17 December 2021
Article

VR Tech for Education and Business

Facebook and Instagram's rebranding suggests that the future belongs to metaverses. The virtual and augmented reality market is readying itself for explosive growth. One of the pioneers of Russia’s VR market and expert at ReForum WINNING THE HEARTS, Alexey Dovzhikov, tells us how VR is working in business and education as we speak.
VR Tech for Education and Business
Content source: Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

Alexey, please tell us a little about yourself? What did you study? What career path did you follow? And how did you enter the VR tech market?

Starting with my studies, I have a First-Class Honours degree in Applied Mathematics from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. I also have a Master’s in Mathematical Science, specialising in Programming and Computer Graphics. I started developing software a long time ago, almost from birth. I started writing my own software for money from the 8th grade. When I was in my senior year at the institute, the era of the birth of the Internet began, I was drawn to this field. My first team was engaged in web development, which is where I started getting my entrepreneurial experience from as a whole.

Practice and interests have shown that, despite my technical background, I am closer to management and business activities, which in those days were just starting up in Russia.

I started with the internet agency TRINET, which still exists and is quite vibrant today, and now one of the top internet agencies on the market. I was picking up different areas in it. I launched a network of online stores, lines for conference businesses on the internet. Most notably, I managed to launch the largest project in my experience — eLama. It’s is a contextual advertising automation platform that currently serves more than 10% of the Russian advertiser market. At that time, I started investing and helping partners launch projects, and generally, a fairly large portfolio of high-tech companies has been put together over these 20 years. 

About 5 years ago, I started looking at where to move on to, where I'd like to grow. I already had a successful history in the advertising and Russian market. I wanted to find a market that would be like the internet in its infancy. I was planning to enter a new market using my 20 years of experience. When I was choosing markets, I fell in love with the VR/AR tech market because my education and business experience involved launching high-tech projects, innovation stretched to its very limits. Projects with a large entry tech barrier. The VR and AR market was the perfect challenge.

What do you think VR technologies should replace?

I look at this question from a different point of view. VR is the evolution of content. Looking back forty years ago, all digital content was text on a black and green screen, a flat set of characters. Then the content began to develop, text-and-graphic documents with a design that was more accessible to users began to appear, then we had text-and-graphic content with interactive HTML markup, which served as the basis for presenting information on the Internet. Each such evolution does not replace the previous one. It improves and expands the possibilities.

Then there was a boom in video content. This is also the evolution of content from text-and-graphic to video content. Here, if we pay attention, the previous content is not going anywhere, but continues to grow, expand, and transform.

As I see it, the information world is increasing in scale and generating new formats and channels that somehow begin to share the split between themselves. VR is the next evolution of content from video to 3D. In 20-30 years, a brain-computer interface from Elon Musk or someone else towards which billions of dollars will be channelled will be waiting for us. What do we want to obtain via this interface? Certainly not a flat video from YouTube. We will want to get juicy and colourful 3D content, and also, most likely, in its next evolution as feelings and sensations. My philosophy is that I am investing in the future of 3D content and this is not a replacement for the available technologies. Video has not replaced text-and-graphic documents. This is a new round in content evolution, and 3D/VR/AR content will perfectly coexist with current formats and technologies.

What are the main advantages of VR over traditional technologies? Why exactly, in your opinion, is VR more useful and effective?

Our brains perceive VR content in a completely different way. It is a form of perception that is radically different from watching a video. An immersive information consumption environment. In fact, your brain, body, and mind perceive how you act, how you go through it in practice, rather than watching others. There are studies confirming that a person remembers 10% of what they see, 30% of what they see and hear, and 90% of what they do. Content perception in VR format is fundamentally different in feel and digestibility compared to any other currently existing content. Our brain immerses itself in virtual reality, perceiving everything and remembering, going through the experience like in actual reality, and not looking at it from the outside.

How do VR technologies function in life and in business?

If we look at VR from the point of view of the immersion effect, it has primarily received returns in gaming and the adult industry.

Looking at it from the point of view of digestibility, these are courses and mechanisms for personnel training. In particular, talking about our Varwin platform for creating and managing VR content, at the moment, the business more often than not develops VR courses on handling emergencies and/or servicing sophisticated technical equipment. VR training is already a growing and widespread niche that in the future will become one of the mandatory components of employee training.

We have cases when they create simulators for service and dealership centres and deliver VR courses along with the equipment.

There are cases of soft skills and communications training. In particular, from world practice, Walmart stores have purchased 17,000 VR helmets for training employees.

Another application of VR for business is marketing, various VR presentations for current customers or potential customers during pre-sale negotiations. VR tech application works well at exhibitions, when it is not possible to bring all the products and/or display them on a real scale; they can always be displayed and shown to all exhibition participants right on the spot and colourfully using VR tech.

There are areas for using VR in medicine, including for patient rehabilitation. We also have an interesting HR case where VR is used for interviewing and training nurses brought in from abroad.

Talking about health, VR tech is used at the gym, for example for exercise bikes.

How is VR tech applied in education?

A separate area is VR application in education in principle. At schools and universities. Starting from applying VR in some formats for teaching subjects. For example, showing the layout of the solar system or conducting some physics or chemistry experiments.

The second way in which VR is applied is when, in computer science lessons or clubs, children are taught the basics of VR development in game mechanics. They essentially give them their first step into a future profession. We have inspiring cases where 11th-grade schoolchildren completed a project for one large corporation. Everyone was satisfied — the client and the students. The guys earned their money and did some useful work. The Varwin Education platform resembles minecraft, we suggest children create their own 3D worlds in a playful way, the only difference being that by the end of training they come out not as professional minecraft players but as novice VR project experts. After the training, the children can go work and on their first projects: welcome tours, training simulators, and sightseeing tours, but now get paid for it.

Do you think that in the future, we will reach a point where virtual reality will completely replace face-to-face communication? What is the likelihood of such a scene from a book?

I look at such things globally. I agree with Elon Musk. We already have an interface in the digital world — the smartphone. We already spend an enormous amount of time in the digital environment. Technologies such as 3D/VR/AR can make the digital interface even simpler and more colourful. A person will not cease to be a person, and the traditional way of communicating, face-to-face communication, won’t be going anywhere.   

Alexey, tell us please, what are your business plans for the next few years? 

If we talk about Varwin and the project's development in the industry, then we are the pioneers. For the past five years, we have been painfully explaining to business and education that VR is the inevitable future. 

Thanks to Zuckerberg for making a brilliant point over the past couple of months as a result of which everyone has recognised that virtual reality is the inevitable future. 

For us, this is a new stage, a new era of development. And if in previous years we focused on the here and now and on the specific cases described above, then for the next few years, all of humanity will face a huge boom in 3D content and more large-scale virtualisation. As such, this is an opportunity for us to make Varwin the leader in the VR arena for user-generated 3D & VR-content. We are betting that in the future, applications and information exchange should be the preserve not of developers, but content makers and information owners. For example, a foreign language teacher won’t need a programmer to launch Spanish courses in augmented reality. The formula will work for other professions and hobbies. A talented gamer will be able to assemble their game using a construction set, and a safety engineer will be able to develop an emergency simulator. We sincerely hope that Varwin will over the next 3-5 years become one of the world's top platforms for VR content creation and management. A type of metaverse that is created and built not by programmers, but by users.

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