Mixed Reality Frontiers: The “Wearable Future” and Lifelike Avatars

In 2020, 13 startups enrolled on our Mixed Reality Program with Nreal. The aim? To co-create the next big thing in digital interaction, entertainment and content, and bring mixed reality to the mass market. But who are the startups enrolled on the programme?

We chatted to the founders of vTime about very real social chemistry with digital avatars, how to hire experienced talent in a brand-new sector and hosting a VR Christmas party.

1. How did you get the idea for the product you’re working on in the Mixed Reality program?

vTime’s focus is on transforming how people communicate and engage with each other and with the world around them. Key to that for us has always been the ability to represent yourself and others in virtual/augmented/extended reality worlds, starting with person-to-person communication in vTime XR (a virtual environment in which you can chat with up to three others).

From there we created vTag, which gives users the ability to record an AR message, created with the help of face and body tracking, and to share that message with friends, family or the general public.

We don’t have a product name yet but a big part of our vision has always been towards a “wearable future” where our avatars can be seen via augmented glasses anywhere in the world. The ability to be able to speak to a virtual being, ask questions, be given advice, tell jokes, laugh, cry, and much more will eventually create a bigger shift in our day-to-day lives than the smartphone (and we all know how much smartphones have changed the world).

2. What problem is this product trying to solve?

We try and remove the constraints of distance and time that limit where any of us can be with every product we create. Not being forced to fly for 20+ hours to be able to stand in the same room as a family friend. Being able to speak to an advisor from a television shop in your front room to discuss which model best suits your needs. For this, we bring together a combination of our avatar representation technology (allowing you to create a virtual you) with ever-improving artificial intelligence, trained from the largest data sets in the world, to allow you to communicate in a way which has never been possible before.

3. What’s the biggest challenge your team faced?

The wearable space has suffered from a certain chicken-and-egg-syndrome for many years: how can we as developers deliver a world-changing solution for wearables before wearable technology exists? Similarly, how can hardware manufacturers get behind developing wearable technology when there is no software to run on them? It is for these reasons that the hubraum partnership excited us. It has brought together world leaders in multiple fields and given us the opportunity to work together to create something that has never been seen before.

4. What was the moment you realised your product would be a success?

When we first created an avatar that held our gaze as we walked around them. We actually felt a spark of chemistry between us. That immediate feeling that this was an interaction with a believable person, not just a CGI character. All those microscopic social cues – that we notice subconsciously – convince the user that the projection in front of us is someone who is actually there.

5. How has the hubraum program helped you develop your product?

As well as giving us access to the hardware, the project has also given us mentoring with word-class XR developers from Unity, Qualcomm and Nreal. Their experience has helped us validate and refine our designs and prototypes.

6. How have you found designing a product specifically for the Nreal glasses?

There have been no major difficulties, being Android-based meant the development process was familiar to us and meant we were able to get something up and running very quickly. It has been incredibly exciting to see the avatars that we know and love from our phone screens and inside VR headsets now appear before our very eyes in the same spaces we are developing them in. In a peculiar way, the avatars that the users will see when they put their headsets on will be the same avatars we’ve had in our development studio, helping us develop the product!

7. Make up and answer your own question!

“How have you found the process of hiring the right people to work with you in brand new sectors, such as wearables?”

We have been lucky to attract a diverse set of developers ranging from academics to classically trained artists and from veterans from the computer games industry to UI/UX designers from Silicon Valley. As a team, we are always looking to welcome new staff with a passion for changing the world in the virtual/augmented/wearables space – so please reach out if that is you, whether you are a recent graduate or an expert in the VR/AR field looking to get more involved in wearables.

8. What skill of yours has been most important for your career?

To cultivate the ability to develop for platforms and hardware that don’t exist yet. We have to envision how they might change the world, and build roadmaps so that when the hardware materializes, we’re ready to jump on it with a fully formed product. It’s a skill that’s akin to hitting a speeding bullet with a speeding bullet as Shawn Layden, ex Sony Worldwide Studios President, said in his recent interview on the Video Games Real Talk podcast. Many of us honed this skill during our time as internal PlayStation developers working on launch titles for PlayStation 1, 2, 3 and PlayStation Portable.

9. How do you fuel innovation in your company?

We use technology to build technology! While other companies either called off their Christmas parties or made do with a Zoom call, the vTime family donned their VR headsets and got together in vTime XR to catch up. It is easy to be inspired when you are taken to a different world, sitting on the edge of a mountain, around a campfire, underwater or on the beach. It changes your focus and lets you ponder new ideas.

These new ideas are fueled from a happy environment, a beach, with a cocktail and a pelican wandering around (rather than trying to come up with ideas from a meeting room table, with a cloudy grey sky and rain drizzling down as it does in Liverpool sometimes during the winter months).

10. What book/album/film has inspired you creatively recently?

TV/Film: Devs, The Boys, Soul

Books: Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown; The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

11. Which other entrepreneur/startup are you most inspired by?

We have a bit of history with the name Starship so it feels natural to point to SpaceX and their incredible feats of engineering. Future travellers will definitely need some great Mixed Reality experiences for their journey to Mars. Who knows. Maybe one of our Avatars will journey amongst the stars one day.

12. What’s the one tip you would give young entrepreneurs?

It is easy to spend too much time trying to come up with a problem that you can solve, one which has immediate potential to blow up, something disruptive that has yet to be considered by anyone else. Often it is better to just solve problems that matter to you. As a company we have spent all of our time developing VR and AR products that we want to use and that we want to shape the future. As we have continued to work in this space, an increasing number of opportunities have presented themselves in a plethora of sectors including fashion, retail, sports, music, education, business, education, recreation and many others.

Curious about the Mixed Reality Program with Nreal? Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to hear about our upcoming Demo Day.