Next Galaxy Corp. is the company behind the CEEK metaverse platform and the CEEKARS 4D audio headphones and controller. Mary Spio, President and Founder of Next Galaxy, gave us a quick tour of her expansive career in part one of our interview. Today, we directly talk about her latest ventures and exactly what Next Galaxy is working on. Very exciting stuff!
It’s time to talk about virtual reality. How were you introduced to modern VR? What ultimately sold you?
After my last venture failed, I enrolled in a Google for Entrepreneurs program. While in the program I was invited to visit Facebook, and tried on the Oculus and it was a ‘burning bush’ experience for me. I knew instantly that I was witnessing something extraordinary – I felt deeply that everything I had done in my life was a practice run for exactly this thing – a 3D fanatic, engineer, content creation and delivery – I couldn’t sleep thinking of all the possibilities! I immediately started developing CEEK for the OCULUS Rift DK1.
What sold me on VR was the Dreamworks experience on the Gear VR, a year or so later – that’s what made me say OMG – this thing is closer than we think. I didn’t want to take off the Gear VR, I didn’t want to give it back – I hounded the guys at Samsung till they sent me one, and I’ve been evangelizing everywhere – schools, the government – everywhere for the use of VR. We initially developed the CEEK platform for DK1, we have since shifted our focus to mobile VR, not just for Gear VR but for Android VR and iOS – that opens our audience potential instantly to a billion smartphone users. With Google (and others) supporting WebGL, we’ll deliver our content for the Oculus via browser so we are not building anything there at this moment.
What potential would you like to see filled by virtual reality? Why do you think VR is well suited for this?
Entertainment is a given. I would also like to see the potential for healthcare and education fully realized. We are developing medical models for patient and professional medical education with the Miami Children’s Hospital and another medical facility.
Currently we are working on a CPR model, and within that for example, VR offers the ability to provide real time feedback, assessments and other metrics that static video simply doesn’t offer. We are using voice activation to count compressions, also (taking into account) the positioning, placement and interactivity with content. For care we are exploring some pretty awesome means of remote medical exams and treatment – that is longer term, but I would like to see that actualized, as the implications are pretty awesome.
You have two products in development at Next Galaxy. Let’s talk about CEEK first; what is it?
CEEK is a fully immersive VR Content Hub; call it the Netflix for VR. It’s an app that lets you literally live the experience as if you were there. In entertainment for instance, our users will be able to watch concerts fully immersed in the middle of the action and always with the best seat in the house. They can be on the stage, concentrate on the star or any member of the band, turn around and watch the audience, etc. Fully immersed in the scene with sound to match.
Content is the end game; it is what is going to transition VR to mainstream adoption. Content is the most important element, and right now there are some 30 or so companies working at building the visual headset; there’s only one company, Next Galaxy, working on a platform and backend infrastructure devoted to content management, delivery and distribution, so that all those people buying headsets can look at a variety of VR content no matter the device.
As more devices and apps get out there it’s becoming increasingly overwhelming for users to figure out what app works with what headset, and also where to get apps for what. Imagine having to download an app for every movie on Netflix? CEEK aims to be that single app that allows people to access VR content no matter the device or app. So you download CEEK and you have one fluid experience of being able to see movies, concerts, play games, have educational and a variety of experiences no matter the device – Google Cardboard, VRONE, Gear VR or whatever your heart desires.
Looking back at your career, what is the appeal of a VR metaverse or online social network? Why did you commit to the idea?
I came to VR as a fan – selfishly building what I would like to experience; it’s what drives my vision and the appeal of the metaverse for me. Part of the joy of going to the movies, sporting events, etc. is the social aspect – so while it’s great to watch a great movie on the moon, there is a sense of isolation of not being able to share that compelling experience with others. I committed to the Metaverse concept by integrating the social aspects into CEEK because the VR experience is incomplete without the social piece. This is what I envision a social timeline to look like, where you enter this place and visualize content and see your friends and what they are seeing but in a totally immersive way – also go in and out of various worlds.
In my opinion, media is most successful when it communicates things that need to be shared that other choices can’t effectively do. What do people want that the metaverse can share like no other? What need does a VR metaverse fill that other technologies have failed to do?
