Episode 16
November 9, 2016

Virtual Reality for Commerce

On an early morning in the UK, Saku Panditharatne delivers astute observations on the state of VR in 2016 and what the future holds. And the guys share their recent experiences with VR tech and what they thought about it.

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Incoming…Virtual Reality

  • There are two major milestones in VR: Presence and Mainstream Adoption
  • We may be a couple of years out before these two milestones are really successfully hit
  • VR will likely flourish best in entertainment, but if used correctly, it can be helpful for commerce as well
  • Brands that can build premium experiences through VR will be the ones to benefit most from VR technology in commerce
  • How do businesses choose which tech to use and how to adopt VR in ways that help their brand and also connect with customers?
  • As AR develops, it can be very assistive for brands and in-store experiences, such as showrooms and back rooms
  • “One really interesting thing with the whole VR space is how much old technology from gaming is finding a new use.” - Saku
  • “Once the utility really outweighs the pain of getting there, then we'll actually do it.”          - Brian


Learn more about Saku Panditharatne at rationally-exuberant.com or @asteroid_Saku.


Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on Futurecommerce.com, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Phillip: [00:00:23] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:00:28] I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:00:29] And today we have with us a very special guest who is now, unbeknownst to her, our official VR pundit, Saku Panditharatne is with us. Say hello.

Saku: [00:00:39] Hey there.

Phillip: [00:00:44] It is great to have you.

Brian: [00:00:45] Absolutely.

Phillip: [00:00:46] You're sort of you're a legend in our mind because we know you from another podcast. But we'll get into that a little bit. And if you are listening today and and you have some feedback about today's show, we'd love to hear it. So please leave it for us and then Disqus comment box on our site at FutureCommerce.fm. You can also subscribe. If you somehow found this without subscribing, I'd love to hear about how you did that, but on iTunes you can hit us up on Google Play or you can listen right from your Amazon Echo on TuneIn Radio with the phrase "Alexa, play Future Commerce podcast." And I remember to mute my Echo today. So there we go. All right. Well, welcome, Sakue, for those who aren't, you know, initiated, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Saku: [00:01:33] Ok, so right now I'm working in VR making content creation tools and also consulting to businesses on what they should do to prepare themselves for VR. Before that I worked at Oculus. I was actually I was like a summer intern there during the crazy growth phase where they went for maybe one hundred, two hundred people. So I kind of got to see VR take off right at the beginning. So this is the summer where they got acquired by Facebook. They released mobile VR headset. Crazy times. And then after that I worked at the venture capital firm focusing on emerging technologies, which was a lot to do with VR. So I've kind of seen like this view. Everything is happening in the space. I find it sometimes kind of opaque societies because unlike in general tech industry where anything happens, it's immediately reported on. In VR, a lot of stuff is the innovation comes from the content world. So it's kind of hard to keep track of what's happening  and see in TechCrunch every day. So that was my last job. And now I realize it's a big problem in VR was making stuff fit in the virtual world. So right now I'm working on making tools to help people do that.

Brian: [00:02:56] Very cool, very cool, yeah, I think we're very excited to have you. Your experience is quite a lineup of places you've been already. Yeah. So you kind of this whole thing around VR right now, do you want to elaborate on what it is that you're focused on right now in a little more detail or can you?

Saku: [00:03:19] I mean, one of them was this... Actually, it's pretty much already.

Phillip: [00:03:31] That's pretty cool. You're obviously pretty ingratiated in the world of VR. And it actually I think what you're what I take away there is that it's not a terribly large space yet. And most people probably know the other players in the space.

Brian: [00:03:49] Good take away.

Phillip: [00:03:50] I know about Oculus because I sometimes watch TV and but and I'm on Twitter sometimes. I know that Samsung has some sort of virtual... I'm tipping my hand that I know nothing about this. And I'm sure that people that listen to our podcast know nothing about it. And I want you to go deep. I want you to explainify anything but my my take away or from what I understand, is that a lot of these technologies are sort of white label. They're like sort of the same thing, kind of sold over and over. And there aren't really there's a lot of things sold under different brands, but are probably the same sort of technology. Can you kind of help maybe level set that for me? So I understand.

Saku: [00:04:32] Yeah, it's definitely true that if you're building a VR headset company the genius is going to be in the software rather than the hardware. It is a lot of commodity hardware now. I think the main reason to call a couple of years ago is because the smartphone supply chain drove down the costs of key components, your GPUs, your displays, your sensors. Accelerometers. Like all of that stuff comes from the same smartphone supply chain that gave us the iPhone and Android. But so I think VR headsets, they do all use the same components. But there is right now a big difference between your cutting edge headset and the less than cutting edge headset because the few milliseconds it takes to update the screen those kinds of things make a big difference in terms of user experience. So even though the components are broadly similar, the fine details do matter at this point because it is still an emerging technology.

Phillip: [00:05:28] Got it.

Saku: [00:05:29] That answer your question?

Phillip: [00:05:30] Yeah.

Brian: [00:05:30] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:05:30] Yeah, in spades.

Brian: [00:05:32] Yeah. To kind of go along with that, maybe you could just give us, again, Phillip said, don't explainify, but maybe you could give us just a quick summary of the current state of VR in terms of where you think it's at in its lifecycle in what it can accomplish right now.

