Picking up XR (again, carefully)

There was a small startup I did some work for in 1995 when I was starting out as a freelance designer called Forte Technologies. Their big idea was a virtual reality headset that gamers could use to play immersive games. Although it didn’t turn out to be commercially successful, it did give me a chance to experience the early days of immersive 3D.

The VFX1 was a cool and exciting new product but it failed to transition from new and cool into a desirable product for a mass audience. Watching a retro gaming video of the VFX1 in action shows it was amazing for its time and I am proud to be associated with it. But it offered a low-resolution experience that required opening your PC to install all the kit required to drive it. The games it supported were all “PC-first” releases – Forte didn’t have the resources necessary to launch an exclusive title to sell their platform like Sony or Microsoft. The real killer was the retail cost: $1500 USD (3K in 2023 dollars).

After playing a sweaty game of Magic Carpet on a prototype headset I presented a slimmer alternative to the bulky design they launched with.

Design Sketch of VR Headset from 1995

It was a long time before another serious venture into VR was launched, and none have yet achieved the market penetration required to be labelled a success. However, the technology has matured enough to be viable for many serious non-commercial uses.

So it was a full-circle moment when I learned that I would be taking on the VR strategy for my current employer. This will start by expanding a current initiative using headset and haptics for medical procedure simulations. We were already approached for input on some novel use-cases bridging AR and VR. And I am itching to start building out a use-case matrix cross-referenced by emerging device capabilities for medical applications.

Years after my VFX1 experience I came across an enterprise AR eyeware manufacturer while I was working at PTC, which had recently bought AR platform Vuforia. I recognized the name of the founder – it was the same guy who started Forte! Their HQ is a few miles from where I write this post. My current employer is a customer.

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