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The Midwest: No Longer VR Flyover States

Photos by: @[400331290169235:0]

Last week I attended Chicago’s monthly VR Meetup hosted at Chicago’s entrepreneurial hub space, 1871. This month’s Meetup brought together 50 VR enthusiasts, developers, evangelists, entrepreneurs, and even some newbies from all over the Midwest.

Just as those that have come before it, this latest Meetup didn’t disappoint. It had everything from demos of the latest software and hardware from Midwest companies to networking with members from all ends of the Chicago VR community.

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Who’s doing VR in the Midwest?

Beyond showcasing the latest VR/AR tech from Oculus, HTC, Google and more, the Chicago Meetup has been a great way for many companies to demo and showcase what they’ve been working on.  Some of the companies that showcased their work include:

  • Cubicle Ninjas – Started the Chicago Meetup itself and named by TechCrunch as a leader in the AR/VR space, they are purveyors of fancy virtual experiences. The Meetup has been hosted at their offices quite a few times and they’ve used it to launch several of their experiences, such as Guided Meditation VR for the Gear VR and Spectacle VR.

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  • Block Interval – A decentralized creative studio focusing on the very best in storytelling told through virtual reality, graphic novels, film and more. During the Meetup they let attendees experience the Life of Lon, one of their latest VR Story Games that will officially debut in several weeks at VRWC 2016.
  • InContext Solutions – Develops scalable web-based VR shopper and retail solutions. They are dedicated to providing decision-critical insights powered by 3D virtual shopping simulations. In a time when brick-and-mortar stores are being challenged by the rapidly evolving world of e-commerce, they are helping revolutionize the way companies understand shopper behavior.
  • Bottle Rocket Media – Chicago based video agency with a roster of Emmy Award winning talent focused on authentic storytelling. Born out of the NYC advertising scene, they came of age in Hollywood, and refined their skills while working on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Their 360° VR work has been featured on Samsung’s Milk VR app, Littlstar, and Vrideo.

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  • Voyage Virtual Media – Milwaukee based high technology startup specializing in custom tailored virtual reality solutions.  Their products include 360° live event broadcasting, VR games and software for commercial use.  The company is currently working on an adventure-style jungle ruin based puzzle game for the HTC Vive that should be out in time for the Holidays.
  • Contact CI – Cincinnati based team working on VR gloves for the HTC Vive.  Just as planes were modeled after birds, they are embracing the concept of biomimetics with their exotendon system to recreate the motions of the fingers and hands in VR.  Demoing their latest prototype, they were looking for feedback from people from all walks of the VR community.

Image Credit: 1871images

History of the Chicago VR Meetup

During the Meetup I was able to catch up with Cubicle Ninjas and Chicago VR founder, Josh Farkas, to chat about how he’s seen the VR community grow in the Midwest.

As with the general global hype for VR, Farkas shared that it all started with the DK1.  Receiving their first one in 2014, the Cubicle Ninjas team began building software in prep for the first modern VR expo, SVVR.  Seeing the passionate and talented VR community driving the technology forward out West, they were inspired to begin fostering a similar community in their home of the Midwest.

For the first Meetup, their goal was to give interested people a chance to try VR and also provide a home for local developers to show off their work. The inaugural Meetup gave 20 people this home and in several short years has expanded to over 500 members.  Farkas says that while attending VR shows out West he still tends to get raised eyebrows about being based in the Midwest. But he believes that with continued innovation and evangelism locally, that will eventually fade away.  “We may not talk as loud, but we’re talking,” Farkas says.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The above companies and many others are a testament to the growing community of VR not just in the Midwest but the world.  The more people that get to experience it, the better!

Other Midwest Meetups

Not able to make it to Chicago for their Meetups but still want to try VR in the Midwest?  Most of the major cities in the region have similar growing communities and are always looking for new members.

Image Credit: 1871images

About the Scout

Tom Buchanan

Tom is a cofounder and hardware engineer for Contact CI, a company developing VR input gloves. In his spare time he can be found playing ice hockey, rugby, or reading Ready Player One for the nth time.

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