Virtual Reality is on the Horizon for Remote Work
Disclaimer: This transcript is provided as a courtesy for accompanying the associated episode it represents. The content of the transcript may provide errors or incorrect statements from the recorded episode. Portions of the episode such as opening or closing comments may be excluded for brevity.
Jonathan So, kicking off episode 14, I have a personal announcement to make, and that is, at the beginning of May, May 4th, my wife and I welcomed a healthy baby boy, James David Sharp, and he was born seven pounds, eight ounces, and all is going well. We’re getting enough sleep, and I am grateful that I work from home, as I had the opportunity throughout the day to interact with him, and hold him, and just get to know him. Again, I’m grateful for remote work and the opportunity that it provides to be close to family. So, let’s jump into the interview for episode 14.
Jonathan So, I’m here today with Chance Glasco and Lily Snyder from Doghead Simulations, and this episode is really interesting to me, because we’re more or less talking about the future of remote work, and where things are headed, and a non-common way to work remote, which is virtual reality. So, Chance and Lily, welcome to this episode.
Lily Hey there.
Chance Hey, thanks for having us.
Lily Great to be here.
Jonathan So, Chance, why don’t we start with you. Just give us a quick sentence or two about who you are and what you do.
Chance My name is Chance Glasco. I guess I’m technically still sort of a game developer, but I’m not working on a game right now. I was one of the co-founders of Call of Duty and [INAUDIBLE 00:01:26] there were 22 of us left together and formed the company to make Call of Duty, and worked on that for about 12 years, and got sick of it. Quit, moved to Brazil for about a year and a half, started Doghead Simulations while I was in Rio de Janeiro, and now I’m back in Orlando. I should be here for at least six months or so. So, I actually grew up in Florida and then spent my game development years in Los Angeles. So, I’m returning to Florida and seeing how it’s changed, so it’s all good.
Jonathan Oh, my goodness. Well, it’s a little warmer down there today than it is up here Northwoods of Wisconsin.
Chance I wish I was in Wisconsin instead right now.
Jonathan Well, so and Lily how about you?
Lily Hi, I’m Lily. I’m currently the COO of Doghead Simulations. My background, though, is in IT consulting. I implemented manufacturing execution systems. So, I’ve been a remote worker since 2013, but when you’re implementing manufacturing solutions you have to travel a lot to those plants. I started to look for something new to do, and that’s when I started talking to Matt Tricone, our CEO, and he told me that they’re working on this virtual reality project and I wanted to get involved, so that’s how I got into VR.
Jonathan So, how long has Doghead Simulations been around?
Lily We’re still pretty new. We’ve been around since July last year. So, July 2016.
Jonathan Ok, so still very fresh, very start-up. That’s great.
Chance Yeah, almost a year.
Jonathan So, for our listeners. Virtual reality, I think most of us have interacted with some form of Hollywood version of it. Either hacker movie or The Matrix or something like that. How would you guys describe virtual reality, and what’s kind of the boundaries for that term?
Chance I would say virtual reality is fooling your brain into thinking you’re somewhere else, using a mix of stereoscopy image, high refresh rates, high resolution screen. So, a lot of people, when you try to describe it to them, they haven’t used at least any of the new technology. They just can’t figure it out but honestly the best way to describe it is describing reality. It’s kind of like a digital version of reality. If there’s any people out there that spend a lot of time playing games, imagine not looking at a game on a small screen, you’re actually inside of that environment. When you turn your head, it renders exactly what you expect to see. It’s very immersive.
Jonathan So, it’s really all-encompassing. Like you said, you trick your brain into believing that you are somewhere else, and really, you’re not necessarily there. It may be just in the ether.
Lily Yes, I have kind of a story to describe this. Last night, my friend’s four-year-old son was over and he calls virtual reality being inside of the computer. So, he was playing this game and he figured out if you pull the trigger, and there was a water hose, and you point it at the ground flowers would grow, but he didn’t want to step on the flowers he was growing, and so he actually got confused and tripped over backwards and fell against the wall, because he got scared he was going to crush his flowers. Even though we could see he was clearly in the middle of the room, and there was nothing he was going to step on.
Jonathan Yeah, but really the experience was so real for him, and immersive, that he fully believed he was there.
Chance Yeah, we’ve hit this point with technology where we actually are starting a presence, and presence is basically where your conscious brain knows that you just put on a HMD head-mounted device, right? But, your sub-conscious brain is getting all the right information that it’s starting to say, “Hey, I’m actually here.” Right?