Saku: [00:05:55] Sure. So the way I see it, there are two major milestones with VR. One of them is presence. So this is like a psychological boundary. It's like a discrete threshold that you cross. And it's something clicks in your brain. And instead of feeling like you're looking at the screen, you feel like you're actually in the world. So, for example, if you stand up on the side of the cliff in VR where you have presence, you get scared that you're going to fall over. And so this is this technological threshold. And the other major threshold, I think, is something like mainstream adoption. So is VR going to get out of the hands of consumers? Is it could be as popular as a game console? I would consider that mainstream. Or going even further, is it going to be as popular as like computers or phones or something like that? So I think in. Like this year, the current generation of VR headsets have crossed the threshold so they've achieved presence. It means technologies there with the very high end headsets, so that your Oculus, Vibe. They've got presence, but with mobile VR we're still not quite there yet. So that's like one to two years away of presence on mobile headset. It may even be next year. I've heard rumors suggesting that. And then the thing about mainstream adoption, that's a case of just getting this VR with presence getting the price down to the point where people can actually buy it. So I would say only one to two years away as well.

Brian: [00:07:28] Actually, Google just released the Daydream device, and I was wondering if... We talked about that a couple of episodes ago. Have you had a chance to check it out yet? How do you feel about that?

Saku: [00:07:40] So I checked out an earlier version of Daydream. I think it's cool how they definitely got the price down with that. But I think with VR, I actually think I was going to buy a headset right now I'd go through with a desktop high quality ones like HTC Vibe or Oculus CD1, because I think it does matter at this point if you have presence. Because if you have low quality VR, you get sick. You don't feel like you're actually in the world. I don't know, you can use it for short bursts of time. And I think there was like this discrete jump between mobile headsets and headsets which have presence.

Brian: [00:08:21] So, you know, this show where the Future Commerce and so definitely what we really want to dive into today is applying VR, and maybe we'll talk about AR as well, to commerce. But it is a bit theoretical since we only have a few examples so far. Like cars. We've got BMW VR experience. We've got Lowes Holo Room. Shopify is really excited about it. They've written some pretty cool articles, I think, informative articles about about VR. Actually, I was at IRCE last year in Chicago and their booth was one hundred percent focused on VR, which is pretty interesting. Shopify is already jumping on the train. But anyway, so what's your initial view on commerce through VR?

Saku: [00:09:16] So I think the interesting thing about VR is it seems particularly suited to very high end experiences because VR is like... Experiencing VR is like grabbing for entertainment. You can have like these phenomenal user experiences within it, but the content is very expensive to produce. So that's why most of the stuff I've seen in doing VR and commerce has been very high end. And so this is like real estate agents selling 50 million dollar apartments and doing this like perfect reconstruction of the place that you can see it without having to actually visit the home. And then also stuff with cars servicing. You mentioned BMW. The stuff their doing is like you get in and you can take a test drive in that concept car or, you know, you can drive your BMW on the moon. This kind of stuff. And this is for the main purpose of this is to build relationships with customers for like mostly high end or luxury goods. And so I think the only things I have seen, which hasn't been to the very high end, has been stuff using 360 photography. So, for instance, the real estate agent in the UK has been taking a full 360 pictures of flats. And then people have been able to see them without having to visit them. And so that's one use case I've seen of not high end, but, yeah.

Brian: [00:10:54] Very cool sound. Seems like shooting 360 video might be a lot easier than producing a full on VR experience. No doubt.

Saku: [00:11:05] Oh, yeah. I've actually seen a bunch of startups have sprung up just to do reconstructions of apartments or houses. They will do things like... Because to do a destruction not only do you have to capture the geometry of the place. You have to get things like lighting right. You have to do like what's the texture to leather sofa look like? It's just like a painstaking efforts, like making a movie.

Phillip: [00:11:35] One of the things that I sort of crossed my mind was re architecting, real world experiences and virtual worlds, it just sounds like, you know, we're I don't know, it sounds like a lot of the same sort of just transplant of a paradigm. I'm kind of interested in the thought of you create a virtual store in a virtual world. Part of the show was was talking about how we had a paradigm shift. I almost vomit to say those words, but we really did. We had a very big change in the way that mobile devices have changed the way that we interact in commerce. And it sort of happened very suddenly, whereas it took 30 plus years for personal computing to sort of eschew the old real world metaphors of folders and files and desktops. And so I think, you know, if we're kind of following that Moore's Law of adoption of getting rid of the real world metaphor that's holding us back, can you sort of posit what that might be to see what a platform or cross-selling or brand experiences would be different to just standing in a virtual showroom? Or is that kind of the whole point of VR?

