hardcore players across different genres: from strategy and tabletop to action, driving simulators, and even competitive eSports. In fact, popular VR eSport may only be a matter of time and given the advanced outlook in South Korea, we expect strong interest.