As tactile and rendering technology gets more baked, we will be able to have more photo realistic avatars, touch and feel others – and that is as close as we’ll get to teleportation and being social. Definitely not something you can do with video or text.
The metaverse or metaverse concepts have been attempted before with limited success. Are there measurable criteria that need to be met for a platform like this to succeed?
One major difference that’s going to drive it forward this time is the sheer number of tech giants in this space now from Google, Apple to Samsung, Facebook and so on. It is the sum of this knowledge that is ultimately going to make the metaverse a reality. The firepower wasn’t there before, there were isolated attempts, plus the tech simply wasn’t there. The key to successfully building the metaverse is taking baby steps towards building, growing and connecting all these universes or galaxies. Like the early days of the Internet; going from the first website to where we are now – ultra connected. CEEK as a metaverse is really a microcosm at this stage, we are excited about the exciting times ahead.
Tell us about the CEEK platform. How did it come about? What types of content can be added? Is there content you are particularly excited about?
After experiencing the Oculus, I went on a hunt for something other than games and I found nothing at the time. I also didn’t want to download app after app just for five minutes of zombies uncensored. After seeing all the other headsets starting to hit the market, I said Jeez – the overload for users, and lack of beyond gaming content isn’t good. I need to create something that will make accessing VR as simple as turning on the TV. I figured it’s important to have one app that worked with any device, I didn’t like the feeling of isolation that comes with being in VR, so I said it has to be social. After seeing inexperienced and non-gamers terrified with using a gaming controller, I created the navigational tool – it was all so organic and instinctive for me.
Our goal is to open VR to the world, by offering the kind of content that everyone watches today, every day, be it entertainment, sports, documentary, etc.
As a music fan, I’m most excited about concerts – EDM is perfectly suited for VR, concerts – really! I love the 3D experience within CEEK as well; we are looking at licensing 3D movies for distribution on the platform.
I’m excited about a lot – to be fully immersed in the scene with sound to match. Or watch a NASCAR race as if you were there, from pit row or riding with a driver and literally live the experience, better than if you were there. All this from the comfort of your home.
While many are excited about the metaverse from a user’s perspective, the reality of life is there has to be a strong business case for making this happen. It’s not just about having a platform; there has to be self-sustaining content and opportunities to fill that platform. If I was a content or experience maker debating whether or not I should build a business in the metaverse world, how would you sell me on it?
I would say the billion people who received new smartphones last year alone are looking for new experiences: why not build content now when the space is not over-saturated? We are at a magical time in this space; the support from Samsung, Google, VR ONE and all the major players is also amazing.
Imagine building your website during the early Google days and being able to ask them questions about optimizing for page rank, etc.? Or being site Number 20 to be indexed in Yahoo? There couldn’t be a better business opportunity than that.
I remember when search terms in online dating were pennies per click, and watched as the field became totally saturated with the same words going for $5 or more per click. Zynga is a perfect example of an app that rode the early wave to new heights – build now.
You recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for CEEKARS 360-degree audio headphones and controller. How would you differentiate the CEEKARS headphones from normal surround-sound headphones? What’s the difference?
CEEKARS™ is the first smart audio headphone that combines haptic feedback and proprietary physics-based 3D Audio technology resulting in a degree of depth, interactivity and rich engulfing soundscapes. The haptic feedback adds the fourth element to the experience making it 4D versus 3D.
Traditional headphones are designed for predefined scenarios, not real-time dynamic lifelike experiences; therefore they do not react to movement or give an indication of distance or direction. You can’t really place where the sound originated i.e. up or down, or in front of you. Plus you cant feel the rumbling of a train or shuttle. With CEEKARS™ you can finally experience sound the way you would at the best movie theater or amusement park.
It has a “BIG and LIVE Feeling”
Video is here:
Can you explain how you get a full 360-degree surround sound experience from just two headphone speakers? How convincing is it?
Within immersive environments we are overlaying geometry data to reproduce the sound exactly where it originated thereby creating dynamic soundscapes; so a large hallway sounds different than a little barn for example. You can also perceive differences in location. If you are behind a door, the audio is occluded so you don’t hear it until you’re inside.
