If you are interested in VR/AR/MR and you haven’t heard about Antony Vitillo, aka The SkarredGhost, then you had better get to Twitter, follow him and sign up to his newsletter. Considered (and rightfully so) as a top influencer in the VR industry, we had the chance to talk with Tony with whom we share a passion for all things VR. Why does he call himself the Skarredghost? Quite simply because once upon a time he wanted to be an indie game developer and needed a nickname. It stuck.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What brought you to VR?
I studied computer engineering at Politecnico Di Torino so I have a rather strict and logical background. In 2014, 7 years after graduating, I bumped into an old classmate of mine. Excited about the recent release of Google Glass, we both got to talking about AR and started throwing around some ideas about a startup. The conclusion was: let’s do something! The next step was to get our hands on a pair of Google Glasses, which, being in based in Italy, was no easy feat. After some convoluted operations, we managed to get the glasses shipped to Italy. It was an expensive ordeal but we pulled it off.
I was super excited. “The future is here,” I told myself. And then I put them on my head and thought “what is this tiny screen?!?” In about 10 minutes it started overheating and 20 minutes later it was out of battery. To be honest, we didn’t really know what to do with it. Thankfully my colleague had a plan B: get an Oculus Rift. And then, all of a sudden I was transported to another place, it was magical. The device was far from being perfect but it was usable.
Tell us about some of the companies you’ve founded and worked for?
Our company was called Immotionar. We developed full-body VR using Microsoft’s Kinect and virtual reality headsets. By 2014, we had already developed full body room scale. People loved our work, we won awards, got articles on various online blogs but ultimately our startup failed.
We were focused on the technical side and after a while, we started asking ourselves if people were really interested in paying for our tech, a question we probably should have asked ourselves sooner. However, we learned a lot of important lessons which help me to this day. Most important of all, I realized the importance of having business partners with complementary skills sets. You need to have the right partners so if you are a techie, for example, you need to find someone whose expertise is business and marketing. You can build the coolest app or tech in the world, but without the right partners, there is a good chance it will fail.
My word of advice for people getting started in this industry is to put in a maximum effort, be creative and make stuff. It’s a long hard road, and you’re going to suffer a bit but the community is there, we are here to help each other and make it through!
What are you currently working on?
These days I’m part of a consultancy called New Technology Walkers (NTW) focused on technological multimedia projects. Our main interest is in IT fields that have a clear artistic and creative side, such as web design, AR, VR, computer vision and video production. Recently, most of our customers and prospects are interested in augmented reality, especially for training, maintenance and or industry. They come to us with projects for the Hololens, looking for apps and prototypes, trying to tap into the full potential of this exciting tech.
Day to day, I spend a lot of time experimenting and creating experiences. For example, I’ve been testing 7invensun’s eye-tracking tech. It is very interesting in terms of UX. I’m convinced eye tracking will be very disruptive. I’ve also been hacking an HTC VIVE Focus to create AR and MR experiences. I’m quite proud of Beat Reality, which makes the world beat to the music you are listening. We took it to a club in Milan so people could try it, the feedback was very interesting!
At the end of the day, testing the limits of what’s possible is what interests me. I want to push the technology further ahead. I do this as a consultant and also through my blog by sharing my experiments and my take on the industry news. Needless to say, my to-do list is neverending.
You recently traveled to China, what impressed you the most?
First thing, my stomach doesn’t like Chinese food. People there just don’t know what “not spicy” means!
China is changing very quickly. The only way to understand the country, in my opinion, is to go there. I’ve studied Mandarin and have a genuine passion for the country and its culture, but it wasn’t what I expected. It’s a big mess of old and new with people running everywhere trying to compete and grow and this creates a lot of confusion. It’s all about getting things done over there, some way or another. Some things seem to come straight from the future and others from the past. It’s fascinating but very complicated and difficult to comprehend at times.
Because of the intense competition, big companies have to create products very quickly. If they adopt a technology, they know competitors will do so quickly also. Investors want companies to start making money right away, creating a very fast paced environment.
In terms of VR, I was very curious because I had read that VR was everywhere in China. This turned out to be partly true. There isn’t VR everywhere, but there is much more than in Italy, but it’s no Ready Player One. The VR experiences available to the public in malls are generally pretty poor. The headsets are cheap and quite hard on the nose and eyes. But as I said, things are changing quickly and I’m confident these bad experiences will vanish in the next few years I think.
The Chinese government is smart, they are heavily investing in education. So many departments are investing in education and VR that it is hard to say just how much money is being spent, but it is, without a doubt, huge.
What are your projections for VR/AR/MR for near to mid future?
I remember a lot of people saying last year that next year was the year that VR was going to take off. But people say that every year. The release of the Oculus Quest is going to be a big deal and while the VIVE Focus is a great device, I still don’t see either of these being used by my mother. These devices will certainly give VR more momentum, push competitors to create new products but we still not quite there yet.
When I talk to my non-techie friends, they always ask me how VR is useful. I’ve tried to explain. The problem is that one of the most crucial aspects of virtual reality, presence, is almost impossible to describe.
Mixed reality is something I’m very excited about also but that’s looking way ahead. Sometime in the future, maybe 10 years from now, we will probably be living with an MR headset of some sort on our heads.
And last question, what are some of the devices you are looking forward to getting your hands on?
Currently, around the office, I have an HTC VIVE, a HTC VIVE Focus with eye-tracking, an Oculus Rift as well as an Aryzon 3D AR Headset for AR, an OSVR Razer headset, a Gear VR and a few more scattered around the office. However, there’s a few I’d like to get my hands on that haven’t tried yet like the Pimax 8K, StarVR One, and Varjo. In fact, I’m very curious about the Varjo as it is meant to have no screen door effect.