Virtual reality (VR) had a bit of a false start 20 years ago, but this time it seems it’s here to stay. The ubiquity of smartphones means that we can expect to see a broad range of firms trying to cash in on the virtual world. Headsets, such as Samsung’s Gear, are one way to play the hardware market. However, there are a range of other accessory firms you might like to back. I came across one such company at VR World – a trade show in the giant ExCel Centre. Below, I’m interviewing Elliott Myers from Roto VR. It’s a small, innovative firm – and one with designs on the accessories market.
AL: Hi Elliott. Can you start off by telling me a bit about Roto VR?
EM: Hey Andrew. Roto VR is an interactive motorised virtual reality chair. As well as massively enhancing the VR experience, we also solve practical problems such as motion sickness and cables getting tangled up. Roto is designed in the UK and manufactured in China. We aim to sell globally from early 2017.
AL: Why do think virtual reality is going to be big business?
EM: All the global blue chip companies are throwing their weight into VR development (hardware and software), yet nobody really knows what shape it’s ultimately going to take. With so many different ideas being invested in parallel, any serious technical or commercial hurdles are likely to be overcome.
Mark Zuckerberg believes “this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people”.
AL: If nobody knows what form or shape virtual reality is going to take, what makes you confident that Roto VR will succeed?
EM: Whatever the future may hold in terms of technology, we can assume that most VR experiences will be seated, primarily because we humans are inherently lazy. We’re not going to watch a full-length movie standing up. Also many popular game genres such as racing games are seated by nature. Stand-up VR also takes up a lot room space, so in all, developers will naturally develop for the lowest common denominator – a seated user.
AL: What makes Roto different?
EM: Roto enhances the seated experience with haptic feedback so dramatically you feel like you’re really there, in another world. Once you’ve tried Roto, VR feels empty without it.
AL: how does Roto make you feel more immersed?
EM: Roto is an affordable home simulator chair. Imagine piloting a space ship – to be completely immersed you’d need to feel the movement of the spaceship underneath you (ie, your chair needs to move). With Roto, you can add our Table accessory, so you can drive around 360 degrees with a steering wheel (and pedals). Roto also has “rumble shakers” which can be affixed to the underside and back of the chair for added sensations. It’s like 4D on steroids. Actually we should call it 360D!
AL: VR is pretty notorious for causing motion sickness. How does Roto solve this?
EM: Motion sickness is experienced when the brain gets confused between what you see and what you feel. In VR this can happen frequently, especially when you’re sitting down and not physically moving around. Roto ensures you’re moving in accordance with what you see, thus resolving the worst part of motion sickness. Nothing else on the market does this.
AL: What’s your business model?
EM: With VR being such a diverse proposition, we’ve been approached by a wide variety of industries, such as arcade companies in Japan, internet cafes in China, movie theatres in France, universities in Germany, schools in Spain, plus we’re working with an innovative real estate company in Canada – imagine being taken on an interactive tour of a prospective property from the comfort of your own home!
AL: Do you have any experience in making successful products?
EM: Actually yes. I’ve created a number of award-winning products in the games space. I started out by developing the leading brand of games accessories called Gamester back in the late 80s. My team and I also created the first force feedback steering wheel and joystick, plus the first ever 3D games controller called Gametrak. I’ve lived in China and the USA – whatever it takes to make it work!
AL: Have you had any product failures?
EM: Oh yes! I once lost all my money on a failed business. It was such a horrible ordeal, my family all begged me to get a “stable job” for a while (even my eight-year-old daughter), but once I get an idea I think has merit, I simply can’t sleep until I conclude whether it’s commercially viable or not. I’ve always ran my own businesses – besides, what job these days could possibly be described as “stable”? I’ve started three companies, raised over £12m in all – plus successfully exited two.
AL: How have you funded Roto VR to date?
EM: We successfully raised some funds last year through traditional equity financing with a forward-looking institutional investor called Jensons Solutions. To attract investors we applied for SEIS [Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme] and EIS [Enterprise Investment Scheme] compliance. We’re actually seeking further investment now, to expand our growth.
It was much harder earlier on, especially being based in the UK – the VR buzz caught alight in the US whereas the UK really lagged behind. We initially tried a Kickstarter campaign, but I’d rather forget the experience. We were too early for the market and frankly speaking we weren’t experienced enough in crowdfunding.
What are your thoughts on the future of VR? Please do let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.