Within conventional settings, we are relying on libraries of geometric data to create the personalized soundscapes so users, for example, can select arena sound or concert hall sound, etc.
I understand you’ve added haptics features to the headphones. What does that mean? How is it different from normal headphones?
It means we’ve added rumble and that boomph and oomph; the fun and exciting soundscapes of amusement parks and mega IMAX to the headset. The haptic feedback varies with the intensity of the sound, so it’s a very, very real experience.
You’ve also developed a controller to go with the headphones. What does it do that others have failed to do?
We created the VR controller for mobile VR devices without controllers such as the Google Cardboard and for those looking for a portable controller that you can slip in your back pocket. It initially started out as a portable navigational tool for things like 360 scene rotation without all that twisting and turning. We added the Android gaming capability for VR devices because people kept asking for it.
For people who’ve never used a traditional gaming controller it can be very intimidating – having a simple intuitive tool that they can use to interact with content and play basic games is key. We find that almost everyone we hand the controller to automatically knows what to do with it – gamer and non-gamer alike!
What will CEEKARS work with? PC, mobile, or both? Any special SDK requirements?
The headphones itself will work with any device with a 3.5 mm jack; the controller and Bluetooth version is focused on Android and VR Games. Our goal is to have it for both iOS and Android by the time it hits store shelves. Users can download the CEEK app to accompany the headset. Ultimately, we want to manufacture the chip and minimize any reliance on the playback device.
You’re working to raise $75,000 through Indiegogo. What’s the money for, and what can backers get for their contribution?
Creating an innovative consumer electronic like CEEKARS is a very time and cost intensive process – at the heart of that process is user feedback. We’ve completed prototyping and iterated based on early feedback to get to where we are now with CEEKARS. In order to ramp up production, we are launching the Indiegogo campaign to get the support we need to build out the consumer version of CEEKARS and get us into stores.
Why Indiegogo and not Kickstarter?
We wanted to try a different approach and Indiegogo was reachable to help us along the process.
While we’ve been talking about the metaverse and new audio technology, I’d also like to talk about ways that immersive technology can or will have a positive impact on the world around us – the real world, I should say. Tell us about your work with the Miami Children’s Hospital. How did you get involved with them, and what are you working to achieve?
We want CEEK to be a place not just for entertainment but also for education, training and much more. We are working to transition patient and professional medical education from being a passive experience to being an active participatory experience.
For many medical professionals, the first time they get a chance to practice is when the victim is on the table. We want to change that and give them the opportunity to live the experience before it happens for better preparation. Miami Children’s hospital is extremely innovative, they just did a 3D printed heart of a patient for practice, then successfully operated after working on the 3D replica – insane. We are developing remote diagnosis that will take advantage of our haptic technology by allowing the medical staff to ultimately feel and touch patients anywhere. Imagine the implications for diagnosis and treatment for highly infectious diseases like Ebola?
Shameless plug! You joined the Immersive Technology Alliance. Why’d you do it?
It’s imperative to be part of an industry building group like ITA; it was what allowed digital cinema reach its potential, I see the same for VR. ITA is invaluable in pushing standards, ethics and getting the industry to talk to each other and address the market as a whole. The pie gets bigger not smaller as we all play together.
It’s likely that we are going to see viable consumer-ready HMDs hitting the market this year and next. Still, I think it’s important to remember that consumer VR came and went in the 90’s, even though the newer technology is radically better. Having seen it all during your career, what lessons or recommendations would you make to our industry so it can succeed long term?
Not seen it all –haha – but yes, I’ve seen a bit. At the end of the day, content is the end game. Think of the Beta Max and VHS – it wasn’t the superior technology that won, it was the useful technology that won because it addressed content by working with the industry to facilitate adoption. In the end it’s not about features – it’s about delivering an irreplaceable valuable and consistent experience.
Thank you for joining us, Mary! Interested readers are encouraged to support the part one of our interview. Also…and I knew we missed something…Mary Spio is also an established author who most recently wrote “It’s Not Rocket Science” published by Penguin Books this year (2015). Great stuff!