Chance And so, in the past when you had this 1990s VR. I’m not sure you ever tried any of that, it was horrible. It was like 30 or 40 field of view, maybe like 30 frames a second. The resolution was like a Nintendo, per eye, basically. So, there wasn’t enough information there being given to your brain for it to buy into it, and now with the newer PC, desktop-based VR headsets, like the Oculus and the Vive. It’s got to the point where because the resolution is so high, the refresh rate, stereo audio, all these things come together and your sub-conscious brain says, “Hey, I’m here.” Your conscious brain’s like, “No, I’m not here.” So, it’s just kind of weird, kind of in between state, and we also have something called social presence, which is really great. For instance, in rumii, when you look and you look to your left and you hear someone talking, you talk to them back and then they respond, and it’s three-positional audio and you see their body language. You’re getting an actual social presence. The feeling of actually being next to somebody. That’s something you don’t really get out of traditional video conferencing.
Jonathan Yeah, so you mentioned the kind of technology in 1995 to today. What has really progressed within, let’s say the last 10 years, in terms of this technology, and are we at that point yet where you feel like we’ve achieved, this is broadly applicable, we’ve really hit a stabilization point, or is there still a lot of research left to kind of get us there fully?
Chance Go ahead, Lily.
Lily Yeah, I think one of the big things that’s going to help us get there, and that’s showing we’re getting there, is 360 video. So, we have these kind of three different technologies right now. We have 360 video, virtual reality, and augmented reality. So, 360 video is here now, you can get a camera, anyone can do it, and it’s really easy to create content for it, but you can view it on a mobile device in a virtual way. So, being able to create content, the everyman being able to do it, is what’s going to really help drive this forward now. That’s why we think…
Chance Yeah, and I would even, like that’s content a lot of people are going to be using. At the same time, 360 video isn’t even VR, it’s basically a sphere where you’re projecting a video on it, and you look around, you’re going to look at different parts of it. So, you can’t actually explore it, and so unfortunately a lot of people have used 360 video, and they think, “Oh, that’s virtual reality.” Yeah, you’re using a VR device to view it, but with 360 video you can’t actually explore that environment. You’re stuck at one point, ingesting whatever was recorded by the camera array.
Jonathan So, really, it’s kind of like, you mentioned these three separate technologies that are merging a little bit. VR, 360 video and augmented reality. Going forward, is it really the merging of 360 video for content creation and VR, for resulting in something that’s kind of like Google street view, except way more immersive?
Chance I would say 360 video is more like Google street view, that’s the direction you’ll probably see that going, but VR, you can actually walk around in it, because everything you see is typically an actual 3D-modeled device, right? So, if I walk past it and I look at it, it’s going to render differently. With a video it’s basically, I said, you’re inside a sphere and you’ve got a 360 projector that’s projecting out at all parts of that sphere, but there’s no depth to it. It’s just hitting that paper sphere that you’re inside of, and you’re seeing a flat image, but they do 3D 360 video, which is kind of like two spheres, or it’ll have depth but you still can’t move around in it.
Jonathan So, as far as the hardware in what has come out recently, the Oculus Rift has, I think, made a ton of views and I’m sure that there were many others that didn’t quite get that amount of publicity. But in terms of hardware requirements, do you feel that we’ve reached the point where we have enough hardware and power that we’ve reached critical mass, where we can go very broad with this technology, or do you still feel like we’re a couple of years out from really perfecting it?
Lily Yes, the hardware is going to always be improving. I think we’re seeing already the cost coming down. That’s the big thing. We’re starting to see that mass adoption for early adopters with the hardware, and as it keeps coming down, and keeps getting smaller and faster, we’ll definitely keep seeing more adoption.
Chance Yeah. And for instance, to get into, say, a Vive or an Oculus and run it, if you’re to buy a laptop-- which, you know, understand, laptops are more expensive-- you could spend now about $1,200 and get the laptop you need. When these devices came out around a year or so ago, you’re looking at about $2,000 or more for a laptop. And a desktop, especially if you order the parts and build your own, you can build a PC for $750, that’ll run most VR experiences. Yeah. I mean, you have to be a little handy with your spending there, but it can definitely be done, definitely under $1,000.
Jonathan Well, that’s really achievable. And I think, even 10 years ago, you hear about some of the high-end systems, and they’re $3,000, $4,000 systems and you’re dropping a lot of money. So, $750, that’s an attainable price point for the majority of people, I think.
