Up close and virtual: Tomorrow’s tech gets stage at expo

Virtual reality — a staple of video games and Hollywood films — is moving closer to retail business deployment.

And when that days arrives, a Las Vegas trade show will have played an important role.

Meet Mary Spio, president of Next Galaxy Corp. She was named — along with Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James — as among the History Makers in the Making by NBC News and Grio. Spio started her career as a deep-space engineer, working with companies such as Boeing, Digital Cinema, Intelsat and Aerospace Corp. developing technologies that have changed media and communications.

Now Next Galaxy is planning to shape the way we sell products and shop.

The system works by locating a Virtual Reality website on a smartphone and then connecting that smartphone to a virtual reality headset. Once the headset is activated, the wearer is transported to a three-dimensional world complete with what they call 360 spatialized audio that enables listeners to perceive sounds within a complete spherical soundscape. The complete virtual reality headset sells for less than $200.

The logical first step for this technology is video games and entertainment. Next Galaxy is working with concert promoters to film events with multiple cameras that will allow the viewer to see performances just as if you had front row tickets, or from the stage perspective just as if you were part of the show.

For retail businesses, this technology is bringing customers inside the store to view inventory that is on the shelf, just as if the customer were standing in front of the display. The only things they can’t do is touch or grasp the item.

Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, used Next Galaxy to develop a virtual reality presentation during the annual JCK jewelry convention here in Las Vegas. Conventioneers were able to see high-resolution 3-D images of each jewelry piece in the collection from every angle possible.

That experiment has led Berkshire Hathaway to consider using virtual reality in its real estate division as well. In fact, Next Galaxy is working with several prominent real estate companies to develop a way to virtually show each of the homes they list.

There are two ways to capture virtual reality images. The first and least expensive is by using a 360-degree camera. The drawback to this technology is that the viewer is walked through a structure such as a home for sale based upon the path that the photographer took when filming. The viewer can still stop and turn 360 degrees in each room, just as if they were standing in the middle. Audio can be added to narrate the tour. The cost for this type of product would start at $5,000.

More advanced filming comes with 3-D stereoscopic video. This technology lets viewers control their own movements. With this technology, viewers can randomly move from one room to another or walk closer to features such as countertops and fireplaces for close-up inspection. The 3-D stereoscopic technology uses laser technology to decipher distance and angles. This flexibility carries a heftier price, starting around $15,000.

Spio said, “The difference between VR and normal video is that we have been looking through a straw. Now you remove the straw and you have full center and peripheral vision just as if you were actually standing in the room.

“This technology is ideal for companies with clients that are located in different countries or parts of the U.S.; they can view your entire real estate inventory from the convenience of their home.”

The technology is useful for resort condominium projects as each floor plan can be viewed from anywhere in the world.

Businesses probably won’t jump on the virtual reality bandwagon to display low-end products. But with advancing technology and declining costs, virtual reality may be the normal reality for entire catalog collections in a few short years.

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