The process of selling a consumer goods product to a buyer hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. You do a demonstration and hopefully, people become interested. Trying to think of new and different ways to make this process either easier, better, or more enjoyable is where AR/VR come into retail. These technologies could be used to introduce buyers to products. Jacki Morie is an expert in the field of AR and VR. As Head of Education at Upload, she is educating the next generation of people on what they could do with AR and VR. She also owns All These Worlds where they do virtual reality work for health, mindfulness, and training. Jacki talks more about the difference in virtual and augmented reality, and the different ways they can be used in business retail.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacki Morie and she is an expert in the field of AR and VR. For those of you who were like me, who don’t know what AR and VR are, those are augmented reality and virtual reality. I did not know much about the difference between the two or how they were developed or why they’re even that important in the field of retail. I had a wonderful time talking to Jacki and she was able to shed quite a bit of light onto the subject and explain it in a way that helped me understand and gave me some insight into how this technology is going to be used by retailers in the future and how we need to, as suppliers, start to understand that and get ready for it so that we’re not left behind.
Jacki, welcome to the program.
Glad that you took some time out of your busy schedule. I’m excited to hear all about what you’ve been doing and how that is impacting retail. We can’t wait to get into a little bit of AR and VR. I’m a little bit like a ten-year old here. I don’t know that much about this technology, but I’m excited to learn. Let’s get into a little bit of what is AR? How does it differ from VR?
Both of them have origins way back in the ‘60s when the army was trying to figure out ways to train their soldiers. They started developing these headsets that would allow a superimposition of a virtual world on what that person in the headset was seeing. Some of them were see through, so you could see the physical world out in front of you and some of them enclosed you totally, so you were separated from the physical world. The one technology that separates you from the physical world is typically called virtual reality and it puts you in a cognitively real space, but it takes you away from what you know around you.
In a virtual environment, for example, you might try to walk around and you might hit a chair that you don’t see in your virtual environment, but it’s there in your physical space. There are few challenges there. We figured out how to deal with many of them. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is more the see-through type. It uses sophisticated cameras and computer vision technology that allows virtual image overlays onto your real-world objects and environments. It looks like those virtual objects are in the space with you and you’re not separated. That’s the difference between the two technologies, but they’ve been developing over the last several decades.
My dad, before he had to retire, was an Air Force Pilot and then went on to be a commercial pilot. He would always talk about, “I have to go and put in X amount of hours on the simulator.” Is that a version of the virtual reality?
Absolutely, and that’s for training purposes for like pilots, like soldiers. That’s what it was originally used for. It was taken out into the more commercial world with things like games, location-based entertainment and a few other medical or health applications. If you think of a fighter pilot that has a heads-up display in front of them, and now we’re seeing this in cars in this day and age, that’s an augmented reality. They’re augmenting what’s in front of the pilot with the data from the instruments in the plane that they need to be aware of all the time.
That makes perfect sense and I’m completely understanding the difference between the two. Other than military, what do you see the main uses for augmented reality currently?
Augmented reality is being used in a number of interesting applications and it can be everything from you’re in-world Yelp. You’re walking down the street and you can see what restaurants are up ahead of you. You can find information about particular stores or say you’re looking for a particular item when you’re traveling overseas, but you have no idea how to find this item or even what the stores are. You might have an app that ties into the local landscape and says, “You can find that widget at this store, two blocks over.” It could be used for that type of thing.
It’s used in many areas of retail and probably the most interesting application is what Ikea started doing four or five years ago. They gave you a way to take the furniture from their catalogs and put it in your house because you were using augmented reality with a smartphone or a smart device. You could point that at the empty wall that you want to put a couch on and you could go through their catalog and say, “I want to see this couch on this wall,” and you’d see it there and you could scroll through the different colors. You could put a painting over it. You could design in your space with virtual items. That was intriguing and innovative at the time, and we’re seeing lots more companies get into that means of showing their wares in an augmented way.
