Australia embraces virtual reality

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From a virtual reality (VR) company started way back in 2002 to companies that have a global footprint, Australia’s VR scene is vibrant and progressive. So much so that eBay chose Australian department store Myer to create its first virtual reality department store after noticing sizable orders of VR headsets from that country.

Australian entrepreneurs have come up with VR solutions that mirror and give expression to the Australian lifestyle, often related to the outdoors, whether exercising in it or filming it. Here we take a look at some of the pioneering Australian VR companies working from the three main VR centres Sydney, Perth and Melbourne.

On 6 Aug 2002 Nick Walker founded VR Tours. VR Tours was one of the original virtual tour providers to start up in Australia, and today the Sydney-based company is one of Australia’s leading virtual tour suppliers. The company produces high definition fully spherical 360° virtual reality tours of commercial and residential real estates, boats, landscapes, hotel and resort accommodation and more. VR Tour’s Royal Australian Navy virtual tours, completed in 2012, allow users to go 'on board' real working Navy ships and give people interested in joining the Navy a glimpse of what it’s like to serve in the Navy.

For lovers of the outdoors and fitness enthusiasts, the newly founded Dream Well has created a running app that is an audio version of an immersive experience. Listening to a story accompanied by immersive sound effects the runner becomes the hero of her own epic movie while facing challenges and encounters that lead to progressive fitness. Fit for Battle, the audio adventure for running, is the first in a series of such apps the company plans. Dream Well received $50,000 seed-funding from the HCF Catalyst health tech accelerator program.

Another award-winning enterprise on the local VR scene is Melbourne-based Snobal, a tech startup founded by Murray James and Ann Nolan. Snobal is a platform that enables people to create virtual shopping experiences that allow customers to experience, socialise and purchase products and services in a 3D environment through a web browser or mobile device. Snobal sees itself as WordPress for 3D shopping experiences. In June 2015 Snobal was awarded a Merit Recipient Award at the Victorian iAwards.

Also from Melbourne is Zero Latency. Zero Latency has garnered a lot of attention since it opened its VR attraction in Melbourne on 15 August last year, including being named one of the world’s ten most innovating gaming companies by Fast Company. Billed as the world's largest VR attraction, the entertainment platform allows users to move freely around a 400-square metre area playing virtual reality games. The Melbourne venue has hosted nearly 10,000 visitors and just this week the company announced a partnership with Sega Live Creation which will take its VR gaming experience to Japan where it will be permanently situated in the Tokyo amusement park, Joypolis.

Launched by leading Sydney-based production company, Rapid Films, Rapid VR is a full service production company that specialises in 360 degree immersive virtual reality video content. Rapid VR produces high-end immersive video content for brands, advertisers and adventurers worldwide seeking an extraordinary new experience. Rapid VR has created content for some of the world's biggest brands, working with top creative agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia over a span of 10 years using customised camera rigging and specialised filming techniques.

Pixelcase is an award-winning production studio specialising in the use of virtual reality and aerial technology since 1998. Based in Perth with offices in Nothingham, the company is an end to end VR production services provider. The company provides VR expertise, consultation and training to production houses and creative agencies and has established a marketplace for virtual reality content where many content developers around the world submit their VR contributions. Pixelcase has done work for leading brands around the world including Samsung, Facebook, RedBull, Quantas, Virgin, Mercedes Benz, BBC to name a few.

It’s not only VR entrepreneurs that are exposing the Australian population to the wonders of virtual reality. The Australian Museum in Sydney is hosting the first two natural history documentaries ever designed for virtual reality: David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Virtual Reality Dive experience and David Attenborough’s First Live Virtual Reality experience. Donning Samsung Gear VR headsets audiences are simultaneously exposed to cutting edge technology and one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. The VR experiences were created by Alchemy, a VR company in the UK.