THE BOSS OF VR IN THE NETHERLANDS SPEAKS OUT

Daniel Doornink

Daniel Doornink (37) at the start of the interview: “All Silicon Valley (SV) nerds started on Comodore 64, played Dungeon and Dragons, Doom, Quake. They all loved fantasy card game Magic the Gathering and, of course, the war games. I made exactly the same stops as these future SV billionaires did. I am the geeky boy embracing all the nerdy games — plus programing. And I am from the Netherlands.”

Who are you, professionally speaking?

Studied Technical Informatics at Utrecht University, Netherlands. Didn’t finish. Then economy at University of Amsterdam. Didn’t finish. Then Business Administration, a super generalist study. I finished. At the same time I continued to be the geeky boy I always have been. Which helped me surprisingly well climbing the ladders at ING Bank. When I started there the bank reshuffled itself into 600 hundred agile teams — all interdisciplinary, many with ICT knowledge on board. I became the program manager of it all. Me, the lean agile startup poster boy coach. Lots of challenges. Cool energy.

Picture: New Atlas

In August 2012 Oculus Rift appeared on Kick Starter. About 2,5 million people subscribed for the prototype. In the Netherlands I was one of the first to receive it. March 2013. I put Oculus on my face. And, as the geeky banker I was, immediately saw the potential. In the first place for gaming but also beyond.

Not much later, still in 2013, I organized the first ever VR-meeting in the Netherlands. (In Europa. It was number three.) The invitation proclaimed: “Virtual Reality is it about to get real. Let us meet up and get inspired.” A “whopping” eighteen Oculus Rift aficionados and developers showed up. Everybody was tinkering. The vibe was amazing. One month later Oculus hosted Oculus Connect, the global meetup in LA. It turned out to be the birthplace of the global community. All the future big shots were there. From then on I can call my network powerful. It all convinced me to leave ING Bank.

You started XRBASE, here in Amsterdam, which immediately became the ultimate VR Hub.

XRBASE

That is still less than three years ago. XRBASE first aim: to facilitate throughout the year VR startups, freelancers, developers. We deliberately made it an offline hub. Online collaboration can be great, but sticking diverse people with the same passion in one building: that easily turns into magic. The power of physical is very obvious to me. Here students from the better universities of Holland — in art, in VR, in AI — come together, get inspired and collaborate. The community flourishes. So now we start working on the next step: earning more money. At the Base we aspire to become the high-end VR creative agency. We won’t desert our philosophy of agile multi-disciplinary collaborations. But these collaborations function best when teams work on challenges they can earn money with.

“.. the next generation hardware headsets I am sure Apple will win.”

Please, mention one of your WOW-clients

ABN Bank asked us helping to make their clients and stakeholders more environmentally aware. We created ReAct. A box you can sit in. Thanks to VR it feels like an elevator that lifts you through times into the future. You pass several layers of sustainability. You feel the heath rising — we work with extra sensory reality — you smell the pollution or the lack of it in nature of the earlier days. You fully experience the development of our unsustainable growth.

Another project of XRBASE: Fire department VR Experience

We also do social and cultural impact projects. On our own initiative. For instance, the Garbage Tree Project. People all over Amsterdam can make photos of waste thrown out on the streets. They upload it onto the Cloud. We construct a huge Virtual Garbage Tree out of it. In order to raise awareness about how much we still throw away without thinking. We want to customize the garbage tree per season — and are brainstorming about color coding, about distinguishing in the tree several kinds of waste, about how to integrate the tree roots meaningfully in the project. All with the aim to nudge people in the right direction. We are also work on projects to help dyslectic and autistic people with VR and VR-related techniques. The same techniques could help hospitalized people participate more in real life.

Barca football club made an endearing YouTube film on Pol a young hospitalized boy suffering from cancer. The Pol-robot allowed him the watch a match in Camp Neu as close as it gets. A robot is no VR yet. But the direction is clear, so is the inspiration and moving enthusiasm.

We love these projects. At the same time we must earn our money. We see training courses as a meaningful source of income. We call it the School of Extended Realities.

What are the hiccups?

The meetups have grown immensely. Film festivals like Sundance, like Tribeca, like Venice now have impressive media programs. VR Days, Amsterdam 2018 — our meetup over here — attracted over 2000 people from all over the world. Have a look at vrdays.co if you wish.

But…

The VR promise has been too big, too fast. When I entered the field at its very early beginning I felt like one of the early birds entering a new religion. We would disrupt gaming. We would innovate education. We would reinvent story telling. It all will happen, but more slow than the infatuated avant-garde predicted. In August 2017 TechCrunch wrote “VR is having its moment. It is a bad one.” All investors walked out. Right now the industry is still tiny as hell. Nobody is earning heaps of money. Yet.

Yet?

Because the potential is immense. We see attention growing again. The first corporates are coming back with requests for VR content. They now have more sober expectations but the same excitement as in the first days. Actually, it is the same cycle you see with so many technological inventions. First the overhype, media-enlarged. Then the fall. Then the realistic uphill climb, direction serious revolution.

What will that serious revolution look like?

Raodmap of the furture of VR/XR

I don’t expect very many people to put a VR head set on their noses any time soon– except for the gamers on our planet. When VR will seriously intertwine with Augmented Reality — adding an enriching and empowering layer over our real existences — then the revolution will kick off. Then VR will leave the gaming ghetto. Do you know where this is happening already? In maintenance. When you repair whatever, a VR head set is the most effective blessing.

When it comes to the creation of the next generation hardware headsets I am sure Apple will win. HoloLens en Google Glass were there first but looked horrible. Only Apple appears to understand what designs appeals to people.

When I try to perceive developments in the next decade — which is more your profession than mine J — I don’t expect the birth of something radically new. It will be about connecting the building blocks. Silos will disappear. One building block is VR, which will extend into XR, standing for Experience Virtual Reality. It will be the pulsating heart of the future embodied. Another building block will be AI. It will be the brains of the future embodied. Another building block is computer vision: the eyes. Then there is speech recognition: the voice. 5G Internet will provide a sufficiently fast nervous system for the future embodied. Block chain will build the routes over which these bodies can communicate safely and democratically with each other The Cloud will connect all these brains. And then, these amazing future bodies will enter our human bodies.

Combining all these dots will be huge — and scary. We, humble humans, might be reinvented. The exciting vibe I sensed during that first meetup I organized in 2013, can only raise more momentum.

What advices do you have for my international students?

Sorry, to be a bit obvious here: Practice with VR technologies. It is fun and will be part of the future. If you are in automotive or hotels: the next generation will be created and constructed with VR in the lead. When you are in fashion: if you design fashion dresses, VR can show you what they look life when a breeze starts playing with them.

About the author:
Prof. Dr Carl Rohde is an international keynote speaker about ‘Future forecasting & Innovation’ — with academic depth and practical realism. During the last decade he worked with 50 universities and over 10,000 student. Aim: to make all involve more trends- and innovation sensitive. Rohde has research positions in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Shanghai. Carl Rohde also leads www.scienceofthetime.com, a virtual network of market and trend researchers worldwide.

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