I’ve seen some newer stuff where you can stand in a dressing room and look in the mirror and then change clothes in the screen without ever trying anything on.
I can’t wait until we all have our 3D scanned actors of ourselves. That way, you can see how close drape on our particular form. It’s an overlay and you can see what the color or the pattern looks like on you, but you can’t tell quite yet how it will drape on you or look from the front and the back. That’s coming, and these virtual mirrors are the first step for that. I know I bought my last two pair of glasses online with the virtual mirror, being able to scroll through the objects and see how they look on me without picking them up. If you think about putting something like that in a big box store, look at how much more sanitary it is to try them on virtually and get through at least down to the few pair you’re interested in before you try them on physically. There are a lot of applications for this where stores won’t have to keep quite the stock out or keep it out where it’s subject to shrinkage.
Not only that but especially with the flu virus going around and now they’re saying it can live on just about anything for 24 hours. The thought of not trying on stuff that other people have touched or tried on could be a help at stopping the transmission of different pathogens, diseases, colds, flus and all of that.
I never thought of AR as being a health help, but that’s a good point.
Tell me a little bit about virtual. I’ve never met anybody that specializes in this. How did you get into that and what do you do in the virtual reality, augmented reality space?
I got into virtual reality through the means of being a fine artist. I was creating assemblage works and I was designing them big enough to walk around in, but you can’t build those and store them. I found out about virtual reality and realized this was the way I could build these environments for people to experience. They were boring back then. This was the late ‘80s. My work has been how to get more emotional impact in these virtual environments. To make that happen, I have taken positions in research labs that are advancing the technology so that I could work on the deep psychological techniques that allow us to get more emotional bang for our buck in these virtual reality environments.
I worked at the Institute for Creative Technologies and several other locations and developed a number of techniques in my own practice that allows for deep and meaningful virtual reality applications. That could be health. Most of mine were in either a storytelling mode or a mental health application. There’s great potential for those applications of VR. Now that it’s gotten into this third wave and it’s more mature, we’re seeing thousands more people, more creators, more developers looking at it and developing even more advanced techniques that make it something that humans want to do. It was a novelty before and now people are looking at it as something that might be part and parcel of their everyday life.
As I was doing a bit of research for this discussion, I was shocked at how mainstream it is and how a lot of what seems commonplace now is a portion of VR or AR. I wasn’t realizing that. I’m not sure the average person knows that they’re having an AR augmented reality experience. They know that they’re trying different shoes on their feet on their computer by holding their camera down or they don’t know exactly what they’re doing or how they’re doing it or where it came from.
That shows a more mature technology when we are not aware that it is a technology. None of us are looking at that iPhone or that Android phone and saying, “This is cool technology.” No, it’s a means to an end. It’s the thing that we need to get our communication done, to get our news, to get all of these aspects that are important to our life. That’s going to be the critical difference for VR and AR adoption is when it becomes something that is useful to us and not a novelty of technology.
Do you have a specific business that you’re working within, that you’re working with clients or do you work for somebody else or are you just consulting? How are you in this space personally?
Yes to all of those. I do have a known company called All These Worlds and we do virtual reality work for different purposes, for health, for mindfulness, for training purposes. We have clients like NASA and the Army Medical Command and even some work in safety procedures for warehouses. I have a consulting business but the other job I’m doing is educating the next generation of people for what they could do with AR and VR. I work at Upload as Head of Education. We have hands on classes in VR and AR development that give people a big overview and future-oriented look at what they could be doing with AR and VR while we’re training them in the actual techniques that they need today. I teach at an art college called Otis College of Art and Design. For that, we’re teaching the students how to use VR and AR for artistic purposes, which is going to be the advertising future.
I like how you said, “We have clients NASA.”
We did a virtual reality ecosystems or series of environments to see if having those on board or in a Martian habitat would keep future astronauts more psychologically healthy, so they wouldn’t go through sensory deprivation and social isolation. That was a fun project.