Saku: [00:12:58] Yeah, no, I think the thing about VR is that... I do agree that a virtual store is kind of a boring thing to see. So the way I think about VR is it's invented for entertainment. It's going to flourish best in entertainment industry. And if you want to make the most of it as a seller, you probably have to do something which is close to entertainment, at least right now. So I think so what BMW is doing like having you have these fantasy car experiences. That is kind of what they see VR being used for is you know, it's not just a way to shop. Like mobile is great because I see VR on mobile as like complimentary. So mobile is like utilities. It's for you can go and buy something on Amazon. You press the button and you get the thing that, you know, you already want. So it's like you all your milk or maybe not quite yet, but it's like most things. So you say you buy something commodity like you, your books, your electronics, that kind of stuff. I think VR is like the complete opposite of that. It's for these unique things where you're not sure whether this brand appeals to you. It's I guess forging an emotional relationship with the BMW brand over a different car brand. It's about like seeing... One thing I saw... I think you mentioned fashion earlier, but a bunch of these fashion companies are live screaming that runway shows in VR. And so that's another example of where you have this personal experience of a brand, and they get to build that relationship with you via VR. That seems to me to be the main application.

Brian: [00:14:43] So you're saying it's not really going to be like this store or it's not going to go shopping and some market place?

Saku: [00:14:54] So the way I do see that kind of store thing happening is via online games. So one big thing that Facebook is trying to do is make VR into this very social platform. So that's why the acquired Oculus and you've seen all these posts about how that hiring people from the gaming industry to build like virtual Facebook. And so I can definitely see that being this kind of second life type environment in a few years where you will go and buy virtual goods, you'll have this kind of digital economy. I don't know if you guys have ever had the video game EVE Online.

Phillip: [00:15:27] Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Saku: [00:15:28] Yeah. It's this game which has such a complex economy that they publish quarterly reports and you can read and be like, oh, I guess EVE Online economy's going to boom time this quarter or whatever. And I can just see like there being video games which have that level of complexity in them.

Brian: [00:15:49] Interesting.

Phillip: [00:15:54] I think I have a little bit of a lag here, so apologies if I break in. Part of me feels that there is an element of presence that we already have with a lot of digital devices in our life. We're spending more and more time in front of screens. One probably could argue that people feel pretty immersed in those realities now. How much deeper do you think we can go? Could it ever really cross that sort of that that threshold of sort of replacing, you know... You sort of took this very, you know, utopian sort of view of this great Second Life society. But could there be a dystopian sort of a take on that, too?

Saku: [00:16:42] Oh, yeah. I mean, I guess you could say that the people are going to spend all that time on video games. Not in real life. I don't know. I think it's like that more harmful than TV. I mean, there is one theory that all of our technology has to be more addictive than the previous one in order to replace it. But I mean, I guess if you if you want to say something like is Snapchat more harmful than watching MTV? I'm not sure. I think it's just the same thing we've always had.

Brian: [00:17:17] Back to selling through experiences. Do you think that  actually brands will will have to create higher quality stories and content? I think BMW is actually a really great example of this with their BMW films with Clive Owen. They've done some really, really great stories through that. Do you think that other brands are going to follow their lead and start building out more, more story based experiences and allow purchasing during that story?

Saku: [00:17:48] Oh, totally. I think that's probably like the best application of VR that there is. One cool thing I've seen like a lot of TV studios, films studios, they'll have a major blockbuster film coming out and they'll also have a VR experience which is targeted towards early adopters. Just kind of fire them up, so they get out there and promote the film. So I remember I'm not sure if it was a Hobbit, but it might have been. They had like this great VR experience where you'd have like you'd be in this cabin, you'd see this dragon come out over like this pile of gold or something. It was just really cool. It was like top effects and lasted about five minutes. And after you saw, you're like, whoa, I'm really excited for that. I'm going to get post on Twitter. This is the best thing I've ever. And the thing is, like VR right now is pretty expensive. So the amount of people you can reach with it is quite low. But if you can get this but it is very effective for those people that it does reach.

Brian: [00:18:49] Yeah, that's cool. That's cool, I love that I think there are a few other movies that did that recently, The Man on Wire movie or whatever it was, that was another one that did a VR experience. That was pretty cool. I heard. Yeah. So what about like a more general? Do you think that because this medium is sort of up and coming and and that a lot of budgets are going to go into building out VR experiences... What do you think will happen to sort of the traditional retailer in this scenario? How are they going to leverage VR or are they not going to be able to leverage VR because their method of selling is sort of going by the wayside because people are going to spend all their time and experience as opposed to going to the mall?

Saku: [00:19:41] Well, I don't know. I can see a lot of these like very niche retailers benefiting from it. So I think there's a big difference between your Unilever's and your Amazons to really have that much of a differentiated stories to talk to. I can't see VR being very useful to that. But if you like something like a mainstream brand you see in a mall, but also has their own distinctive story, like Abercrombie & Fitch, for example. I think maybe you can make a comeback doing VR movies where you tell a story. People get really excited. And I guess it's just a way of developing brands. I mean, the ones who can build premium experiences, I think would benefit a lot of it.

Brian: [00:20:28] Yeah, that makes sense.

Phillip: [00:20:31] We had a Scott Emmons from the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab on the show recently, and he had a pretty good story to tell around adopting those sort of wonderful kind of experiences that engage with customers in a new way, that sort of reengage a different demographic or different people in a new way that sort of reinvigorates their affinity to the brand.

