Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what does your company cognitiveVR do?
I’m Tony Bevilacqua, Founder & CEO of cognitiveVR, a Vancouver-based VR/AR/MR startup. cognitiveVR builds analytics for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality platforms. Our products help companies understand how users interact with their immersive experiences.
We have customers in a multitude of verticals, including aerospace, retail, real estate, entertainment, and automotive manufacturing. All of these customers have existing VR/AR/MR experiences which they wish to gain more insight from, and we help them do exactly that.
As a second time founder, what led you to break into VR technology and finding cognitiveVR?
My last startup was focused on Enterprise Software, with some products in the analytics space. We were selling solutions to game developers and publishers, which led me to events like Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and Game Development Conference (GDC), where I had the opportunity to try a lot of early prototypes in virtual reality.
When my company exited in late 2015, I had the VR bug, and wanted to apply my knowledge in enterprise software and analytics to this new platform - something that I felt was fundamentally different with greenfield problems. We are not just another marketing SaaS at cognitiveVR - we are innovating in spatial and 3D analytics.
What was your main interest in moving into VR/AR?
The dawn of immersive technology presents an opportunity seen every few decades - the opportunity to be at the forefront of a new wave of technology. Beyond the hype however, we saw the immense power that VR/AR has to help companies build better products through rigorous user testing and analysis. We knew we could help them automate that – so we moved quickly to build our first products.
What has been your most interesting project/work so far?
The first challenge we faced was in trying to correlate data with the 3d context of a given scene. Graphs and charts were simply not enough. After a multitude of experiments, and a few company hackathons, we built a system that allowed us to replicate the 3d geometry (and therefore context) of a scene on our dashboard. We then built 3d data visualization technology as overlays on top of this 3d geometry. It was a totally new concept - and one that sits at the core of our platform.
How do you think analytics in VR/AR will play a role once we see the mass adoption?
Immersive technologies bring users more intimately together with technology - which means even slight differences in each human will have drastic effects on their user experience. The need for 3d analysis tools like ours will increase dramatically.
For those making public facing applications, their developers will need to test their products across many different individuals. Many will opt to ensure equal experiences across a heterogenous pool of users, at which point analysis tools like our will be vital.
On the other hand, many will be testing for compliance rather than insights in their VR/AR experiences. Experiences that look for users to complete tasks - such as enterprise training or simulation experiences - can by analyzed to find outlier user sessions, and intervene when their users are not complying with the intended purpose.
What has been the biggest eye opener being in the industry?
Despite the availability of powerful tools, game/content engines, and 3d development experience, everyone is still trying to figure out what works best for users. Many expected a rocket ship trajectory in year 1, but the truth is that both the technology and the content are still being experimented with.
Nonetheless, the biggest surprise many will find is that VR & AR are currently being used heavily by enterprises in many different markets. Some larger fortune 500 companies have as many as 100 different ongoing VR or AR projects going on at once.
What do you think will change about VR/AR/immersive technology in the next five years?
Immersive tech will start taking over the smartphone and PC. Apple, MagicLeap, Microsoft, and Google will all have launched some form of mixed reality glasses. One will be a clear winner, with many variants in between similar to the Android ecosystem.
Virtual reality will be closer to solving the locomotion issue, and haptic feedback as well as eye tracking will be standard across new headsets. VR will start to become the standard entertainment system, and slowly encroach upon traditional console sales.
You've had some wins this past year, including being 1 of 2 Canadian companies to be selected to Verizon Ventures Media Tech Venture Studio and being selected to HTC Vive X Accelerator program, how do you attribute your success? How can others in the industry follow suit?
We took a steady approach to our product, and kept our burn rate relatively low. Our initial product was built with mass adoption in mind, but when that didn’t happen we were able to move towards enterprise sales very quickly and without the interference of outside pressure.
Soon after we moved towards an enterprise focus, we found that there was tremendous activity behind the scenes at larger companies. We were able to connect with various innovation teams working on new immersive tech ventures within those firms. Our new traction, coupled with strong product and low burn rate, drew the attention of ViveX and Verizon.
Others who wish to follow suit should strip away many of their hype-driven assumptions about this new market. We spent a lot of time listening to our initial customers, and trying to figure out if what we were building was valuable. Whenever we felt like we were going nowhere, we reevaluated what value we were bringing to our customers, and took many small pivots to find our fit.
As a Board Director at VRARA Vancouver, how do you contribute to the local and global VR/AR/MR scene?
First and foremost, my role at cognitiveVR has me traveling globally to customers, partners, and industry events. Part of my role as a board director is evangelizing Vancouver as an ideal ecosystem for virtual, augmented and mixed reality companies and startups.
I take a personal interest in spreading the message of Vancouver leadership in this industry, and communicating our advantages of talent, institutional and governmental support, and geographic advantages being of on the west coast.
What are your thoughts on Vancouver as a global hub for VR/AR and how do we ensure this continues to grow?
Vancouver has the perfect storm of talent to be a leader in VR/AR: game developers, 3D artists, and technical talent. To keep up the growth in the region we need to build great companies as cornerstones of the ecosystem. Companies like Archiact, Finger Food Studios and organizations like the VRARA are what prove the industry works – work must continue on building great organizations and companies.
What do you see as the biggest benefit VRARA members receive by being part of the association, and why is it so important?
For me VRARA is about global connectivity. We host a number of regional events and evangalize each other in our local market, but ultimately VRARA gives you access to events, opportunities and connections with chapters all over the world. If I am traveling to a new city, I always email the Chapter President ahead of time, and see if there is some synergies or meetings we might be able to setup while in town.
Everyone will find their own value in joining the VRARA - but we have successfully created the world leading organizational body for representing this industry, and we are proud to be apart of it.
What do you wish other people knew about VRARA?
VRARA is a global network of like minded companies and individuals, all pushing towards the growth of this industry. There is a lot of passion and talent in each chapter, and you’ll find that passion recognized in all levels of the organization, and the organizations reputation within the industry.
What does the next year hold for you/CognitiveVR?
The next 12 months for us is all about commercialization and building up our technology and business development teams. We are excited to see how the hardware and consumer markets unfold - but while we wait, we will be heads down on helping enterprises leverage VR/AR/MR as a useful tool in solving their toughest business challenges.