A New Reality for Business

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One company brings virtual reality and holographic telepresencing to the Upstate

Among business tools, virtual reality and holographic telepresencing might have the highest science-fiction-come-true factor. Yet IVC Greenville has made it its mission to make the Southeast a hub for business uses of these technologies the way Washington, D.C., is a hub for military applications and Los Angeles for entertainment, said founder and managing member Melanie Hill.

IVC, Interactive Visualization Center, opened a year ago. The company designs custom simulation and 3-D modeling software, and also sells systems to organzations who will use them frequently and want their own in-house. Last month IVC Greenville added telepresencing to its list of available services, and has facilitated domestic and international meetings.

Today’s telepresence technology produces a sharp, real-time version of Princess Leia’s recorded image imploring Obi-Wan Kenobi for help in the first “Star Wars” movie.

Teleprescencing did not receive serious mainstream attention until last year. That was when superstar rapper Tupac, who had died in 1996, was “resurrected” holograpically at a live concert. That raised issues in the music industry about profits generated by long-dead performers. Elsewhere in the business world, holograms bring a more natural touch to long-distance communications. They surpass video conferencing that doesn’t allow eye-to-eye contact often needed for sensitive topics or serious negotiations.

Communications occur directly between parties, without a service provider in the middle, which makes them secure, IVC says.

Nick Kinerd demostrates the head-mounted display of the Precision Point Tracking System
Nick Kinerd demostrates the head-mounted display of the Precision Point Tracking System

Fans of the “Star Trek” holodeck or the “Call of Duty” video game franchises might appreciate virtual reality systems, which are accurate to within 0.25 millimeters. They allow an uncannily realistic experience of a place or building that may not even exist, allowing for more precision in project planning and training. The military is currently the heaviest user of the technology for combat training.

Models can be created from photos, laser scans, blueprints or computer-aided drafting (CAD) files. The virtual reality system is mobile, so could be set up in various locations.

Both technologies have evolved over recent decades, but they are still not readily accessible to most organizations, certainly not in this region.

The Reality of Business

Hill said large companies have been the most responsive to the potential uses of the technology. Construction companies have shown the most interest in the software, and area architects have also begun to take note.

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Hill, during a demonstration of holographic telepresence

“At this point, globally 500 companies have used [IVC technology], but not across all the areas where it could be applied,” she said.

As with any new or new-to-the-market product, Hill said client education is still a big part of her job. The small startup currently lacks a marketing budget, and Hill said it’s hard to communicate the difference between her products and the rest of the market with demonstrations.

However, growth continues. Hill is intent on creating jobs for graduates in the field who mostly migrate to other locales. Two of her employees graduated from Clemson’s Master of Digital Computing program. There are two more employees and several contractors with whom IVC works.

“We’ve got a talent pool here, and right now our talent pool is fleeing to the West Coast,” she said. But she hopes to employ them throughout the Southeast soon: Connections in Charleston and Charlotte are expected to materialize into offices in those locations by the end of the year.

Environments for Growth

Hill is also looking at the nuclear power industry for potential customers, which has a major presence in the state. As its workforce ages, a 2011 estimate said 25,000 new operators would be needed by 2015. Hill said IVC has a role to play, helping trainees learn how to deal with hazards in a safe environment, for instance.

In any industry, the technology can help employers assess how well somebody knows a process by seeing how they react to variables.

Robert Judd, virtual design and construction specialist at KBR Building Group, said his company has looked into how IVC technology could expand on its own modeling capacity. KBR clients could take three- rather than two-dimensional tours through building projects.

“To me what they’re doing is kind of a new world and where it goes, I couldn’t tell you,” Judd said. “The potential is limitless as far as being able to see what a building’s going to look like before it’s constructed and, in our case, work out conflicts and coordination issues.”

Hill is wont to rattle off a host of potential applications for the technologies IVC is developing. As more companies become curious and begin to think about how they might fit their own businesses, we may see some of them become common business practice.

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