Saku: [00:20:58] So can I just make a prediction? So one thing that really I find interesting from a marketing standpoint is I see a lot of marketing doing more segmentation these days to say, like, you know, our customer base is actually like these people. This is their age group, their personality traits, where they live, et cetera. And then I can definitely see how making VR experiences tailored directly to this one group to reach them in the exact right messaging... One precursor to this, I think is like Netflix making movies based on data. So they have like demographic information cluster and then they  make a TV show that they know will appeal to that demographic. I can totally see that being the case with high end VR advertising.

Brian: [00:21:44] That's a good prediction. Yeah. So one of the things that's kind of been kind of I've been thinking about lately and I'm going to go kind of go a little bit off topic for a second, then come back. But recently, like I've got children and recently with games, like when I was growing up, games were pretty, pretty specific experience. There was a very limited set of experiences in the game that you could go after. So you'd have a Nintendo and you'd have like Mario and I was sort of fed to you and all my friends and I all sort of had the same experience, all doing that one thing. And you know, what I've noticed with my kids and my nephew is that now when they go and go experience games, they have an insane amount of options for how to experience the games, different platforms and methods, and they can mod their games. You look at Minecraft and my nephew is really into Minecraft, and so he's got these different mods. And it's like everything at this point is all about what you focus on and what you put your time into and all that to say I feel like now brands and retailers and so on have an insane amount of technology that they can employ right now, like Chat, AR, VR, location based tech. You know, it's just it's like a kid trying to figure out which video games that they want to focus on and put their time into.

Phillip: [00:23:34] That's deep, Brian. That's really deep.

Brian: [00:23:35] I know. I know. Right. So many merchants won't have the ability to put the focus and dollars into all of these tech, different technology avenues. And so many of them will hardly have enough budget to even put together one premium experience. So what do you think they'll best be able to know and most cost effectively be able to deploy?

Saku: [00:24:02] Oh, well, I don't really... It's a really... Yeah, that's interesting. That's true. One of my theories is that whenever a type of technology gets taken over by 3D graphics, we start calling it a game. So all of these location based games or mobile games or AR games are not really games, just like apps which are 3D graphics attached to them. So yeah. Anyway, so I guess to answer your question, it obviously depends a lot on who the merchant is. I can definitely see AR and VR being reserved for like the most personalized, customized niche industries, niche high end industries. Yeah, I mean I didn't I think there's also... Jason Horwitz's software is eating the world theory, which means that pretty much technology is really important and it's just eating into every industry. And so it might be that the answer is you have to go for all of them. Tech is just central to a lot of businesses these days, and you can't really skimp out on it. I mean, obviously depends on who you are.

Brian: [00:25:16] So you're saying that maybe, you know, if you don't have the budget to invest in different technologies, that really you maybe you shouldn't be in business? {laughter}

Saku: [00:25:26] Well. I won't say that explicitly. {laughter} But...

Phillip: [00:25:30] I mean, technically, you said that, Brian. She didn't say that.

Brian: [00:25:33] I did say that.

Phillip: [00:25:34] My feeling, Brian, is that we have a I don't know, I keep saying your name, Brian. We haven't had, you know, those homogenous video games, entertainment experiences in a long, long time.

Brian: [00:25:52] No doubt.

Phillip: [00:25:52] You know, someone probably could argue that, you know, from the VHS forward, we've had different experiences on an entertainment basis. So there's a whole generation of people that, you know, I grew up with my parents playing an Atari 2600. And so my experience was Space Invaders. And it wasn't like you remember that one really cool time when that thing happened... It was just kind of like the experience of of being there, you know, playing the game. And then it kind of evolves. Right? Like there was that one jump in the eighth world of of Mario that like you had to learn to hold the B button so you could jump. Like there was that experience that everybody sort of had in that moment. But now, like you said, the experience is more customized and personalized and you're fundamentally going to have a different experience to me. And I think that that's cool. I think that's actually the selling point of this, is that I can make it what I want it to be. The thing that worries me a little bit is merchants or retailers being sort of coaxed into Web VR as being that panacea of, oh, we're going to make your virtual catalogs, you know, we're going to make your catalogs in virtual reality.

Brian: [00:27:07] 3D!

Phillip: [00:27:07] Nobody wants that. Who wants that?

Saku: [00:27:08] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:27:09] Right?

Brian: [00:27:10] That's what I'm driving at. It's like they have unlimited options right now, really. Like you could build any insane experience and you have so many companies competing for their way to lead you down whatever path you should go. And it's like I think that a lot of merchants and retailers and brands are actually... Like it's very difficult to discern. And I think this is true. This is why I brought up my kids. I think if I was a kid right now, it would be pretty difficult to choose which game and what experience I kind of wanted to use. I think retailers are kind of experiencing the same thing. It's hard to discern where to invest their budget and their focus because it's so often very tight and it's very, very... Like your resources can only look so many directions.

Saku: [00:28:05] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:28:06] I think somebody is going to lean back and say, "I installed the Shopify plug in for virtual reality. We're doing a virtual reality check. What's next?" And that's kind of the scary thing for me, is that it sort of it gets watered down or this potential life changing almost, you know, human race changing... I said it. Human race changing technology is going to be sort of undermined by the worst of us and the crappiest of experiences.

