Today, virtual reality (VR) continues to be prove that is has a myriad of use cases in all sorts of scenarios and industries outside the usual sectors we’d expect it in. More than a gaming and entertainment technology, VR is being innovated for use in healthcare, offices, R&D, marketing, and much more.
Taking it as a step further is the fusion of reality bending technologies virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which today has come to be known as mixed reality (MR). In some circles, it’s also known as XR, or extended reality.
One company that has come to realize the technology’s overall flexibility in application and potential is Canadian SaaS startup XpertVR. The company essentially uses VR (but also MR/XR) to help companies develop virtual simulations and experiences that aid in training and research.
In the Q & A below, XpertVR co-founders Evan Sitler (CEO) and Drew MacNeil shed light on their journey so far and what their company has come to represent and offer.
(Responses have been edited for length and clarity)
Can you tell us more about your company and how it came to be?
XpertVR is a SaaS startup that enables researchers across industries to conduct experiential and cost-effective studies, ultimately to gain understanding of human behaviour. XpertVR was founded with the goal of bringing XR to the masses and giving businesses the ability to experience data.
The two co-founders met through the entrepreneurship programs at Goodman Group Venture Development (formerly BioLinc), in St Catharines, ON, Canada and they credit the centre for helping them through their early-stage growth. The two of them quickly bonded over their shared fascination with VR, related XR tech and the impact they saw it having in the near future. Over the past four years together this shared fascination has led to many ideas, from 360 video marketing with RedBull to VR entertainment booths for movie premieres to training simulations for Ontario based colleges, until finally settling on creating XR tools to help the research community.
Both of us being business students, we have always been interested in marketing and looking at ways not only to improve a customer’s satisfaction but to transform their entire brand interaction experience. With this interest, XpertVR began consulting market research firms on how to be innovative back in 2018. Through this experience we realized how outdated the market research industry was and how many improvements could be made to benefit businesses and their customers.
What are the core services of XpertVR, and how would you define your USP (unique selling proposition)?
Over the past two years, XpertVR has specialized in creating VR simulations for research and training. Over this time, working on custom projects, we have built up quite the suite of in-house development tools allowing for faster development and more importantly improved analytics.
Some of the analytic tools XpertVR have developed include in-depth eye, hand, and path-tracking, as well as, in-simulation and pre/post-simulation surveys. Combining these tools in research creates a more seamless experience for participants while providing better data to researchers, overall leading to faster and more reliable research.
In the training space, XpertVR has found VR combined with its analytic tools leads to a more repeatable, safer, educational, and data-driven approach.
Firstly, VR offers exact and randomized repeatability, meaning a learner can go through the exact same scenario for an unlimited number of times to learn a specialized task or they can go through a simulation with slight randomizations if they need to learn how to handle multiple variations of the same task.
Secondly, VR is safer as you are training in a fully virtual space. But beyond that, we can add analytic tools that not only allow a trainer to ensure a trainee is going through the right motions, but by looking at indicators like pupil dilation we can understand if a trainee is confident, scared, excited, etc. Bringing all of this information together allows a trainer to point out mistakes that they wouldn’t have noticed traditionally and better understand when a trainee is ready for the real world. The amalgamation of Data Analytics combined with capabilities of Virtual Reality headsets is clearly one of our USP’s.
With that being said, it is XpertVR’s participant network that allows such data to be collected.
Having a qualified participant network, currently across North America but quickly expanding, allows researchers to choose any demographic they want to test and launch studies quickly. XpertVR also ensures this is a win-win for participants as they get paid for participating, have the chance to win prizes and are part of an exciting community!
Where are your customers based?Currently the majority of our customers are based in North America but we are open to and have begun working with organizations/individual researchers worldwide.
In Middle Eastern countries, for example, we see the need for faster training, especially in industries like oil and gas. Obviously, Middle Eastern countries rely heavily on these sectors but to train someone properly to work in these industries can take many years of schooling and months of on the job training. Using VR training like ours would greatly reduce the amount of time needed to train students and new employees and do so in a much safer way. VR has this ability because users are able to repeatedly train without having to reset anything in the real world and without the fear of making a mistake. Plus, a VR scenario can be made to randomize the environments/problems the user is immersed into. With this feature a user can prepare themselves for scenarios (oil leak, fire, evacuation, etc.) that they wouldn’t be able to train using traditional methods.
On top of all the benefits listed above, VR provides an opportunity for employers to assess the psychological and physiological data of the learners. As mentioned, there are cost savings for employers but tracking analytics like eye movement/dilation, path taken, interactions and more, an employer can understand so much more. This includes when an employee is ready to be put into the field, where to make ergonomics improvements, how to speed up processes, and so much more.
All of these things can be tracked inside of XpertVR’s Research Access Portal, allowing teachers and employers to understand students/employee’s behaviour in a completely unbiased way.
Can you share with us some successful use cases and implementations of your technology?XpertVR recently ran a study with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University where participants interacted with a VR environment depicting either a utopian or dystopian future of what ocean life may look like in 2050. Because of the speed at which participants were able to go through the experience while still grasping the message, the researchers behind the experiment were able to capture data from over double the required number of participants.
Data collected included survey data, simulation interactions and non-VR comparisons. This has led to more concrete research findings and encouraged the researchers to present their findings to the United Nations.
What kind of value do you foresee VR and AR bringing to the world in the coming years?
At XpertVR, we know that VR and AR are going to have a revolutionary impact over the coming years. Whether you look at the education, research, gaming, social, health-care or many other industries, this overall impact is already starting to be seen. Where we see the greatest impact occurring is in the general understanding of human behavior. This starts with the analytic tools XpertVR is building today so that researchers can better understand consumers and humanity as a whole to make a better world for everyone.
The understanding of human behavior extends into training, allowing anyone to follow their passion by going through readily available training simulations for any career. Picture wanting to become a welder, you choose a welding simulation and within a few months of free at home learning you have the skills you need to work anywhere in the world. A few years later you wake up and want to become a painter, you download a painting app and learn any type of painting from the comfort of your own home. These applications are endless but all come from understanding how people learn and what level of understanding they need to be at to enter the real world.
Lastly, we think this level of understanding human behavior will extend to empathy between groups of people. With this technology and the research behind human behavior it will become a lot easier for others to understand human behavior and therefore be more empathetic to others’ problems. On top of this, taking users’ eyes away from phones and into the real world through AR will allow for much more natural interactions and higher levels of empathy
Do you have any plans to expand to the Middle East?
Because we are a SaaS company, we are open to working with anyone around the globe, especially researchers and those who need data backed training simulations. With that being said we have yet to expand into the Middle East but hope to be working with clients in the area soon!
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
In 5 years, we see XpertVR becoming one of North American’s leading experiential data companies. Our belief in reaching this status comes from our conviction of providing the highest quality experiences to everyone we touch. Whether it’s the simulations we create, the insight we provide or the individual participant experiences we strive for. Our team is passionate about every aspect of our business and in ensuring everyone has the best experience possible with us.
We also look to those who have come before us like Qualtrics and how they have revolutionized data analytics using traditional methods but on the platform of the internet. Seeing their and others’ growth we know we will grow as the XR industry continues to expand. We also know that the way we collect and allow our users to experience data is revolutionary and will lead to many innovations so following the exponential growth of XR, big data and related technologies we will be able to reach new heights as well.