Interview with Amandine Flachs – #VirtualReality Specialist
Com&Events Manager @RealitiesCentre
Co-founder at UNFOLD #WomeninVR
Prof. Michael Schwertel: I’m very happy to interview Amandine Flachs. Virtual Reality Specialist and one of my most interesting sources on twitter for VR and AR. Hello Amandine!Please introduce yourself.
Amandine Flachs: My name is Amandine. I started working in virtual reality 3 years ago and today I’m working as events and communication manager for the Realities Centre, a new place in London dedicated to virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive technologies. We are opening a coworking space in central London. We will have really soon a mixed reality room that our members and other companies will be able to use. We are organizing many events on VR and AR in different industries. I am also the co-founder of Unfold to promote and facilitate diversity in virtual and augmented reality. So Unfold started with a woman in VR meetup group in the UK, and now we are bringing the project to the next step, building a stronger community with our monthly physical events but also bringing the discussion online to support more people. We want to help people having women and minorities in events with a directory of diverse people working in VR and AR to help build connection and create opportunities.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: What was the biggest surprise in 2016 in the fields of VR/AR for you?
Amandine Flachs: My biggest surprise was to see that people were more aware of VR and AR. I remember 2 years ago there was this big trend, when you went to an event and you asked who in the audience have already tried VR or AR, and had a few people raising their hands and month after month more people raised their hands. But, in 2016, this question become obsolete because most of the people already tried VR or AR, it becomes more mass market. Not everyone has a headset at home, but more are aware of it. And I think it was my biggest surprise because a few years ago, it was completely different. No one heard of it. When I was talking about virtual reality and when explaining what I was working on, people would just look at me completely lost. Today, they understand even if they are not working in the tech industry, they know what virtual reality is, and they know what’s augmented reality. Of course, sometimes they mix augmented reality and virtual reality. Or they don’t understand who are the biggest actors or what are the differences between headsets but they know what I’m talking about, and I think that the biggest surprise of 2016.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: What do you think was the reason the mass market learned something about VR/AR?
Amandine Flachs: Well, I think there are different factors for that. First of all, we saw an increasing number of demonstrations, during trade shows, creative events, tech events ... I remember for example recently I was talking to my family in France and one of my relatives told me he was thinking about me the other day because he heard or saw something in a tradeshow from a big car company where they were showing some VR experience to promote their new car. I find it really interesting and I think having some of those big brands showing more and more VR experiences and bringing VR into their own marketing, help people understand what is VR and see VR everywhere. Another thing I also noticed, is that lot of young children are really interested in VR, I don’t know exactly from whom they hear about it first, but they talk about it to their parents, and I see lot of parents coming to me during events asking questions about what to do. They are not sure exactly what to buy, which brand, what works, is there any games.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Do you think VR/Ar is good for kids and education?
Amandine Flachs: I think it’s really a big question, from my point of view, it has really a big potential for education, actually next month I’m organizing an event about AR and the use of AR in education, with a conference followed by a hackathon for adults but also a hackathon for teenagers. Then, regarding virtual reality for kids I think it’s really tricky because in one hand you know that virtual reality has a big potential for education, you can really experience things and once you experience something, it really sticks to your mind, and in the other hand, you don’t really know the effect of headsets on young people. You put a screen just next to still in development eyes with lenses, of course it’s not good for them, but, in the same way, it’s not good to give them smart phones either. It’s the responsibility of the parents but i think we have to put more thought into educating people about the potential risks, we need to have more studies on the effect of VR and have to talk about it with users.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Yes, but I think everything is getting faster and faster and we all have to be more open minded to learn more and more. Do you think if we wait too long to learn a new technique then we will get bigger problems later on?
Amandine Flachs: I see, but maybe we have to make the research go faster and talk more about those risks. Because, I see some startups trying to build content for education for kids, but they always have to find some tricks for people who don’t want their kids to use headset. I know a company who created an experience which is really nice to explain the human body to kids, they created an VR experience that enables kids to navigate into the body as well as an Augmented Reality experience (using a printed shirt) so people have the choice to use either the AR, VR or both apps.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: What do you think will be the biggest trend in 2017?