Saku: [00:28:42] You know, I think a big thing that people are doing is they're just basing on how they should react to VR with how they reacted to mobile. And so mobile was like a very low end technology where you could just have all these tools. One of the most important things was analytics. It was really just about like getting your stuff on mobile as quickly as possible. And then it was about functionality more than anything else. I think VR is like the exact opposite of that. With VR, what you can do is it lets you go... It's not about pressing buttons. It's like I can time travel, I can teleport, and you've got to give me a really good place to teleport to. It's just completely different with how you design the mobile.

Phillip: [00:29:24] Yeah, I like Dr. Who. You'll always be going back to like 1940's London like always.

Saku: [00:29:30] Right.

Phillip: [00:29:32] I'm sorry I've taken us way off base now.

Brian: [00:29:36] It's good.

Phillip: [00:29:36] Bring us back, Brian.

Brian: [00:29:37] All right. I'll bring us back. So here's one. So one way that I feel like might be really approachable for merchants right now. I feel like, you know, the tech is actually getting to the point where a lot of people can access this and actually use it effectively and not just click the oh, I have a Shopify virtual reality now. I'm good to go. And it is actually light AR. It feels like the techies are actually getting to a point where someone could build a reasonably good experience and maybe do it somewhat cost effectively. So what do you think about light AR right now and the state of light AR?

Saku: [00:30:21] So what do you mean by light AR?

Brian: [00:30:26] So that would be like, AR on your phone where you see something like Snapchat. That's a good example of light AR. Or Pokemon Go. It's not like immersive glasses experience.

Saku: [00:30:39] All right.

Brian: [00:30:40] Yeah. Yeah. I guess AR in general maybe you could just give your view of how that's going to be used in commerce. There's some pretty distinct examples that I know about, like Blippar is starting to build out some of those experiences. So what do you have to say about AR in commerce?

Saku: [00:30:59] Ok, so my theory with AR is that AR is going to be really important, like the ultra bullish case in AR is it's going to be like the new multi touch. So everything you have mobile. All the functionality which you're used to having with computing became an app. I think with AR if it works out really well you have that will be our interface for the world. It will be seeing things maybe on AR glasses or maybe on your phone. So maybe the interface will be like a 3D interface. So instead of interacting with the touch screen, we're going to interact with this virtual like holodeck type experience. And so with what's happening right now, I think AR is a lot harder problem than VR. So, I mean, AR with the glasses. You need to figure out what the user is seeing already as well as render something to them. It's always going to be a bit of a lag behind VR by one to two years maybe. And the other thing with AR is it has all the same kind of software problems VR does. So if it's tough to make content of VR, it's also to about content for AR. So I can see VR as being like this high end, early adopter test bed where people develop it all the toolchain. They develop the graphics technology, the rendering techniques, and then one starts kind of settled and it finds its new use in a AR. So I would actually say that right now that AR is the technology just isn't that yet. The eye tracking technology, the technology to see what the user is seeing. And the headsets, they just aren't as developed as VR, nor is the software. But like stuff like Pokemon Go and what Snapchat is doing, I would just consider that part of the mobile... I would classify it as more mobile thing. Like I think Pokemon Go was people finally figuring out how to use a location based capabilities of mobile properly for game. And I would say would Snapchat is also just like tail end of like the social media imaging photography boom. I think that's kind of a different thing from AR. But I mean, obviously, Snapchat is heading in that direction.

Brian: [00:33:25] Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. Yeah. There's also like Google Tango and a few other examples of this where I feel like people are going to start using, you know, some simple overlays to produce in-store experiences and other location based interesting facts, things like that, that will help facilitate commerce. Not just commerce, but also education, then other other fields as well.

Phillip: [00:33:53] You know what I want? I want an AR app so that when I go into a big box store that won't exist in twenty years probably. But when I do go into one, they can hold the phone up and look around to see if they truly have that thing in the back that they always go to look for. That's what I want.

Brian: [00:34:08] {laughter} There you go.

Phillip: [00:34:08] I want them to be able to find that like virtual location for the device or the thing I'm looking for that doesn't happen to be in stock. I see some assistive... I make a joke, but I see some assistive capabilities for augmented reality that are sort of beyond just the interchange of I have a need and you have the goods. Give that to me. It's more in the line of, you know, like how we talked about with Sentient is it sort of assistive in nature. And we'll find some good uses of that assistive in nature to sort of help us to do our jobs better and be more productive and less probably... And, you know, we were seeing a lot of novel approaches. You listed off a few of them. They're novel. But I don't know that of those actually enable commerce at this point.

Brian: [00:35:00] That's true. That's a good point. Yeah. It's not necessarily being used directly for commerce, although I think Blippar is getting there or already has actually a couple of times, but yeah. Definitely not adopted yet.

Saku: [00:35:15] Yeah. I definitely get the impression that the showroom type stuff is I think it's more fitting for AR because with AR actually just seeing a hologram in front of you, the bar for experience is just not as high as it is for VR. So I think AR is going to look a bit more the like apps than it is going to look like entertainment. One thing I've seen is like the fashion start ups doing the AR fighting. So you have a virtual mirror and it tells you this is how you can look in whatever item it is. So I can see that kind of thing as a commerce application.