Application-wise, one of the things that came to my mind when thinking about this technology and I’m interested to get your take on it. A lot of what I do and what our audience does is we present products to retail buyers in the hopes that we will make enough of an impression that creates interest that eventually leads to them wanting to bring our products on and sell them in Target or Costco or wherever it happens to be. The process of selling a product, a consumer goods product to a buyer, hasn’t changed much in 100 years.
If you take out video and email, the process is still very much the same. You go down there and do a demonstration. Hopefully, they’re interested and then you go through the process. I’m constantly trying to think of new and different ways to make this process either easier, better, or more enjoyable, and it got me thinking about augmented or virtual reality and how those technologies could be used to possibly introduce buyers to products. What do you think about that?
One of the things that comes to mind is if you’ve got a product and you want to put it in a big box store, you can use VR, AR technologies to show the potential store what it would look in their environment. You could take your product on an augmented reality app on a smart device. Eventually, these see through headsets too and walk down the aisle and say, “If my product was the cornerstone of this aisle or an end cap of this aisle, it would increase your sales because it would draw people there. You could see the whole range of the product and how it could be used without even picking it up or opening a box or any of that stuff.” You could give them a couple of different options. What if it was here? What if it was there? What if we put this product in this department? What if we put it in this department? What if we didn’t have to have any shelf space at all but could show it in this department and that department and then someone could press a button and it can be brought from the stock room?
As big box stores start to reduce the real estate, they might want to go to something where everything is not out. Where it can be brought in, in a blink of an eye by somebody who said, “I want that.” That’s one little brainstorming thing. There are places like Lowe’s that have their hollow room where you can put on a virtual reality headset and see what some of their products will look in a space. As we all get phones that have more depth sensing capabilities, one’s able to map your own personal space, your living room or your bathrooms. You can take that data into a store say, “This is what this sink and faucet would look in my bathroom. Or that’s what this particular object would look if I placed it in my physical location.” We’re going to get this blend of reality that will help people who have got products in these kinds of stores, help the customer envision many different ways that that product might enhance their lives.
When you say use an app, are there apps that allow us to do that right now?
They’re getting there. There are the ones like Ikea, where you can place your furniture in your room and people are having fun with that. This is another little trick that people were able to place the couch such that it looked some kid was holding the couch up or people were laying on the couch. If there’s that element of fun, it’s going to even make it more, more exciting to the potential customer. I haven’t looked through all the retail apps, I have to admit that, but I know there’s one that I love called Light Span, which is you have these glowing brushes. Then you can walk through a space and leave the brushes behind you. Going up the stairs, you can leave a spark on each stair and then that is something that somebody else could walk up the stairs and see the sparks if they had the same app on their phone. There’s a lot of possibilities. I have not surveyed the whole landscape of what’s out there, but the fact that our smart devices are getting smart and they’re allowing us to blend physical and virtual realities in ways that I don’t think we’ve thought of all the uses for yet.
I’m envisioning some experience for a buyer. What we do is we might take a picture of a display at Target and then we might Photoshop our product into it, so that they can get a decent idea of what it might look like. It’s never a good representation because the photo has depth and then the product that you try to Photoshop in there doesn’t, so it does look like the product’s just lying on the top of the photo.
With augmented reality though, it can be a full three-dimensional object and you’re in the physical space. You can show a client what that object looks like in three space, in an actual physical location. If there’s an empty spot on the shelf, you can put your 3D product there and you could put a whole bunch of them there. It does give you a better idea of what it looks like in the space itself.
What kind of a program do you need to do that? Would you have to hire somebody that does that for a living?
I would say it’s not plug and play for the ordinary person yet. There are a growing number of augmented reality developers and toolkits out there. Apple has their ARKit, which is based on the technology that Ikea started using four, five years ago. Those are not hard to develop for but they do take a certain amount of technical knowledge. I’d say unless you have somebody on staff that knows that stuff, you probably want to hire a small company to do that kind of visualization product work for you.
