"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
For many, hearing that quote for the first time sparked a curiosity about space and the hidden complexities of mankind's "final frontier." However, that dream will remain just a dream for most of us because apparently, it's really hard to become an astronaut.
Thanks to virtual reality, Ensign Kevin can finally happen
Well friends, dream no longer! In this crazy world we live in, new pieces of technology are being developed each day to make the impossible, possible. One of those technological breakthroughs is virtual reality (VR). Once considered just a gimmick in the gaming world, VR has evolved into a tool with many uses beyond just entertainment. This technology has opened up new worlds for designers in almost every industry by allowing them to see and experience the environment—and their inventions—in a whole new way.
So, what makes VR such a compelling piece of tech going into the future? Luckily, we have just the guy to help us answer that.
We sat down with Jeff Trinh-Sy, owner of Voxel Virtual Reality Parlour, to talk about the current state of VR, what to expect in the future, and how this technology is much more than just a tool for gamers.
Jeff Trinh-Sy (right) – Owner of Voxel, Minnesota's 1st Virtual Reality Arcade
An Interview with Jeff Trinkh-Sy, Owner of Voxel
Kevin: Let’s start out with some softballs, tell me more about yourself. Where are you from? What are some of your interests/hobbies?
Jeff: My name is Jeff Trinh-Sy and I'm from Minneapolis. I'm a teacher. I teach high school physics, astronomy, engineering, robotics, that sort of thing. As for hobbies, looking at the sky, soccer, volleyball, and I used to coach ultimate frisbee. Professionally, I really like tinkering. That's the engineer in me.
K: Walk me through the step-by-step process on how you got to where you are today. What led you to starting your own business?
J: Like I said, I love to tinker so I see a lot of stuff out in the world that's either designed incorrectly or improperly or there is a void. There's a need and a solution just doesn't exist. That's happened in a couple areas in my life and I've just kind of stepped in, made a solution – Voxel is one of those. I put on a VR headset and thought, "Why haven't I heard about this before?" More people should be talking about this. More people should be excited about this. This should be everywhere! I realized it's not a cheap thing to try to get a taste of—it's expensive. Accessibility is huge and as a teacher, it excites me to show people new stuff and getting people excited about new things.
K: Where did the idea come from? What were some of the major roadblocks you ran into getting started?
J: As it turns out, Voxel started as a software company. Two other guys and I started doing some VR development, I guess you call it kind of a YouTube-esque, Skype-esque model where people were developing and consuming content. We thought we needed to create a space for people to come create content in order to use it. Then we realized, "Oh, this can stand alone," and decided it should be its own business instead. Get people here, let them try it out, and let them be amazed by what's already out there. It's fun to get in early and see new stuff as it comes up. Not just new software, but entirely new technology.
K: What do you feel are some of the most common misconceptions about VR? What does the technology need to do in the future to combat those problems?
J: Probably the biggest misconception about VR is that it's games. I think people hear the words "virtual reality" and think, "Oh, that's for gamers. That's for my teenage kid." But I think just about everyone who puts it on has realized, "Oh, this is for everybody," which is why we've been so successful. People try it on and then they tell everybody. Their parents, their extended family, their friends, their coworkers. It's just getting people to try it because it's one thing to hear about a VR experience but nothing can replace actually getting into it.
K: What do you think is going to win between virtual reality and augmented reality? Do you think there is a place for both or do you think one is going prevail, much like Blu-Ray did over HD DVD last decade?
J: Probably not for another 15 years, but I'd guess augmented reality will win. There are lots of things you can do in VR but if I've got augmented reality, I'll be able to overlay anything. It's about ease of entry at the beginning. I can completely see people using it in their daily lives for practical purposes or just entertainment.
K: In the last few years, you’ve started to see people embracing the technology as headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR have become more affordable. Do you see it becoming a mainstream product found in every household? What needs to change to make that happen?