Brian: [00:35:56] Oh, yeah. We talked to Scott Emmons about that as well. Yeah. Yeah. Actually, speaking of fashion and try on and one of the things that we focus on quite a bit on this podcast, I actually spent all of Episode 8 talking about body data and sort of rendering the human form and VR. You know, we think it's going to be that... I've sort of predicted, and I don't know where Phillip falls on this actually. It's going to be a pretty key ingredient when interacting with others in VR. So fashion try on. You're going to be able to order custom furniture. You're going to be able to insert yourself into games. You're going to be able to do health related activities and all based off of your body data. So how do you see that playing out? What do you think about body data and how it will be used?

Saku: [00:36:55] So I think this is part of a larger trend, which is to like mapping the 3D world. So you can see all the stuff in AI kind of take this direction. So, yeah, I think you mentioned that a Google Tango. So that's a Google device to scanning the world around you. And there's been a ton of advances in AI to things like mapping and labeling, 3D scans of objects, matching 3D objects to things in photographs, which is Facebook AI research in the last year has been on. So it might be that like we're kind of trending towards this world where we have like... We have like every 3D object in the world is kind of mapped somewhere and can be tagged and you can search for it. We can drag and drop it into VR world or would be our second life style game that we're playing in. And then, yeah, a lot of the techniques from gaming, I can see becoming more and more. And so like, you know, like virtual fitting is kind of derived from like physics engines. So it used to be in games that you have a physics engine to figure out if the monster is going to hit you or not. But then they later use of things like postulation and then the more hardcore physics and like what's happening. And so you see, I mean, use like these special showrooms and fittings and so on. So I think one really interesting thing with the whole VR space is how much old technology from gaming is finding a new use.

Brian: [00:38:26] Yes, that's a good point, no doubt.

Phillip: [00:38:35] My thinking is that we'll get to a place where we have better abilities to track those sorts of things. But it really is going to come down to what does it actually do for me as a consumer? Does it make it a more immersive experience for me? I mean, for instance, the Xbox Kinect from, you know, eight years ago could just look at color fluctuations in your face to tell what your heart rate was. It doesn't require an insane amount of tech for us to do the things that we're talking about. I think there just has to be an application that's worthwhile. And so I'm not trying to answer for you, Saku. My feeling is that it's like with anything we have yet to sort of discover what might be a good consumer application for something like body data. And I yeah, I basically just interjected all of it Episode 8 right into this comment. I don't know why I did it, but that's how I feel. I'm not necessarily sold on that yet, mostly because I don't know what, you know, like I have that whole example of the Nintendo Me, where my Me was maybe a little shapelier then I'd like it to have been. And that's you know, I think some of us want to escape what our actual reality is and be someone different and not necessarily the exact person that we are. Do you have any thoughts on that, Saku?

Saku: [00:40:16] Yeah. I mean, it's really interesting how we're going to... How social VR is going to work. Is it going to be an exact replica of you interacting with exact replicas of other people? So one interesting thing I've seen is advances in light field video. So right now what you can do is you can get a rake of maybe like 30 cameras in studio and you can capture these like amazing holograms of people. And so the video for this is like any records what you look like. Not one shot, but it records one shot seen from every angle. So it means if you're doing it again, VR, you can move your head around. Look at the passage from every different angle and it will still appear accurate. So, I mean, I think it might be that our avatars in VR are going to be a combination of body data, holograms and light field and stuff like that. Or it might be the complete opposite that it comes out of gaming and we end up being like these fictional characters. Now I'm going to play this or whatever. I mean, personally to me, it does seem that social VR is more likely the kind of gaming that is to come out of social networking. But you can't really predict this far in advance.

Brian: [00:41:38] That's true. There's a lot ahead, no doubt. What exactly it looks like is still a little bit yet to be seen. I think one of the things that we said in Episode 8 was a lot of these things... When people recognize the utility, and actually Phillip just said this. I don't even need to repeat it. But once the utility really outweighs the pain of getting there, then we'll actually do it.

Phillip: [00:42:01] And that was a more concise way of saying it than what I said.

Brian: [00:42:06] What about security, though? I think it's just not just body data, but in general in VR. I mean, I think there's definitely a lot of open source movement towards VR. I think it was that we make VR, they're all about keeping it open. And other companies definitely want this to be something that we all sort of build on together, which is cool because like coming from an eCommerce background, I think that that has really helped advance eCommerce a lot. How strong the open source community is around eCommerce and so I can see that being a really big benefit to move things forward more quickly and establish a strong community and ecosystem around VR. I think it's already happening.

Saku: [00:42:57] Yeah.

Brian: [00:42:58] How do you feel about open source and VR together?

Saku: [00:43:02] Yeah, actually, I think that's a super interesting question because VR is based on the computer graphics tech, which a lot of that is closed. So if you look at the entire stack, you go at the bottom, you've got your closed source in video drivers, then you've got you as your architects and closed source game engine like... Well, game engine like Unity and then...runs the Microsoft Windows. So like the entire stock is closed source right now. And that's because most of the people in the past who've been using computer graphics technology have been either game studios or film studios. And the structure of that industry is quite different from startups. And they never really had an open source movement. Actually one, but things are improving. So I've seen, just like last week, Disney open sourced a bunch of their rendering technology, which is like a great move for the industry.

Phillip: [00:44:02] Wow. Yeah.

Brian: [00:44:02] Nice.