I’m always looking at how can I pitch a product to a buyer and not actually be there? Buyers are constantly looking at how do I see a product and review products without having to meet somebody. Because every meeting is a half an hour out of everybody’s life, not to mention travel and all that, that nobody ever gets back. The problem is the buyers can’t meet with everybody because they don’t have the time for that. I’m always trying to think of ways that we can change that and make that easier.
There are some interesting new social VR applications like High Fidelity and AltspaceVR chat. These are spaces where a buyer could have a virtual version of their physical store. That would take some time to get, but it could be there. The person who wants to put a product in there could meet them in that virtual space put the product in the virtual store and they could have their meeting that way. They still have to have a meeting and you still have to see what it looks like. I don’t know how you get past that. It would save travel, especially if somebody had to get on a plane to get to that meeting.
It will become good enough in the future that we can get a good sense of what that product’s going to look in that store. It would take some planning on the part of the big box stores, but we’re looking at this. I know at Upload for education, we want to be able to distribute education to people wherever they are in VR, so you could do an in-VR class that somebody in Florida could do even if the teacher’s in California. You’re saving all of that travel, all of that space, all of those logistics of trying to get to the class if you have the equipment at home to do that. There may be a place in the store headquarters where they have a VR headset that can go in and have these virtual meetings. There’s a bit of a step above the video conferencing type of thing.
I’m like, “Sign me up for that.”
We’ve got a couple of years before it overcomes some of the technological hurdles, but it’s coming. I spent an hour and a half with one of my coworkers in VR chat. We were on the deck of the Titanic together and looked over the rail to the water and saw the iceberg on its way. That was pretty interesting.
Unfortunately, retailers sometimes are the last ones to adopt new technology. They’re not generally on the cutting edge. At some point if you could both be in a virtual environment together showing a product, putting it on the shelf, seeing how it looks, that would really change things. That would be something that was completely different. How do you think suppliers could best use AR or VR if you were to give them like, “These one or two things in this current technology?”
The whole shopping experience. If you’re going to go to a physical store, that experience has to be something that’s not dreaded that you’re going because it’s going to be a cool experience. Like going to a movie theater for an opening of a film. You’ve got everybody around you. There’s that whole social experience. There’s the ritual of going into the theater. Shopping may have to change when there’s a physical destination. Part of what these immersive technologies AR and VR could do is prime people for an experience somehow. I don’t know how, but like me getting my glasses by trying them on online, what would get me into a store to pick up that product? It might be that there’s some social component. It might be that there is some discount I’ll get.
It might be that I can take pictures of me shopping for that thing in the physical location that then become part of my social media feeds, so that there’s some viral thing. I got to try on the glasses with the alligator in the bayou or whatever, something like that. We have to start looking at physical destinations as giving the customer more than they would get if they did an online shopping experience. I don’t have the answers for that, but suppliers might want to think about that. How do they position their product in a destination that many people say they don’t want to go to? If there’s a reason that makes it more enjoyable for them to go there and it’s tied in with the supplier’s product, then they got a win-win situation.
Is there mainstream technology out there that’s easy to use or is it still pretty much relegated to the experts?
You need to developer to do this technology. Way back 40 years ago, you needed someone who knew how to run a camera to do your video work for you. That changed. We’re not to the point where we have easy to use authoring tools for these systems, nor has the technology settled into something that says we do have our phones and that’s pretty cool, but not so much authoring tools. You’d still have to get someone to probably build something at this stage.
I’m not one of the people that are stuck back in the, “I really loved it when I had to write by hand all my spreadsheets,” that’s not me. I enjoy every bit of technology as it comes my way. This is no different and I think game-wise, it seems like we’re getting a little bit faster because I keep seeing displays at retail stores where virtual reality is getting into gaming but I’m interested as to when it will become more mainstream and maybe we can’t get beamed around the world like Star Trek, but we may be able to both enter the same space from different countries through virtual reality. That would be amazing.
