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ZeroTransform founder Justin Moravetz, WILD founder Gabe Paez, and 360 Labs co-founder Thomas Hayden speak at TechFestNW on Thursday in Portland.

Some people aren’t yet convinced that virtual reality is the next big thing. Others say it’s going to be a revolution.

Three Oregon-based entrepreneurs speaking on Thursday certainly fall into the latter camp.

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GeekWire reporter Jacob Demmitt tries out the HTC Vive in Seattle.

360 Labs co-founder Thomas Hayden, ZeroTransform founder Justin Moravetz, and WILD founder Gabe Paez spoke on a virtual reality panel at TechFestNW in Portland and each expressed optimism for the virtual reality industry.

“People are ready for a new revolution in technology, ” said Paez, whose company is building multi-sensory games and experiences leveraging virtual reality. “Taking the Internet, moving to mobile, and now with virtual reality — it presents an entirely different way of interfacing with technology where it’s truly centered around us and our natural human perception of the world, which is first person.”

The concept of virtual reality is not exactly new, but over the past few years advances in technology have enabled developers and engineers to come up with impressive hardware devices for everyday consumers like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that run equally-innovative software.

GeekWire's John Cook tries out an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset at CES 2015.
GeekWire’s John Cook tries out an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset at CES 2015.

Hayden, who produces 360-degree panoramic video at 360 Labs, said the new virtual reality technology “will revolutionize everything” and have countless applications from training to education to gaming.

“In two years, it won’t be strange at all to get on a flight and have almost everybody on the plane wearing a VR headset,” he said.

Speaking of airplanes, Paez noted that “virtual reality is the fastest airplane we’ve ever invented.”

“It can take us anywhere, instantly,” he said.

But if virtual reality really does catch on with mainstream users, are we headed to a world where people wear headsets all day and not actually interact in person?

Moravetz, who spent nine years at Sony before launching his Bend, Ore.-based startup that develops virtual reality games, said he’s heard those concerns. But he also noted that “there are many people out there that are socially isolated” and explained how he’s working with someone in Silicon Valley who is bringing virtual reality to the elderly.

The prototype Half Moon controllers for Oculus Touch/
The prototype Half Moon controllers for Oculus Touch/

“They are socially isolated and they don’t have access to talk to others,” he said. “But through VR, they are able to communicate and discuss all these things and relax and network again. There are so many amazing applications over the coming years — it will just be mind-boggling.”

Moravetz also expressed excitement for accessories like Oculus’ Half Moon controller that’s made specifically for virtual reality.

“It’s an interesting thing because it’s optically tracked and it knows the spatial distance between what you see and where your hands are,” he explained. “You can go up to an object in virtual reality and pick it up. You’ve got one for each hand so you can toss something back and forth. It’s so accurate and so precise. When you stop thinking about your hand and just interact like you would in the real world, that’s insane.”

Paez echoed that sentiment, saying that the one aspect of virtual reality he’s most excited to see develop over the next few years is being able to move around in a virtual space.

techfest432“We are so accustomed to experiencing content in a chair in our society,” he said. “Just the idea of standing up and moving around is just mind-boggling to me. It’s a whole new way to literally step into content. That’s going to be hugely eye-opening for people and a big differentiator in the market as average consumers come to virtual reality.”

As far as the “amazing applications” Moravetz referred to, he described how virtual reality can be used for therapy. For example, someone with claustrophobia or a fear of spiders could use a VR headset to acclimate themselves in what are normally uncomfortable environments.

Hayden added that he’s seen virtual reality used to treat soldiers with PTSD.

“It’s powerful,” Hayden said of virtual reality. “It really is a new medium. I think it will evolve beyond a medium into many other things that we can’t really predict at this point.”

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