At Observer, our goal is to help XR developers and content creators build the best content. We believe that the community is at its best when we share our learnings and encourage each other to succeed. This is why we created the XR Creator Series, where we talk with the people helping push the industry forward. We hope to shine a spotlight on the amazing experiences people are building, as well as learn about how they got started, their development practices, and their thoughts on the future.
In this interview, we talk with Brennan Hatton, co-founder of Equal Reality, about his path into the XR world as an early Meta employee, discovering the value that VR brings to the world of corporate training, and the technical hurdles that exist with virtual interacts. We hope you enjoy!
Observer: Can you please introduce yourself and company to the audience?Brennan: My name is Brennan Hatton, I'm a founder and CTO at Equal Reality. At Equal Reality, we create soft skills training in virtual reality for diversity and inclusion. We put users in the position of minorities to experience discrimination. It’s like a fire-drill of high-stakes social interactions.
I've been building virtual worlds, games, and augmented reality for over 10 years now. I got into the virtual reality space via game development, I started programming games when I was 14. While I was studying computer science, I was offered a job at Meta, the augmented reality glasses manufacturer, as employee number seven. I dropped out of university to follow a career in the augmented reality space with Meta. I spent a few years evangelizing the early augmented reality headset community. I was in a position to observe what everyone was using the technology for, how they were using it, and how it was solving their problems, which lead to me really identify the strengths of AR & VR.
Observer: What was your favorite part about working at Meta?Brennan: While I was there, our team raised $72 million. I got to work with some really fantastic people, including Professor Steve Mann, who's a father of wearable computing, Professor Steve Feiner, who was a very early augmented reality pioneer and Meron Gribetz, the CEO of Meta. I was giving the resources to learn really fast from the cutting edge, they really invested in me in terms of educating me on the market, and the technology.
Observer: What was your path from startup employee to startup founder?Brennan: Before going through YC with Meta, I was involved in social entrepreneurship, particularly in Edtech. I had my own startup teaching kids how to make computer games as a way of understanding the math that they were learning in school. While in Silicon Valley with Meta, I met a tech artist and self-taught hacker, Annie who was an augmented reality engineer at Intel, we connected over social issues we wanted to address, so we quit our jobs to do just that. With our very complementary skill sets, we spent some time working on a number of projects looking for the best use of Virtual Reality, from multiplayer mixed reality games to Edtech solutions, taking on Google, Intel, and Coachella as clients. Rick joined our team and together we built a community and movement to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. It was through this community that shared a passion for radical inclusion, which the idea for Equal Reality was born.
Observer: Why is VR the right medium for what you are building? What do you see as the biggest value add for training in VR?Brennan: I think Virtual Reality's biggest strength is communication of experiences, and the ability to break the rules of physics, space, and time. Using virtual reality we can put people in the shoes of others - allow you to embody someone else and see through their eyes. It's not just a theoretical case study or a video or a photo. It's a living experience. Stanford has shown memory retention can improve from 10% in traditional methods to 75% with virtual reality. But it also has the potential to give empathy, reduce bias, and lead to behavior change. The memory that's created from experiencing something is so incredibly powerful. We can actually make experiences that result in people feel things.
Observer: What role does data play in your experience or development process?Brennan: Data is one of the most exciting parts of virtual reality. It can help us understanding behavior. Using virtual reality we're in a position where we can collect data that has previously been impossible to collect and it's really, really exciting. We're really only just touching the surface of what we can do with all of it. We’re able to collect data around how often you’ve faced somebody while they're speaking to you, how much attention you're paying to different people, your body language, how an experience makes you feel, etc. One of our biggest challenges is just understanding what to do with all of this data that we have and what makes the most sense.
We recently published a case study on the effectiveness of virtual reality for diversity and inclusion training, which is getting a lot of attention and is just the beginning of what this technology can do with data.
Observer: What are some of the challenges or hurdles that you are facing throughout the design and development process?Brennan: Virtual Reality design is very non-inclusive. It can require a lot of capital and engineers to do it right.
We’ve built a way that it can be done by one or two non-technical people, so they can design how characters will behave when users interact with them. It is something traditional game development has been doing effectively for years, which has resulted in some amazing tools like Unity, Unreal, and Game Maker.
Our tools are built specifically for creating virtual reality soft skills training content, and because of our very focused target, we can open up accessibility even further to more than just engineers.
This is a difficult problem to be solving, due to the combination of many different complex design fields. Game Design, Virtual Reality Design, Developer Tools Design, Human Avatar Design. We are really excited by the progress we have made and it is exciting to be putting the first versions of this technology in the hands of our partners.
Observer: How is immersive tech going to change the training and simulation industry in general? Where does it have the most impact?Brennan: Training experiences and feelings. Being able to give people new experiences and provide training that shows how it feels. The value of virtual reality is in the experience, but the experience isn't really something that can be communicated in any other way other than trying it yourself. It's both VR's greatest strength and setback. Virtual reality is hard to understand and appreciate until someone puts on a headset and has the experience.
Observer: What's your favorite VR experience to play after work?Brennan: I've definitely been playing a lot of Beat Saber, who doesn’t like being a Jedi Rockstar! I recently ranked #3 for a little while on a song - not to humblebrag haha! I actually really like Rec Room too. I love the way it enables us to interact with other people. One of my favorite experiences I've had in virtual reality was in the app. I was in the chat room and a 13 or 14 year-old kid was going around asking everyone to come to his talent show. I was like, what talent show? There's no game talent show in the app. But sure enough, the kid gave me a high-five and teleported me to his talent show! He's up on this stage welcoming everyone to his talent show, and starts to teleport people onto the stage asking them to show off a talent to the crowd. Surprising enough, people participated! People started juggling, rapping, singing like a choir, there was even a magic act. It was just so fascinating to see a young kid put together this event in virtual reality and have strangers participate. I like to think this kid has a head-start on work experience for the future of social media, event coordination, and communications.
This interview was conducted on 09/06/18 - the remarks made regarding Equal Reality's product reflect that time period.
Thanks to Brennan for lending his time to be interviewed and sharing his input on the XR space. You can follow him on Twitter.
To learn more about Equal Reality, check out their website or download their demo experiences on Viveport.
To learn more about other developers building awesome experiences in the space, check out previous postings on the XR Creator Series!