Chance Yeah, it’s definitely accessible by, I’d say, at this point, the middle of the middle class and up. Maybe even less than that, maybe.
Jonathan Yeah, yeah. So, in terms of internet connection, what are the bandwidth requirements for really participating in this?
Chance For rumii in general, or VR in general? Or rumii in particular?
Jonathan I’d say VR in general. Assuming that you’re connecting in a collaborative way.
Chance Yeah, there’s no… VR in general, there’s no particular bandwidth requirements because it’s just software. We don’t know what the software’s doing. Is it even based on internet? Is it single…a single user experience? So, it could be zero, or it could be a lot. But for rumii, I think… When I was in Rio, I only had like fifteen down and three up, and I was ok. So, we know that it’s really low.
Jonathan So, we’re not talking, again, like Google Fiber or something.
Chance It’s exactly what you’d need to use like Skype, or GoToMeeting, or any other conferencing software.
Lily Snyder We actually went to a pitch competition in Beijing, and ended up running our demo off of our phone’s hotspot since we couldn’t get on the Chinese internet. Yes.
Chance Oh, man.
Jonathan I think that’s the proof in the pudding right there, if you can do that.
Chance So, if anyone’s already working remotely, the odds that they wouldn’t have any internet fast enough to run rumii is very, very, very small. Unless they’re basically working remotely and only getting text transmissions or something.
Jonathan Yeah, they’re on dialup still.
Chance Yeah, dialup, that would be a problem. You could probably rumii with one person using dialup.
Jonathan Yeah, great. So, the first part, we’ve kind of talked about some of the technology and where that’s at, and then in this part, I’ve got some questions related to, really, what is the experience in terms of… You’ve used some terms such as rooming and that type of thing. So, I’m a person working remote. I know what Virtual Reality is. What is the experience that Doghead provides, as well as just the remote collaboration? What are the pieces to get this all to come together?
Lily Definitely. Rumii is the name of our VR software. So, that’s… Yep, so use rumii. Kind of like, Google it, join a rumii. So, what we wanted to do was create, kind of, an office environment, a meeting room environment, maybe a war room, that you would use with your teams in real life but virtually. Because we found that a bunch of our team has worked remote, and we became frustrated with teleconference calls, and dial-in numbers, and video calls. We see all this other technology evolving and getting better, so why not upgrade the way we work remotely, too? That’s kind of what led us to Virtual Reality, to be able to create this same type of office space that we’d need in real life, but do it virtually since people work all over the world nowadays.
Chance Yeah. Actually, Albert, our CTO, and I were prototyping a game, because we had met in Germany, in Colona, at an event called Games COM, which is kind of like E3, but for Europe. And he was working at HTC as a senior prototyper on the actual Vive itself. I had been not working, kind of just chilling out in Brazil for about a year. So, ready do my next thing. And we started working on this VR game where—it’s called Beartender—where you’re an actual Bear, serving animals coming into a bar. And it was really goofy and ridiculous, but we realized how difficult it was to actually collaborate over video conferencing. You know, it hasn’t really evolved. So, Matt, who was good friends with [INAUDIBLE 00:16:32], was saying, “You guys should probably fix that problem.” I mean, imagine like you go to a VC, you go to an investor and you tell the VC, “Hey, so, I’ve got this idea…this teleconferencing idea that’s going to revolutionize the way we communicate, right?” And they’re like, “Okay, cool. I can listen to that.” Or you go to a VC, and you’re like, “Hey, I’ve got this idea where you get a chinchilla drunk with a giraffe, and you pour them shots of Jack Daniels. It’s going to be amazing, give me your money.”
Jonathan Maybe in 1999 you could’ve pulled that off.
Chance You know, I’m sure this would be huge once the technology is, I guess, even more mainstream than it is; you know, you have millions and millions and millions of people experiencing VR, that’s when you need to launch something like that. But this, because rumii can actually save your business or your organization thousands of dollars from not flying for all these meetings, people can justify going out and buying the hardware and the PC, because just for the PC and the hardware, that’s like one business class trip to most places in the United States. Like, if you go to like LA, to Chicago, or New York, or Atlanta, that’s maybe one trip, maybe two at the most.
Jonathan And it probably doesn’t include the cost of food, which is always important.
Chance Otherwise you’re competing with, “Oh honey, I want to buy this expensive hardware because I want to get an animal drunk.”
Jonathan Right, yeah. That’s going to be a hard sell.
