By: Lexie Newhouse
In part two of this exclusive interview with Media Entrepreneurship student Monroe Ramsey, ENI’s Reporter Lexie Newhouse finds out more about the development, risks and costs in making these VR experiences and gains a glimpse of what future applications for this technology may look like.
Is there a certain level of risk in making these experiences more immersive?
I think there’s a lot of power in designing and enhancing immersive experiences. With that, there is potential but also potential for risk. We have to proceed with caution. Just the fact that even VR seems to be yielding the same results as real-life experiences is telling. With psychological studies, we’re finding that people are having similar reactions to any kind of VR exposure. While this is really powerful, it also means that we can’t treat it like an iPad. It’s not just a medium to keep people occupied. It’s an immersive experience that blurs reality and virtual reality, making it difficult to recognize and comprehend the difference with what they’re experiencing. There’s always a risk, but I don’t believe that means we should not continue to develop the technology.
What stage is V Air?
We currently have a non-working prototype. It’s more of a visual representation of what this could look like. The main thing we need to tackle before creating a working prototype is developing the software development kit. We’re developing a wireframe for the software, then down the road, we’ll work on the prototype. There’s a lot of work to be done and we hope to get into the working prototype as soon as possible to have a scalable product.
What will the air devices look like?
We don’t really see a big advantage for making wearable technology for people. It’s hard enough to get people to dress up for work, so it would be difficult to have them put on a full body suit for this to happen. We want this to be for in-home usage, more like what you would see for audio with a sound system. With that, we’re trying to make it as minimal as possible because to get somebody to add something large to their living room could be a challenge. We’re seeing even with audio, people are getting smaller all-in-one devices – But we also recognize that people are happy to put the biggest television in their living room. It’s actually a point of pride for them. We believe if we can make a product that would make people proud, then we don’t have worry as much about them putting it in their living room. At the same time, we don’t want to take up too much space if we don’t have to.
We see it being at least a three-point setup that we can get air moving from all sides, from front-back and side-side. We would like it to have upgradable features to create a completely immersive environment from the top-down. If you can imagine an office chair you can lift up and your feet are now off the ground, you can take that and put it inside of this V Air chamber, for lack of a better term at this point, and you can sit inside of it and feel air from above you when you’re jumping or falling you can feel air from below you.
What’s the biggest challenge in developing this technology?
The biggest difficulty will be making this something that everybody would want to have in their home and VR event space. We want to make sure that people realize how much this can add to the experience, and we want to get people out of the comfort of only thinking that audio and visual is important to an experience like this. Positioning and selling the idea of adding this extra sense will be key in presenting it as something that everyone needs to have as part of their entertainment experience.
What’s the future of affordability for VR? Will it remain as a luxury item?
Even in the past month, we’ve seen the announcement for the Oculus Quest that will be an all in one package for $400 and up to $500. Especially with Oculus being the first VR experience that I had, I’m super excited for this to be a widely accessible technology.
Do you see V Air positioning itself as B2B or B2C?
At this point, we’re keeping our ears and eyes open for B2B or B2C. Wherever we see a big advantage.
Are there any competitors in this space?
Initially, I didn’t see any competitors, but after getting on Instagram and feeling out the space, I discovered a different product that adds scents to the experience. They leveraged crowdfunding on KickStarter with a goal to raise $20,000 and ended up getting $120,000 out of it. That product was primarily to add a scent to the experience, so if you’re in a military or combat game, you can smell the bullets as they’re flying past you for example. They do include fans in the headset, but their primary focus is not adding air immersion. I saw another product that was primarily for PC gaming that was a single air simulator that could provide air to the experience, but it wasn’t a full immersive experience. They aren’t trying to create an entire environment with air currents. We’re sort of pioneering this technology and are on the lookout for any competitions or anyone else in this space, but we’re not allowing them to change our trajectory.
The HJRCE was your first pitch competition. Share more about that experience.
The H. J. Russell Center for Entrepreneurship (HJRCE) Business Model Competition was a great experience for getting our feet wet in the pitch competition space. While we didn’t win first place, we took home second place and a $1,000 prize, which is going to be great for getting a start on the prototype. We did also get the popular vote for the “Flying Pigs” Innovation Award. That really means more to us than anything because it shows that it was an idea that really piqued everyone’s interest.
Another big advantage of the pitch competition was the ability to showcase and share the idea and to network. A classmate, Drew Shah, attended the competition for extra credit. He followed up with me after the competition and shared that he’s in venture capital now after some successful startups that he sold in December, so he wanted to get involved with V Air. Drew provides a lot of value in the tech and development space that I lack. I’m an artist and a visionary and a connector, however, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a tech star at this point. Any kind of partnerships, like with Drew for example, provide a lot of value to us and prove big for growth for us at this point.
What advice can you offer on pitching as a pre-launch startup?
The worst thing you can do is nothing at all. If you do end up going into the competition and lose, the worst that happens is that you lost – but the best thing that happens to you is that you gain experience. You’re only going to get better from there.
What are your goals for the company for the next 6 months?
More pitch competitions would be great. I see that as almost being as valuable for networking as it is for the money involved. We’ve also seen a lot of interest from investors. We just need to decide where we want to put our energy for now. Making the perfect pitch for a pitch competition would be great, and I think that will be very valuable, but right now we’re settled into developing the software and getting a scalable product before we try to just get more awards.
What role does Atlanta play in the VR space?
Atlanta is huge for us, and we believe that growing v Air in Atlanta will be important. There is so much talent in Atlanta. After traveling to numerous cities, I’ve noticed that nobody has been more welcoming than the people of Atlanta. With the amount of people getting involved in tech and esports here, we see Atlanta as being a good home for this.