The Virtual Reality train is accelerating and if you haven’t caught the bug yet, you’ll miss out on a lot of cool things. The industry is gaining so much momentum it’s impossible to neglect the possibilities. Now that billion-dollar-headsets hit the market you have no excuses to scratch the VR curiosity itch.
When we’ve first done the research about the major players in Virtual Reality, we’ve found the expected bunch of heavy hits – the Palmer Luckeys and Tony Parisis of VR. So we’ve made a men only list. What a mistake! However, since then we’ve started researching deeper, and a lot of female names have been popping out. Actually, because media is so inclined to boast male creations, the ink is drained when they get to women.
Because AR and VR is such a young technology, women have been able to participate in it from the start. There are a lot of activists and organizations that support and encourage women to join the VR circles, for example the Women in VR platform. Jacki Morie, a VR scientist at NASA, has researched the creative VR experiences between 1985 and 2007 where as much as 70 % of those creators were women.
So here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most innovative, creative and capable people alive! We sincerely apologize is we left anyone out. Be assured – there is so much talent out there that we are bound to create another list soon!
10) Yuka Kojima – game developer, CEO at Fove Inc.
We never managed to find out how this Psychology Bachelor started working with Sony Computer Entertainment Japan as a game developer. But she did, probably with her incredible talent. She worked on games for Playstation 3, but left Sony after discovering her love for VR.
Yuka Kojima co-funded Fove Inc. – the company who made the VR headset with complete eye-tracking technology. It’s not a completely new technology, but Fove was the first company that reduced its price to consumer-friendly levels. The Fove project launched last May on Kickstarter, and raised almost half a million dollars. First pre-orders have shipped in the beginning of January, and the customer reviews so far have been excellent. She is still the company’s CEO and had recently been on the cover of Japan’s Forbes magazine in an issue about the world’s 100 most powerful women.
She also enjoys writing graphic novels, and has worked in many projects in this field over the years.
11) Jeri Ellsworth – AR Game Development and Co-founder of CastAR
Jeri Ellsworth has been in the tech field for the most of her life. In the 90’s, she opened her first computer store, which had soon turned in a chain of five. When the computer marked crashed, she taught herself chip design. She created a joystick which contained a chip with 30 retro video games on it. It was a viral hit and I put her on the map.
Later, she started experimenting with new ways of gaming, and eventually landed in AR. The company she worked for at the moment didn’t want to fund her project, so she and a business partner created a new company, called CastAR.
CastAR is still a company which specialises in tabletop games for mixed reality. The technology is still in development, but it will be able to create a hologram-like experience. They’ve received both funding from investing companies and via Kickstarter. The CastAR project more than doubled its goal of $400,000 and had raised over $1 million.
Here’s an interview with Jeri Ellsworth.
And Jeri, if you’re reading this, please hurry up, we want to play a round of Adventure Time’s Card Wars!
12) Timoni West | Principal designer at Unity Labs
Timoni leads a design team at Authoring Tools Group in Unity Labs and working on the future of immersive creation. She’s responsible for interfaces for new applications and tools in VR for VR. Her design portfolio is more than astonishing – senior designer at Flickr, Scribd, Foursquare and she’s also a creative director at Department of Design in New York. Unity Labs certainly knew who to pick to be the spearhead of the design department.
Unity will soon let developers build games inside of VR itself. I can’t imagine what a huge task it is to come up with a UX and UI capable of making this simple. Just imagine some fundamental issues:
How do you move around a space if the space is larger than the physical space you have available to you? How can you adapt the movement mechanic to move the user’s camera forward? How do you do that without getting them sick?
Timoni demoed the VR Editor Tool on Vision Summit 2016
13) Paisley Smith – VR filmmaker and Co-founder of VirtualRealityGirls
Paisley Smith used to make good ol’ 2D movies, her most recent one being about her family history in India. But after discovering VR, her life changed directions.
Now she makes animated films in VR. They are wholly immersive productions, taking on deep and striking social issues. She’s produced Project Syria VR, which was selected for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier.
It this feature, the viewer is immersed in a world of Syrian children who live in a war zone. It’s received mixed reviews, but as she says – it’s really difficult to acquire the right audience for her projects. VR animated film is a new medium, which is under a lot of pressure. People don’t know how to behave in VR space, says Smith in an interview for Independent Magazine. ”In VR we need to explain quickly and succinctly what the user can do and how they can do it, without detracting from the story. This has led to a lot of experimenting in the development of the project.”
Her last project Taro’s World is a story of Taro, an exchange student from Japan. It’s an animated VR experience, which is based on a true story from Smith’s life. It will be released via mobile VR, so if you don’t have cardboard glasses for your movie critics team, be sure to get some.
14) Eva Hoerth – VR Evangelist, founder of We Make Realitiesand much more
Ever seen this video? Eva Hoerth became kind of famous for it. People thought she was making fun of her boyfriend, but she was actually recording her coworker for the future. She thinks that our grandchildren are going to laugh at the early attempts at VR, and hopes that headsets like ours will be replaced by holograms.