Saku: [00:44:02] So there's like all this stuff or stuff in movies, animation, which is great. And I guess like, as soon as more programmers who come from startups are moving into VR, they bring their open source techniques with them. But I do think that is one of the major obstacles. So one thing we did at Oculus... Basically, like an interesting closed source technologies is just like pretty... Especially when you do things like very high performance, it's a lot harder when your technology is closed source rather than open source.

Phillip: [00:44:48] That's kind of always the case. I think open source has proven that it will continue to win. I think. Yeah, I think also my question to you would be how necessary... Could open source actually forge new ground? It seems like we need the backing and the funding and research of companies that are like the Facebooks of the world that can afford the research required to be able to make these products happen. Could this really be done purely on the back of open source?

Saku: [00:45:26] I mean, I can totally see companies like Facebook just funding open source just because... I mean, that's how the first open source movement was. It was pretty good for the companies involved.

Brian: [00:45:38] Yeah, yeah.

Saku: [00:45:40] My view of how this is going to happen is we're going to use closed source technology mostly for the first few years. And then after it's kind of proven a bunch of software engineers are going to rush into this space and they're going to reinvent everything. That's my hunch of how it's going to go. And well, interesting thing about VR is that in parallel, there's all this tech development going on in AI, and they use GPUs as well. So I feel like the tech community is going to gain all this knowledge of how to program GPUs, and they're going to take it from once... If AI is for open source people and people who know about GPUs, I can those people going into computer graphics pretty easily. Maybe. I don't know. I think it's a few years away.

Brian: [00:46:30] A little bit of a segue here... But you spoke of AI, and how there's a lot of advances happening in that arena at the same time. What do you think about interacting with bots in VR? Do you think Will will create visual representations of our bots and interact with them a little bit more like they're beings? Because once we're having VR, you know, we can make anything. We can render anything, right?

Saku: [00:47:03] Yeah, no, I think the interaction of VR and AI is super interesting. So one intersection of people that usually realize is that simulators are really important. So if I'm working on robotics, how am I going to train my robot? I'm going to have to put it in a room and make my remote go through these physical interactions. Or can I just make a game environment and train the robot inside the game? It is a big thing for self-driving cars as well. I think one self-driving car startup called Commodore AI spent more time driving in the simulator than they had driving in real life. So that's kind of the simulation tech from gaming is going to be very important. So another thing is programing realistic AI for VR environments is something I've seen people working on. So gaming AI right now is not a state of the art stuff, but there are people doing things like for example, for racing games, they will go and record the exact movements of a car, like turning or something like that, and they will train you on it's motion behavior and  then they run it during games that, so the motion of the objects in 3D is very realistic, because if you are in VR, you do pay attention to these details. As to like human behavior, I think that's kind of one of the more difficult problems. We can barely get chat bot to pass the Turing test. I'm not sure we can do it with animation and everything else. I think it might be an uncanny valley there. We'll see.

Brian: [00:48:49] I'm not sure I can pass the Turing test.

Phillip: [00:48:54] You got me fooled, at least in this episode, Brian.

Brian: [00:48:56] Excellent. That's good.

Phillip: [00:48:58] I would argue a lot of what we see today is basically simulation. I feel like I'm living... I feel like I'm living in a simulation the last year or so. That's all I'll say. My gut is we're well, gosh, this hour has gone by so quickly. Thank you. We're actually kind of running out of time. I think I'd love to wrap up. We've never done this before, and I'm taking a left turn that Brian isn't waiting for or didn't know about.

Brian: [00:49:27] Yes!

Saku: [00:49:28] Do you have questions for us as sort of the laymen in the group? We're enthusiasts, but by no means, you know, experts in this area. Do you have any questions for us in our perception of certain things in your field?

Saku: [00:49:45] Yeah, that's a good question. So one thing I've been asking people is like, what have you tried any good VR experiences lately and what made them really compelling if you did?

Brian: [00:49:59] I mentioned the Shopify booth at IRSC, but I think they had the Vive there. If I recall correctly. But I'm sure that they'll hit me up on Twitter if I'm wrong here. But it was pretty good. I think theirs was pretty commerce focused. And so it was like, oh, put this furniture in your living room and then pick up a book and see what you can do with it and then switch to space and throw that book into space. And it's like it's really like disjointed in terms of its experience. Like what the type of experience they were creating. And I get that. Like it was really just to kind of show off their really basic ideas. That said, moving around and playing with stuff was really fun. Was presents perfectly there? No. Did I enjoy it? Yeah, I really did.

Saku: [00:50:58] Awesome.

Phillip: [00:50:59] I bought a Google Cardboard not too long ago. No, I'm just kidding.

Brian: [00:51:04] I had used Cardboard.

Phillip: [00:51:06] I did, too.

Brian: [00:51:08] It was fine. It was using a viewfinder or whatever they're called.