J: I'd say to the extent that other technology gets consumed. Some people are excited to try new things and others might be a little wary about it. The barrier to entry is trying it out. Once people try VR and see what it can do, I think people will find lots of uses for it. Obviously, there is the gaming industry and those who like VR for that aspect but there are also therapeutic uses for it. If I want to go stand on a mountain and just view the landscape for an hour, I can do that. Or if I want to go underwater and float with the wildlife, I can do that. The therapeutic piece is becoming a pretty big thing, whether it's for post-surgery, post-trauma, mental health, or just daily living. People with dementia can't necessarily travel around the world and sit on a beach, but in VR they can. However, just like any other emerging technology, there's still a certain price point and comfort level with wearing the headset that needs improve a little bit more in order for more consumers to use it.
K: This one is for the gamers—there have been some incredible experiences available for VR for a couple years now, but no true AAA title. When, if ever, do you see that happening and what genre do you see doing it first?
J: I think it's going to be big and I think it's going to be pretty quick. I think Blizzard is putting out a few titles. I think Battlefield is happening. A lot of the today's games are built in 3D, but you only view it in 2D. I think it'll be really easy to transfer a lot of these experiences because if you want, you can have equipment on while still in VR. You can hold a spear. You can hold a shield. All they have to do is program a viewer and we are there. I would say we're pretty close.
K: Outside of gaming and entertainment, what major industries do you see adopting VR in the next 5-10 years? For what applications?
J: Overall, we've seen interest in virtual reality from pretty much all industries—from education and healthcare to trade shows, fine arts, and entertainment. We've even seen industry simulations that recreate a process to show people to see the inner workings of what is going on firsthand. There is a lot of money in VR right now and people are pouring resources into exploring what it can do. As far as I can tell so far, it is limitless.
K: What can someone visiting Voxel look forward to during their first visit?
J: First of all, it's a totally new experience. In the Twin Cities, we like to go out to breweries, beaches, and sporting events but there haven't been many new things for a while. But VR is brand new. If you're looking for a new experience to bring your friends and family to, this is it. The reason I like our setup is because it's about the group experience. People can watch each other and hear what everybody is doing. We have almost 30 different experiences so you can really dive into whatever you want, whether you're an artist, athlete, gamer, or just want to play some shoot-em-up games. When someone visits for the first time, we pop them into a headset, show them how it works, and about 8 times out of 10, they're there for half an hour before they realize, "I should probably let someone else do it, too." It's easy to get lost and mesmerized!
K: For those who don’t know already, Voxel will be at MechFuse later this month. How, if at all, will the experience differ from visiting Voxel itself?
J: When you come to our actual space, it's a little more chill. You can take your time, relax, sit back in the lounge and do your thing. As far as the experience and the virtual reality goes, there will be no difference. Once you're in the headset, the real world is lost to you, wherever you are.
K: What do you have planned for Voxel in the future?
J: The beauty of our position is we haven't had to pigeonhole ourselves so we're able to work on anything that comes our way. We see a lot of companies looking to be cutting edge and come to us wanting to do VR. Interestingly, most companies have had a very two-dimensional view of what it will look like for them. Instead, we show them the immersive, limitless quality of VR and its true benefits. Once companies realize its potential, they can start reaping the benefits whether in marketing, training, education, etc. This is something I'd love to see Voxel focus in on quite a bit more. As far as brick and mortar, the next step is to stay updated with the gear. As new stuff comes out, we're always going to keep the highest end stuff here. Also, we hope to open a couple more locations or even franchise out.
Voxel Virtual Reality Parlor is Minnesota's 1st virtual reality arcade, serving birthday/bachelor parties, team building events, and the random night out.
For those interested in trying virtual reality, the Voxel crew will be making your cosmic dreams a reality by bringing Space Camp to MechFuse 2017. Make sure to reserve your seat today to avoid missing out on an out-of-this-world experience.
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Written by Kevin Breindel
Kevin Breindel is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Alignex, Inc. When Kevin isn't working on content creation and SEO, you can find him enjoying the outdoors, watching the game or scouring the Minnesota wilderness for the elusive Sasquatch.