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Paddy Baker talks to the CEO of HoloVis, which provides integrated solutions in virtual reality, dome projection and other immersive technologies for markets as diverse as automotive, military and theme parks

virtually through the strata to work out how to extract oil in a more cost-

effective way. They

would spend £4 million on a CAVE or a wall system without

batting an eyelid, because their payback was so rapid. Then Joe and I decided we

were going to do it for ourselves, so we set up HoloVis nearly 10 years ago. Automotive was now coming online and there were other emerging markets as well. We grew HoloVis on the traditional manufacturing, engineering and military research market sectors, but in the past 10 years the technology has moved it into other sectors such as entertainment and theme parks.

How did you get into the area of simulation and visualisation? After university, my first proper job was at MIRA (formerly the Motor Industry Research Association) working on the testing systems. I was in data acquisition – collecting the information from physical tests. I got involved in research

into how we could improve those processes. I had this vision that we could do fewer physical tests, and more simulation – but still analysing the results against the real testing. When you’re crashing a million-pound prototype and there’s another half a million pounds of tests to be done before you can sign that vehicle off, if you can reduce the number of physical tests you’ve got to do, there’s a

20 September 2013

whole cost-saving analysis that’s worth looking into. The challenge was how do

we visualise that? We wanted to be able to crash a car virtually, scaled at one to one as though we were standing next to it, all in virtual reality. My research led me into the emerging virtual technology known as CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment) systems – cubic holodeck rooms. With my boss at MIRA, Joe

Jurado, I began learning about immersive technologies, working with people like GM in America and NHTSA, the big US vehicle testing group. We built a business case for MIRA around building what would have been Europe’s first virtual CAVE facility. Long story short, we were 16 years ahead of our time. It

wasn’t the capability of the hardware – we were using £4 million worth of super computers. One big challenge was that data wasn’t available; it was too early to understand all the data that is needed to compute this type of approach. But the biggest issue was culture. In a vehicle design programme, just to get all the different disciplines talking to each other in a physical sense, let alone agreeing to use virtual technology, was nigh on impossible. So we left that industry because we believed the technology could be used for other areas. We then got into military simulation and testing, and oil and gas, which was a huge early adopter of virtual reality. They would take geophysical data and walk

So how much of your work is involved in stereoscopic 3D? Is it mostly 3D? No, it’s a good mix between 2D and 3D. There are certain types of systems where 3D is not required. Some of our 2D dome experiences people will swear are 3D because the technology immerses you completely. 3D is only applied in specific areas: in automotive, we want fully immersive, interactive 3D – because you want to be able to walk around your design and see it from all angles. If you’re in a dome theatre experience on a virtual roller coaster ride, you don’t need 3D for that.

Where have you seen 3D misused? Everyone got excited about 3D TV but completely missed the point about immersion in the correct sense. Most people’s front rooms don’t allow you to have an enormous immersive experience: you’ve got a 40in or 50in TV if you’re lucky, and that’s not an immersive experience. In cinema, you have a much

larger screen for immersion, but there are huge numbers of people who will choose not

to see films in 3D because it can cause nausea. Quality of projection is very good in cinema now, but the quality of connecting the immersive experience to the user is disconnected, because you’re in a static seat and you’ve got a 3D experience coming out at you, which can cause eyestrain depending on the depth of the 3D. In theme parks the key thing that we develop at HoloVis is the connection of all the different senses – understanding both mathematically and experientially how everything can be put together in the right way.

How big is HoloVis now? There’s just over 30 people in the UK; we have an office in LA which we are staffing; we’ve got a satellite office in Italy because we’ve got some large theme park projects there; we have a partner office in Dubai, which now has a demo suite in it and sales staff, and will have support staff as well by the end of this year; and we’ve just taken on a sales office in China, which will also have project and support staff by the end of the year. We’re on a huge growth path at the moment.

What’s driving the growth in the market? Is it that the time is now right and that the technology is more affordable than a decade ago?

That’s an element of it. But the differentiator for us is the way we approach the solution. We’re not a systems integrator in the traditional sense, we are a solution provider and we offer a complete turnkey solution. When someone asks us to create an experience for them, every part of the process needs to be taken into account. It’s not just hanging projectors and putting up a 3D screen, it’s managing all the components that, to take an entertainment example, connect the sensory experience with the visual. What’s changed for us is by taking responsibility and accountability for the end-to- end solution, we are toasting some of the big players. We

‘Some of our 2D dome experiences people will swear

are 3D because the technology immerses you completely’

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