By Jason Crawford, Founder & CEO of Modal Systems, Inc.
There is a rising tide of virtual reality in location-based entertainment (LBE). It’s a much needed reset for the industry and Modal hopes to see this market grow. Competition will come later. For now, location-based virtual reality (LBVR) companies need to build this new market together. Thus, I’d like to share some insights on why Modal uses the VIVE Focus as our choice HMD for LBVR.
First, A Little Backstory
In 2014, Modal’s first LBVR system prototype consisted of backpack PC computers, optical tracking, and Oculus DK1s, etc. Technically, it worked. However, when Nolan Bushnell (Founder of Atari & Chuck E. Cheese’s) got involved with the company, he began laying out the practical realities of location-based entertainment—rules that have governed the industry for over a hundred years. It became clear that an LBVR system must be, above all else, affordable, portable, simple, and reliable—all while also providing high hourly throughput. All of this meant we needed to rethink our system design.
In refining our approach, we found the ideal VR headset for Modal simply did not exist. So, like any group of well-meaning wackos, we started designing our own . (Not recommended). In late 2017, Modal was preparing to put a rather pricey standalone headset into production when HTC made its VIVE Focus announcement. We were surprised to see HTC VIVE had addressed many of the same design issues we ourselves found important for LBVR. I paused our own hardware plans and reached out to HTC VIVE for a chat. It turned out to be one of the best phone calls I’ve ever made.
9 Reasons Why Modal Uses VIVE Focus:
For all of us in the XR bubble, it’s hard to believe that 99% of the world has still not experienced VR. With the exception of kids, the average person passing by a VR installation finds the controls and equipment intimidating or “too much”. A single wireless standalone headset, like the VIVE Focus reduces their fear factor, especially if they see others having fun. If XR is to transcend its current user base, accessibility, in all forms, is a critical component to getting us there.
Unlike taking a standalone consumer HMD—which needs to be brute-forced into doing what you need for commercial location-based use—the VIVE Focus program is already geared towards the enterprise market. This means critical firmware features such as “kiosk mode” within the enterprise ROM are ready to go from day one. Huge time saver.
HTC VIVE also has an enterprise warranty program that’s known to come in handy when, say, hundreds of people are using your equipment on a daily basis.
- Form Factor
The VIVE Focus is certainly comfortable, light, and well-balanced, but our favorite design feature is actually the headset’s cooling system—one that’s very similar to Modal’s own design.
Avoiding HMD overheat with standalone HMDs is a huge issue for location-based operations, especially when operating outdoors in the sun. Obviously there are limits here, but Modal has run the VIVE Focus in several high-heat conditions and we have yet to see any “must cool down” pop-ups we experienced with other standalone HMDs. Cleverly, the fan also ventilates the facial area when the headset is on, helping keep a user’s face cool while minimizing lens fogging.
The VIVE Focus is obviously self-contained and wireless, making it ideal for temporary installations for corporate events, fairs, trade shows, experiential marketing pop-ups, etc. For instance, a bare minimum Modal system sets up and breaks down in less than an hour, and can even fit in the trunk of a car. Sans lighting conditions, the VIVE Focus allows the Modal system to operate outdoors and the inside-out tracking conveniently does not conflict with other on-site VR installations using laser and/or infrared tracking.
The VIVE Focus has a USB-C port and screw-mount system conveniently located on the top of the visor, which has allowed Modal to fuse X & Y positional tracking with the VIVE Focus’ 6DoF, easily covering up to a 900,000 sq. ft. area with no drift. We’re looking forward to seeing more VIVE Focus accessories from other companies to extend the VIVE Focus in novel and compelling ways.
- Android Stack & VIVE Wave SDK
Modal was born out of a mobile game development studio, so our internal game development team has a lot of experience getting the most out of mobile processing and working with the Android stack. We also like the fact mobile game developers can create multiplayer free-roam XR titles for the Modal system with minimal resources—especially if they have existing titles that make sense for location-based games and experiences. The Wave SDK is easy to use for both Unity and Unreal and the VIVE Focus has proved to be very stable.
It seems like a year of innovation in XR technology equals two years of innovation for other gaming platforms. Because the hardware and software capabilities move at such a rapid pace, making large investments in high-cost tracking, processing, etc. can leave location-based vendors and operators with expensive technical debt issues. Practical ROI and hardware upgrades are critical for location-based installations. For Modal, the affordability of the VIVE Focus has helped manage that aspect of our business.
- The People Behind It
Last, but not least is the intangible benefit of working with h the HTC VIVE team. They truly understand location-based entertainment and share the same passion for making it successful.
The LBVR industry needs more great developers and thinkers to help push the market forward with amazing content. The VIVE Focus combined with the Modal system provides a relatively low-risk way to get into it. Feel free to reach out to me if your company is considering LBVR. I’m always ready to chat with those who want to shape the future of fun!
About the Author
Jason Crawford is Chief Immersionist and Founder of Modal Systems, Inc., which he started with Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari and Chuck E Cheese’s). Modal offers accessible and affordable free-roam virtual reality solutions for location-based entertainment.
Twitter: @modalvr Instagram: @modalvr Facebook: @modalsystems