Phillip: [00:51:10] Yeah, exactly. I also try to Vive or however it's pronounced. I also tried one of those. I actually there were moments, there are fleeting moments in sort of a demo with sort of a demo of like an overlook. I want to say it was I think it might have actually been like the top of 30 Rock or something like that. Looking out over Manhattan. You kind of have a moment where you're like, yeah, like I had that sort of moment of... You called it presence. I had sort of that sinking, like, heights kind of a feeling. That was kind of strange. I wasn't expecting that. at the same time, the most that I've really done there is back when Lawnmower Man came out in like 1993, I went to the Blockbuster fun and games and I played the game with the pterodactyl that was made of like, you know, very simple voxels. I've done that. That's like my only prior experience to anything virtual reality based. So, you know, I would almost ask back to you, is that really feeling that sort of replicable over and over again or do you sort of just kind of get used to it? And it's just sort of an experience that you kind of get used to, or is it really that immersive that you kind of get that feeling over and over again of kind of being the lost?

Saku: [00:52:39] Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think the future of VR is that you can every time you have a new experience, it feels like a new thing is actually happening. So as long as artists have the will to keep creating these new environments and new experiences and then you're not going to run out of that feeling.

Phillip: [00:53:00] That's interesting.

Saku: [00:53:01] I think for me, the best VR stuff I've seen has been at film festivals. So I just see these amazing animations studios taking their talents to the VR. I think that's like where the cutting edge is is music videos.

Phillip: [00:53:17] Well, those are really good pointers. Yeah, go ahead, Brian.

Brian: [00:53:22] And I'm going to take this a little bit even further down the rabbit hole. And this is not even related to commerce at all, although maybe it is. But I've seen some things now, I think I saw like this... And I don't even know if this was a joke. So, like, you know, bear with me for a second. I saw something recently about the company creating like a vest to sort of simulate experiences of like sports players while you're watching the game. And I can't help but think, and this is just like now we're going pretty deep future here, but like, I can't help but think that maybe in the future we'll see some experiences sort of pop out that where it's not just, you know, presence in terms of what you're seeing, but also they'll start to introduce different other senses, gauging other senses to the point where maybe there's even some sort of concoction of adrenaline of drugs...

Phillip: [00:54:38] Man, you're going all in.

Brian: [00:54:41] I know I'm going all in. I told you I'm going down the rabbit hole, but like, actually, the experience of the future will actually be emotional, physical and like a genuine like you're going to hop into, say, you know, some historical figure shoes and they're going to take you through the emotional journey of being that person from the perspective of the storyteller, I guess.

Saku: [00:55:08] Oh. I can totally see that. So I mean, one interesting thing about VR is it's like this revival of the arcade. So you had arcades in the 80s and everyone's consoles you need them anymore. And now I think we're seeing, like, stuff like you have a treadmill and you're running and people in the game, but you need to have something happen in real life for it to truly feel like an immersive experience. So I can totally see that being every time that you go through like all this crazy stuff in VR, I think one thing I've seen is like someone tries to Flappy Bird in VR where you lie down in front, and you like flap your arms and you play the Flappy Bird game. {laughter} There's a whole world of opportunities there.

Phillip: [00:55:59] If we could possibly end on the Flappy Bird note, that would be an amazing place to stop.

Brian: [00:56:03] We're going to get to play the Chrome Dinosaur game in VR.

Phillip: [00:56:08] I wouldn't mind that. I mean, I get a little tired. That's beside the point. Wow. And we have a whole list of questions we didn't even get into, you know, and I can't wait to hopefully one day bring you back. Don't commit to anything because I don't want to put you on the spot, but I'd love to see sort of how this shapes and pans out, especially over the next few months. I think coming past the holidays, kind of getting out of the shtick of the consumer application and getting back to really sort of the breaking you guys are kind of out at the cutting edge and sort of hearing more about that stuff. That'll be kind of an exciting thing. So I'd love to have you back at some point. Really, really happy to have had you. I'm going to go ahead and close this out, Brian, if you don't mind.

Brian: [00:57:00] Yeah, well, one more note.

Phillip: [00:57:01] Yeah.

Brian: [00:57:02] We'd especially love to have you back after, and maybe even before this. Definitely. But we'd love to hear a report on on what you're working on that you weren't allowed to talk about that you sort of left out.

Saku: [00:57:15] {laughter} All right.

Brian: [00:57:15] So, yeah, we'd love to have you back after that.

Saku: [00:57:18] Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Phillip: [00:57:18] Oh, thank you for for joining us. Brian's always looking for the scoop. He really wants to know.

Brian: [00:57:24] I'm always looking for the scoop.

Phillip: [00:57:27] All right. Well, thank you. Thank you so much. And if you're if you're out there still listening after one amazing hour. Thank you to our guest, Saku Panditharatne. Where can we point them, people, listeners to you?

Saku: [00:57:41] So just go to my Twitter, which is Sknthla. So that's where I post all my stuff.

Phillip: [00:57:52] Very good.

Brian: [00:57:52] Nice.

Phillip: [00:57:53] So reach out there. And and we do want your feedback. If you have any thoughts, if you're using VR in some novel way, if you have any novel thoughts about what Brian was talking about their future application, I'd love to hear it. And so please leave that feedback for us in the Disqus comment box on our FutureCommerce.fm site below. And you can also subscribe, like we said, on iTunes, Google Play and you can listen with your Amazon Echo with "Alexa, Play Future Commerce podcast." But anyway, thank you for listening. And until next time, keep looking toward the future.

Saku: [00:58:31] Cheers.

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