The Seattle area is rapidly becoming a leader in virtual and augmented reality, with tech giants, mid-sized companies and startups all wading into the cutting edge technology.
Bob Berry, Envelop VR founder and CEO kicked off the Immerse 2016 Immersive Technology Summit on Tuesday, a growing virtual reality/mixed reality/augmented reality conference in Bellevue, Wash. Berry said the West Coast — Seattle, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles — owns the industry, and Seattle in particular is leading the way.
“As a region well-used to disruptive technologies, we are the people actually creating this multi-billion dollar industry,” Berry said.
A new study from the Washington Interactive Network backs up these claims. The study found there are more than 40 companies in the Seattle area focused exclusively on VR/AR, and approximately 420 companies in the broader field of “interactive entertainment.”
The region’s legacy as a gaming hub with the presence of Xbox, Nintendo, Valve, Bungie and others, makes for an easy transition into VR/AR, which in many ways is the next evolution of video games. Many of the most well-known headsets are made by companies based in the Seattle area or with offices here, such as Microsoft and the HoloLens, Facebook and Oculus Rift and Valve/HTC and the Vive.
“Because of our deep talent pool in video game development, the Puget sound region has become a center of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Realty development” said Kristina Hudson, executive director of WIN. “This is still a very young sub-cluster of the industry. Quite a lot of investment dollars are flowing to virtual, augmented and mixed reality development, and our game developers are moving in the space.”
But it’s not all roses in the local virtual reality industry. Envelop recently cut back on staff, and some in the industry have urged caution, while others contend the possibilities in the market are virtually endless.
Virtual reality is in its early days, and it has a bright future, proponents say. It’s not just gaming where virtual reality is making an impact. Entertainment, real estate, sports, medicine, industrial, architecture and many other industries are investing in virtual reality, Berry said.
One measure of the industry’s growth locally is the conference itself. It began just three years ago with about 300 attendees and was purely an expo. Fast forward to today, and there are more than 1,000 people in attendance, a variety of talks, a Shark Tank-style pitch off with 30 companies and 50 different VR/AR firms in the exhibition hall.
Chris Donahue, senior director of alliances for AMD, broke down the extreme level of work that goes into making a virtual reality platform. Essentially, every time users move their heads, they are asking a computer what the world looks like from that angle, and that computer only has about 20 milliseconds to answer. Otherwise, Donahue said, users can get sick, and no one wants that.
“The last thing we want to do is make a bunch of people ill and basically stall the evolution of this market,” Donahue said.