Chance “Can I make this $1500…this almost $2,000 purchase?”
Jonathan Exactly. My wife and I have some horses, and I think if I came up with that excuse, she would be like, “No, you’re going to buy me a real horse.”
Jonathan Okay. So, in terms of… What type of hardware would I need? And what are like the…? Is there a standard setup, or is it very vendor specific at this point still?
Lily We are… Our software is device agnostic, but since we’re still in the early start-up phase, it runs… We’ve been testing and confirmed that it works on the HTC Vive, but it will be able to run on the Oculus Rift, if there are other headsets that come out. We also have a straight-up desktop mode, so you can use it in a 2D way, navigating more like a game on your computer. So, that if you don’t happen to have your headset with you, you can still join and participate.
Chance Yeah, it actually already does run in Oculus. It’ll be running in Oculus for the next early access release. So, like Lily said, Vive, Just Talk, and also Oculus Touch—so you have your hands. And as far as PC requirements, our min-spec recommendation would be a 1060 GTX or higher, which is going to be the slowest…not the slowest, but one of the slower of the new generation of NVidia cards. But we’ve actually managed to run it on a laptop with a 980M.
Jonathan Oh, my goodness.
Chance Yeah. So, it’s working on the 980M right now, which is an older GPU. And I don’t know if it’ll continue, because that’s not our goal to run on that, it’s actually 1060 or higher, but if you do have a 980M, it will work for the early access program.
Jonathan Yeah, so I get the hardware device and I install rumii, and then what is…? How do I join a company, per say?
Lily Yep, so it’s basically two clicks. You would enter the company name or the meeting name of the space that you’ll join. For instance, if you’re going to meet us in rumii, you would just type in, Doghead Simulations, then you’d click “join meeting”. Unless you wanted to update your avatar, and then that’s another click of the button.
Jonathan Spend a little time there making sure my hair looks right and everything.
Lily Snyder It’s important, yes.
Jonathan It is. So, the thing I think that’s a benefit, though, is that, you know, if I get up in the morning and I haven’t brushed my hair or something, like, I’m still going to be presentable.
Jonathan So, in terms of the life cycle of where you’re at with the product, is this subscription based for an organization? How does that all play out?
Lily Yep, it’s a subscription base of $49 per person per month.
Chance The first three users are free, so if you have a team of two or three, then you don’t have to pay until you get over three.
Jonathan Okay, excellent. I love that, that’s a simple pricing model. Sometimes you need a statistician to actually determine what something’s going to cost.
Lily You do. There’s like five different tiers, and depending on their users, or how cool of a company you are.
Jonathan That’s right, that’s right. And then when they start asking, “What’s your revenue?” And you’re like, “Wait! Why does that matter what I’m paying?” So, okay… So, then in terms of the office space itself-- so, I’ve got my headset on, I’ve joined my company, what am I seeing on the walls? Is there like decorative art that I can put there? How does that all work out?
Lily You first spawn into our lobby space. It’s a wood floor, expansive window, vista views. So, there is where you can meet your other team members, and from there you’d split off into the different meeting rooms that we have. Once you get into a meeting room, you have interactive walls where you can…we have a whiteboard, so you can brainstorm on whiteboard ideas. You can pull in 2D images or 3D objects to manipulate and collaborate around them.
Jonathan Oh, cool. And so, as far as the design of the office, is that something that Doghead Simulations… Is it a standard office, right now? Or are there custom designs? Or if I want a very cool Silicon Valley, hipster start-up office, is that an option I can select from?
Chance Right now, we have the default lobby and meeting rooms. But in the future, we will support other meeting rooms, other lobbies. Possibly even support custom environments for certain companies. We also have vistas. So, for instance, when you spawn into your lobby, you look outside and, right now, there’s a majestic snowy scene, right? With mountains and everything, some birds. And so, you can actually swap out your vistas, as well. So, you’re saying, “Well, I wish my office was on a desert island today,” or something, you could swap that out.
Jonathan I see a lot of potential for company culture there, in terms of like, “Okay, everyone showed up at work today. Where we going to be? Are we going to at the beach or we in the mountains?”
Chance Yeah, exactly. I mean, you can even, for instance, like tie the amount of wildlife you have out in your scene to how many bugs you have [INAUDIBLE 00:13:44], if you wanted to. It’s like, “There’s so many frolicking bunnies, we have to destroy these.”
Jonathan That’s right. What was that movie where all of the alien bugs came…?
Chance Star something. Star Gate.
