Daniel S. Freeman
Tomek Augustyn

Learning by doing: The VR kitchen

How building a kitchen out of paper helped us learn more about VR.

In the last few years, we have seen an explosion of new digital platforms such as artificial intelligence, gesture control, smart watches and virtual reality. This represents a continual challenge for companies to understand what benefits or threats each platform represents as well as how and when to act.

Countless reports and industry forecasts add to the hype of VR but most companies find it hard to relate to many of the examples portrayed. We recognise the potential of virtual reality for gaming, but what does it mean for a supermarket, an airline or a builder? The truth is that nobody knows. No-one can truly divulge the potential of a new platform to their business until it’s too late and the opportunity has swept by.

Learning by doing is the key.

The challenge

We challenged the Fjord Stockholm studio with a lunchtime workshop to come up with ideas for VR services and pitch them with a video prototype. Many great concepts ensued but the winner was in an unexpected industry sector – Insurance.

The idea was VR Kitchen: A gamified experience of a virtual kitchen where users could explore and identify potential hazards, build awareness and prevent accidents. For an insurance company, it’s valuable to build more meaningful relationships with their customers and have a contact beyond those difficult moments when customers need to make a claim or renew their policy.

We then tested this idea with a three week “fast track” innovation sprint. We saw that it’s time-consuming to use 3D modeling to build a realistic environment, so we got the help of Kwan Silkestrand and Sandra Öster, visual designers at Fjord, to lead the construction of a miniature kitchen out of cardboard and paper!  Note the tiled floors being made possible by the trusty Post-It notes – is there no end to their use?

Once complete, we set about the challenge of digitising the physical model. Our Creative Tech team, Kim Eriksson and Adrien Lavisiera, took care of the photography process. We made use of the 360fly camera to scan the space (we recommend the 4K version). This unit handles both photography and video recording and is essentially a connected camera with a fish-eye lens on top. We suspended the camera upside down from the ceiling in order to capture the floor of the kitchen. It was important to get the right sense of perspective and the height of the camera played an important factor since taking a photo too low or too high would make the experience too disorientating for users.

The next step was to build a mobile browser-based web application that allowed users to easily access the experience. This was important since it enabled anyone to interact without downloading an app – users need to simply go to the website and put their phone into a Google Cardboard VR viewer. Our Creative Technology Lead, Tomek Augustyn, proposed a framework called A-Frame that allowed us to design this experience with a simple HTML-like mark-up language.

Interactivity in a VR space is a little tricky – Google Cardboard has a synthetic button that translates a finger touch into a screen tap. Whilst useful, in practice we found that this was not a reliable way to interact since many people’s screen protection and cases interfered with the button, leading to a poor user experience – in the future we will go with a simpler form of interaction that allows the user to interact with objects just by fixing their gaze on them for a short time.

The concept “as-is” can be tested at https://hpbf.fjordnet.com/ in Safari browser on Apple iPhone 6 (and above). It works with and without a standard Google Cardboard viewer.

 

The learnings

Rapid Innovation is an extremely useful approach to learn and develop, especially when dealing with new technologies.

During these three weeks, we learned a huge amount about the practicalities of creating a VR experience as well as applying VR in a new way to help broader industries. From a user perspective, people are cautious about trying out new experiences and conscious of spinning around with a device attached to their faces – especially in a public space! Nonetheless, it was clear that even Cardboard-based VR is immersive and can create a meaningful experience for people – this emotional connection is something valuable for companies seeking to build a relationship with their customers.

Daniel S. Freeman
Tomek Augustyn

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