First at all I think we’ll see lots of improvement on the existing hardware available as well as new headsets. The existing headsets are great but they are still too complex for mass market. Many new actors are entering the market for VR headset but also AR devices. We also hear a lot about wireless VR and I think we’ll see more and more accessories to make VR wireless and increase ist potential. We’ll also see some motion tracking improvements, I saw lots of recent motion tracking devices for mobile headset as well as for other purpose. Mobile VR could also increase masively in the coming year and if we can bring tracking to mobile experience it would definitely change a lot the amount of people using VR and the time spent immersed. Clearly, I hear some people talking about the year of VR, so in 2016, people were saying 2016 is the year of VR and now we’re at the end of 2016 and lot of people are saying 2017 is the year of VR. We are already seeing a massive evolution in term of developments and use of VR and AR. So, do we really need 1 year to be the year of VR? There is no doubts VR and AR will still evolve next year, the communities are getting bigger and bigger and won’t stop growing and innovating together.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Do you think cheap products like Google Card Boards can help to spread VR?
Amandine Flachs: Cheap VR viewers are really useful, many companies are giving away google cardboard so people can download their app, try out their content for a reasonable investment. But cheap VR headset can also harm the market. When you try VR for the first, you are making your first opinion of this new technology and ist potential. That’s why it is essential to have your first experience in the right conditions, with a well created content and a comfy hardware (ie. not a rollercoster on a non-tracked device that make you sick in a minute). I think in few years, most of the computers will be able to run a VR headset so it will be easier and cheaper to have a good quality VR experience and have access to the content. For now the expensive price doesn’t help people jumping into VR, mass market still need to better understand what they get when they buy a VR headset to invest on it.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Where will we see you in 2017?
Amandine Flachs: Well, I will be for sure online! Based in London, I’ll be also organising lots of events, even more than last year as now part of the Reality Centre. We will organize monthly events, and we already have lots of events coming up, so we have a conference every month on a specific topic followed by a hackathon with a lots of mentors, specialists from specific industries and also people from VR and AR space, We will also have worshops and other events to bring the VR and AR communities together.
VR conferences are evolving, I remember before it was a mainstream question, I was working in virtual reality for big industries, and it was really interesting to see conferences were more about the use of VR and not the tech itself. But right now it’s a bit different, recently many event only focused on showed some VR demos, any VR demo so hearing from real use is more important than ever. For example in December, I did a conference on medical application and the use of virtual reality, it was really interesting because we had people from a diversity of background when few years ago it would be just specific industry and just talking about one specific use, and today lots of people are experimenting and keen to share their experience.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Who is your greatest influencer?
It’s hard to say, I don’t have just one or two people like mentors that I really look at for everything, I try to take advice from everyone. I think the people who inspire me the most are entrepreneurs who try VR fort he first time and immetiatly think about how to use this technology to improve their own industry or business.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Do you think it is now hard to find some good tweets on Twitter about VR/AR, because there are many experts now?
Amandine Flachs: It all depend what is your interest and what you are looking for. If you’re looking for someone who is specialized let’s say in construction, VR in medical or social you can find the right people to follow and interact with, but if you’re looking for VR in general, it will be harder to tell who are the real experts and who will share the content that interests you.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: What is your personal wish for 2017?
Amandine Flachs: Ahh, let me think. I guess, my personal wish would be to make the two main projects I’m involved in successful because I truly beleive it will help the VR and AR communities. So i mentioned I’m part of the Realities Centre, to have a place to bring people together. I am also the cofounder of unfold, a project to support and facilitate diversity to exchange and create opportunities for everyone and see more diversity in conferences and community representation.
Prof. Michael Schwertel: Thank you very much for the interview!
Conducted 30th of December 2016 by Prof. Michael Schwertel
Media Professor @CBSinfo in Germany, Media Producer, Filmmaker, Designer working with #DigitalMarketing, #Animation, #Transmedia, #VirtualReality and #AugmentedReality.