Virtual reality goes virtual: new tech allows Windsor’s VR CAVE to be accessed remotely

Sanjay Maru/CTV News Windsor

Invest Windsor Essex (IWE) has entered into a unique partnership with a Spain-based technology company, allowing students and business partners to test their products and services in the Virtual Reality CAVE without having to actually step inside of it.

Previously, emerging technology and futuristic scenarios could be tested out inside IWE’s virtual reality cave, giving users the ability to immerse themselves into a digital world centred on a variety of different projects.

But a collaboration between IWE and Virtualware, announced Thursday, means people no longer need to physically be in the VR cave to access its features.

Now, users can connect to the cave remotely — while also having the ability to free-roam around an electric vehicle, battery manufacturing facility, medical device maker and much more.

“You had to come here in order to use this [VR cave]. With this platform integration, it’s now multi-user all in the same environment with global and remote connection,” said Michael Rosas, VP general manager for Virtualware’s North American division.

“Anybody from across the globe can connect to this infrastructure. So if they’re utilizing the resources here, they can have stakeholders come in from anywhere.”

The goal, according to Rosas, is to “bridge the gap” between virtual reality and its ability for stakeholders to access it.

One big challenge of VR spaces, according to Rosas, is that they are normally geared toward one specific use. For example, a 3-D world designed for IWE’s Virtual Reality CAVE could only be used there.

The new tech lifts that barrier, said Rosas, adding users are now able to move around the virtual reality cave through a VR headset or laptop, anywhere in the world.

“Now, everybody can collaborate in that same virtual environment, from whatever device that they have.”

As Windsor-Essex prepares for the influx of thousands of employees at the $5-billion NexStar electric vehicle battery plant, this expanded access to the VR cave means people can be trained on jobs in the facility — before their first official working day in the plant.

“Companies have to build a factory and now they have to train everybody. That’s time that the assembly line is down which costs a lot of money,” he said. “Now, you’re no longer using that plant for that time to be a training centre. So you don’t have to shut anything down.”

“After the plant is operational, we can use this for recertification. We can have all sorts of stuff done here. The best part about these simulated environments is the ability to capture data.”

In a live demonstration of the new technology, officials showed three avatars, controlled by separate devices, helping to build the casing of an electric vehicle battery.

Companies are already envisioning the benefits of this new tech. Among them is Optimotive Technologies which builds robots that can assist in extreme environments such as construction sites, mining operations, and oil and gas producers.

“I really see this technology being useful for visualization: having people connect with the products that we’re building because it’s expensive to ship it out,” said company founder and CEO Scott Fairley.

“One of the things that we have to deal with as a start-up is raising money and finding new customers. So being able to allow those new customers who are not local to us to be able to interact with our products is game-changing.”

According to Fairley, his company will now be able to give his products a level of “global reach” that was previously impossible.

“If we have investors in California, we can now send them this technology and be able to interface with our platforms,” he said.