Right now, they’re using it for senior centers, so people can, with Google Earth, go back and see where they lived at some point or visit an exotic destination that way. Virtual travel is great for people who can no longer travel or can’t afford to travel. There are a lot of uses that are going to become more common as the technology becomes less expensive and easier to use.
Jacki, thank you so much. I honestly, other than the bit of research that I did on the subject, didn’t understand fully what the difference is between AR and VR, but feel like I have a decent grasp on that as much as I can in 30 minutes. I have a working man’s knowledge of the differences, mainly the way you put it which is virtual reality being in a different, the way I heard it in my layman’s terms, but basically being in a different world. Whereas augmented reality is placing things in your current world, like the couch in the living room as opposed to virtual reality going to a whole separate reality. That helped me understand the differences and I’m sure our audience out there are grasping that as well, I’m hoping. I appreciate your time and so thank you much for the schooling of the subject. It’s been very enlightening.
You’re welcome. You’re a great pupil because you got it.
Great speaking with you too. Good luck with the multitude of different ventures that you’re involved in. I wish you the best of luck.
Jacki has left and what we’re left with is a lot of information and a lot of great tidbits of how that technology, AR, Augmented Reality and VR, are going to be used and what we can do to get ready for that. I hope you guys took a listen and started to understand that placing items or taking a screen and superimposing clothes on your body or a couch in your living room or any of those things is going to be the norm pretty soon and we need to start to wrap our head around that. Thanks so much, Jacki, for spending the time and explaining that in such a quality way. We appreciate it, and we appreciate you.
If you like the podcast, a couple of things that I’d like you to do. One, I need you to reach out and play some comments on the different episodes. Let’s get some conversations started and take it to the next level. Let’s start conversing beyond the podcast. Questions, comments, issues, things that you’re dealing with, send those in because we’re starting to compile a list of questions and we’ll be doing a question and answer episode here soon and would love to include yours on that. If you want to be part of furthering the conversation, come and join On The Shelf Now, which is our Facebook closed group. You’re with some like-minded people that are doing and struggling with the same things that you’re doing and struggling with. It’s great to get everybody’s perspective. Looking forward to that. Thanks so much for supporting the podcast and hanging in there with us during this transition. We appreciate it. We look forward to our next episode and we look forward to seeing your products on the shelf.
I am always interested in projects that do good and advance VR/AR as new media in their own rights. I have 20+ years expertise in immersive VR environment creation & production, with a focus on evoking emotional responses and meaningful experiences in such environments. Developed techniques to facilitate this. Invented a scent delivery collar to provide smells in VR environments & an Infrasonic floor to produce emotional effects.
Experience in online worlds, & in connecting them to sensors for realtime feedback. Actively researching the vectors of how our virtual avatar representations affect our physical reality.
Taught innovative game design classes at UCLA 2007-09. Co-Founder of the game research group Ludica (www.ludica.org.uk), & member of IDGA, and WIGI. Frequent speaker on VR, AR and VWs. Expert in the health, training and social applications of new media and online worlds. Currently teaching Senior Projects class at Otis College of Art and Design.
Responsible for designing the first combined technical and artistic year long training program for incoming computer animators at Walt Disney Feature Animation. On New Technologies group for the Disney Studios. 1994-1997. Developed similar training for the visual effect industry at VIFX and Blue Sky as well as for the Oscar award winning Rhythm & Hues. 1997-2000.
Interdisciplinary background including: Pre-MED; advanced degrees in art & computer science; ongoing intense interests in health, medicine and neuroscience. Virtual environment creation & production (fully immersive, artistic, meaningful and game-like). Game theory and expertise. Directing team-based projects to bring out the creativity of each individual. Teaching design and creativity in technology areas. Artistic concept development. Writing & research paper publications – a 20 year history.