Jonathan Yeah, it was totally Star something.
Chance Star Gate.
Jonathan Yeah, if you just implemented those bugs as proportional to JIRA bugs and, “We got to fight this back. We’ve become overrun.”
Chance Some of the more common tools we have in our meeting space would be the ability to have a shared web browser. So, if you have anything that’s on the cloud that you want to bring up, you can bring that up on the web browser. Shared desktop, so let’s say you want to do a PowerPoint presentation, tab over to PowerPoint, bring that up, and then do your presentation in VR-- everyone’s seeing exactly what you have on your screen. We should work for Office, we work for…any desktop application can be actually streamed to all of the other users, as well.
Jonathan Ok, you’re actually streaming my local desktop screen?
Jonathan That is cool.
Chance Yeah, also JIRA… Which, for those who don’t use JIRA, JIRA is the world’s, I guess, most popular software for bug management and task tracking. So, tons of software companies use this. And you can actually do your own stand-up meetings in VR, moving around the Kanban cards. And it’s all tied into JIRA, so when you’re moving these around in VR, it’s updating your database in the backend.
Jonathan Oh, wow.
Jonathan That is cool. So, in terms of size of the company, how many concurrent people can you have in one VR space right now?
Chance We’re sufficiently supporting up to 20. Honestly, I don’t know if you’d want to have 20 people in a meeting because typically, once you get even close to 10, it’s not going to be quite as productive. A typical meeting with us is usually six people or so.
Lily Yeah, five or six.
Chance But we can support more. It’s just, once you get a lot more people in the scene, we have to add features that give you, for instance, ability to have a leader that can, say, mute the entire group, and unmute the entire group. You still have a barrage of audio being sent around.
Jonathan Yeah, so it’s still like real life? You get way too many people in a room.
Jonathan Yeah. Okay, so where is Doghead Simulations at in terms of the lifecycle of this product? Are you at the point now where you’re accepting early adopter companies? Are you working with just a few select clients? And what does that look like going forward?
Lily Well, we currently have an early access program. If you go to dogheadsimulations.com, there’s an early access button on the front page there where you can have free access to our current build, until we go live. So, we have over 100 users right now, participating in it, so it’s pretty exciting.
Jonathan Oh, cool. That’s great. And so, do you have a timeline or a roadmap now that you’re looking for? Or that you can share publicly, with going forward, or are you just working towards milestones?
Chance Q4 of this year. Sometime in there. We’re not saying specifically, but we’re targeting [INAUDIBLE 00:27:26] for release. But, like Lily said, go to dogheadsimulations.com, and you can use it for free up until then. So, no reason to wait to pay. You might as well start doing it for free.
Jonathan That’s great. Well, thank you so much, guys, for the conversation today. This is definitely the cutting edge of work, and it’s exciting to think about how remote work is going to change and grow going forward in the future. So, I appreciate the time, and thank you so much for sharing.
Chance Thanks a lot, Jonathan.
Lily Yeah, thanks for the invitation. It was a pleasure.
Jonathan Yeah, thank you.
**This section of the show is called “What’s the Buzz?” where I call out interesting products, articles, or links related to remote work. So, for this episode, the Google Jamboard is the What’s the Buzz. It comes with about a $5,000 price tag, and they’re labelling it kind of a whiteboard/hangout combined. So, if you can imagine a large touch screen display that gives you the ability to remotely video conference or hangout location, and you can share the content on the screen. Now, what makes this different from a regular hangout, is the fact that you have some stylus-type markers that you can draw on this whiteboard type surface, and it syncs it in real-time, and it gives you that collaborative experience. Now, at the $5,000 price tag, it’s cheaper than some of the other options that are out there. And you can pull in different things such as, webpages, or screen sharing and that type of thing into this session. So, it’s definitely something interesting, and go check it out! We’ll put a link in the show notes.
Reviews are one of the great ways that we have a chance to connect with our listeners. So, from time-to-time, as we receive reviews, we will call out to them on the Podcast. So, today we have a new review from rover four on iTunes, and they said, “It is really nice to hear from others, especially how they were able to start working remotely. Keep up the great work guys!” So, thank you, rover four. Also, I’d like to give a shout to Mathias [INAUDIBLE 00** 29:31], who hails from Brazil. Mathias has been a listener from early on in the Podcast, and he just took a moment and dropped me an email saying he appreciated the podcast, and to keep up the great work. So, Mathias, thanks so much for listening, and thanks for taking the time to drop me an email.
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