She worked as a Design Researcher alongside Tom Furness, the “Grandfather of VR”, who has been working on virtual reality displays since the 1980’s.
Now, she researches and shares design strategies for VR, organizes VR Meetups and hackathons that bring diversity to the industry.
She says, that as a VR Evangelist, she feels like she has a duty to share VR with the world, build stronger bonds within the VR community, inspire others and empower women in VR. You can read her ‘ VR Evangelist Manifesto’ on her website.
15) Jenn Duong – Director of VR at 1215creative, co-founder of SH//FT
Jenn Duong works hard to fight prejudice and discrimination in future technologies. She’s a big supporter of diversity and has cofunded SH//FT, an organization that supports equality and inclusion in future technologies. Organization offers education, help and scholarships, especially for women and minorities.
At her day job, she’s the Director of VR at 1215creative, a company specializing in immersive experiences, VR and also traditional video production. Fun fact – they’ve worked for some really big-deal companies (like Google, Adidas, Jack Daniels’ and Samsung) and yet they keep their website so simple we just had to share it.
Check out this interview with Jenn, where she talks about what’s her inspiration for VR, her favourite VR artists and also Game of Thrones.
”Do not be afraid to experiment, and do not be afraid to fail. If we don’t do projects because we’re worried about the technology not being there or that what we are making isn’t good, we failed automatically because we didn’t even try. There is a lesson to be learned in every effort in VR. So if you have something you want to make, just do it. ”
16) Elizabeth L. Reede – Co-founder and CEO of Boulevard
While waiting in line with his family to visit a well-known museum in Washington DC during a recent spring break, Rob Hamwee wondered if there was a way to visit this museum from his home? Through a mutual friend, he was introduced to Elizabeth L. Reede, a former curator at MoMA and investment banker. Together, Reede and Hamwee came up with the idea of bringing art, architecture, and culture to people around the world through virtual reality technology. Boulevard (fka WoofbertVR) was founded in 2013 and since its inception has raised over $5 million to make global culture virtually accessible.
Reede says that an increasing focus on the part of museums is reaching out to an expanding interested public and minimizing issues of accessibility, whether physical, geographic or financial. With Boulevard technology, anyone in the world who owns a smartphone can virtually visit a museum or cultural site from anywhere, anytime.
Boulevard’s library of VR experiences is quickly expanding. In November 2015, the company released its first experience where users can visit the Wolfson Room of the Courtauld Gallery in London. With recent additions including the British Museum, US Capitol, Library of Congress, and White House, the Boulevard app offers eight experiences for free download. Boulevard continues to expand its relationships with over 40 arts institutions worldwide and uploads new content every 8 to 10 weeks.
Reede is emphatic that she is not to trying to replace visits to museums and galleries. Quite the contrary – she says that nothing can substitute for being in front of an actual work of art. With VR and MR (mixed reality), however, museums can more fully realize their mission of sharing their collections with the world. And by partnering with leading museums and cultural sites, Boulevard can give immersive access and revolutionize the way the world looks at art.
17) Christina Heller – Co-Founder and CEO of VR Playhouse
Before Christina Heller started VR Playhouse, she worked in tv and journalism. She’s one of the exceptions on this list who made the IMDB’s database. She worked the camera and electric, did some cinematography and a whole lot of producing films and TV-shows, most about politics.
VR playhouse is a Los Angeles creative studio specializing in VR and AR. They’ve produced a lot of really cool projects, like a CGI animated 360 music video Enter the Mind of Jack, a 360 video for Boost Mobile’s ”Unlimited World” in which you can pause a 360 video at any time and explore the surroundings to get additional information. Other key projects include Defying the Nazis with Ken Burns, and DAWN’s “Not Above That” VR music video.
“The Surrogate,” was nominated for the Innovation Award at SXSW 2016. It’s an amazingly realistic experience, as it combines the elements of CGI VR with 360 video. In most 360 videos, people complain of having that ”being stuck” feeling . In this film, movement through space is possible via use of CGI elements.
18) Alisha Seam, robotics engineer
Alisha currently works in startup that’s trying to merge new innovative technology with AT&T products and services. She’s got a history in robotics engineering, and loves to make technologies that are as automatized as possible.
One of her favourite projects was working with drones. We’ve all heard about delivery and surveillance drones, but this technologies are new and far from perfect. Alisha and her team were working on optimizing their abilities, by taking advantage of AT&T’s LTE network. One of the uses for these drones is also assisting in dangerous situations, where people would usually risk their lives (like natural disasters, fires or war-zones).
She’s also really into VR/AR, so a big part of her job is integrating immersive elements into people’s everyday lives. Alisha is passionate about using VR beyond gaming, specially in education and training. Her job used to be developing medical robotics. She hopes that one day surgeries could be done remotely, with the surgeon using a robotic equipment and a 360 camera. But even this optimistic technological genius is aware that big advancements have to be made in this field, before anything will be hospital- ready. She also anticipates that AR will eventually replace our computers and smartphones.
Join her for an overview of the latest developments in virtual reality.