Tawny Schlieski has spent her career diving into the awkward new field of virtual reality—and now she wants more people to join her.
Schlieski, Director of Research at Intel's Desktop Organization, told the TechFestNW audience Monday that virtual reality and augmented reality could become the new normal, if more people felt included in what's often been viewed as an isolating technology.
Schlieski wants to use her platform at Intel and her role as a founding chairwomman of Oregon Story Board to diversify the field of virtual reality and reach the general population in ways that interest them.
"There is only a handful of people doing virtual reality today—it's really just VR geeks," Schlieski said. "The rest, the 99%, say, 'You know what? That just seems kind of hard and weird.'"
But the nonsensical and weird aspects of VR and AR—bulky headsets, limited audience, expensive production—are familiar themes of emerging technology, Schlieski argued.
Take the earliest cell phones of the 1980s.
"There was a room about the size of this one in Manhattan that had service, and 10 other white guys that had one," Schlieski said. "There was no reason to believe that anyone beyond those handful of folks would ever have this device."
Just as cell phones have become a commonplace device, Schlieski believes that VR will be a new digital environment in the future of storytelling, and will produce a new economy in doing so.
"Designers will remove the friction of the experience, and figure out the sociality of it."
But the people who get involved in the field early on are the ones who build the rules, Schlieski argues. And she wants to make sure people outside of the tech industry are part of that brainstorm.
"I want to make sure we are finding ways to bring in teams that don't all look alike," Schlieski said. "Teams that think differently."
With Intel, Schlieski has been working for 18 months to design a live digital performance, which will allow augmented reality technology to play a role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Tempest at Stratford-upon-Avon. Tickets for this virtual theatre experience will go on sale in November.
In Portland, Oregon Story Board is a leading provider of VR training, and has focused their company on advancing the digital storytelling industry.
Last November, Microsoft awarded their HoloLens academic grant to a project created by Oregon Story Board in partnership with Clackamas Community College. OSB and CCC received $100,000 and two HoloLens devices to develop an augmented reality curriculum that allows mechanics students to learn about an engine through a pair of HoloLens glasses.
The path to creating a VR device used commonly and easily, Schlieski believes, is by giving more people a reason to embrace the awkward, and strap the headset on.