Kevin Jones and Eric Thomas, VizVibe: “everyone can benefit from implementing an augmented reality solution”

Technology can help create more and more inventions that are not only useful but also entertaining and fun. One of those versatile creations is Augmented reality (AR).

By overlaying virtual objects and information into the real world, augmented reality (AR) has quickly transformed how we learn, work, or even socialize. It has changed the way we interact with the world around us to a point where it is hard to imagine how we would live without it.

One of the main benefits of augmented reality is that it is able to fill the gap between the digital and physical worlds. By using AR, companies can create engaging experiences, from virtual try-ons to interactive product demonstrations.

To find out more, we sat down with CEO & Co-founder Kevin Jones and Co-founder Eric Thomas of VizVibe to talk about how they have mastered the art of augmented reality. They specialize in creating AR experiences that are designed to enhance the user's engagement with brands, products, and services.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of VizVibe. What has the journey been like over the years?

It’s been an interesting ride over the years! Since VizVibe’s start, we have had many ups and downs and definitely had to pivot quite a bit!

We started our company in 2018, and we’ve moved multiple times. The first office we had was above my son’s daycare center and had to be completely set up by our team, so all of the setup, painting, and everything there had our blood, sweat, and tears put into it. When we scaled past that office, we moved to Wilkes-Barre, where we, unfortunately, lost everything in a fire.

After the fire, we moved to a new location, and within months after moving, COVID hit, and it hit the tourism, education, and industrial markets that we worked with directly. However, we pivoted and started working remotely, and our team didn’t miss a beat from switching from the office to remote work.

As a matter of fact, the hardest thing during COVID for us was telling ourselves to walk away and stop working! Our team would work for hours on Zoom, banter back and forth just like we would at the office. The only problem was that we were so in the zone we didn’t want to take a break, and we were working for hours!

Even though the industries we were working with were impacted directly, we still found ways to engage teachers, students, tourism, and travel. We actually found that COVID helped us with the industrial side to blow that vertical up for us. So, what we thought was going to start off as “oh, this is very uncharted waters” ended up being some of our best years.

The one thing that we’ve been able to say is since we started the company, my co-founder Eric and I have done great on revenue and growth. We haven’t stopped growing as a company even through all of that adversity. One thing that’s been proven time and time again for us is you have to be agile as a business, particularly in the tech industry. You have to be able to pivot on a dime and have confidence in the decisions that you’re making because there is no gap.

The business of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality is changing multiple times daily. With all of the ups and downs we’ve had, it really caused us to not look at the business with blinders on, and ask ourselves those hard questions and figure out our existing clients and new clients we’re getting every day.

So we think over the last few years, what we’ve discovered as a company is that we’re not afraid of change. With all of our ups and downs, we started to embrace change because that is the one guarantee that you have in business. Things are always going to change, and you can either be afraid and run from it, or you can say, “You know what? I get it, change is gonna happen, how do we embrace the change and try not to reject it?”

Can you introduce us to your Augmented Reality solutions? What are their key features?

Sure! As a team, VizVibe is a one-stop shop for the whole process, from conception all the way to app release. Our background in education, design, and interactive technology let us perform that pivot we’ve mentioned, letting us cut out the middleman for our clients and simplify the whole process for them, as opposed to needing to work with multiple companies for a single project. We have a few augmented reality solutions available that help us do this.

We have custom AR applications that we do for industry 4.0, including manufacturing, robotics, logistics, SMT tooling, and commercial brush lines. We offer custom experiences in product visualization. There is no “one fits all” solution when it comes to your equipment maintenance; each augmented reality solution is defined to meet engineering standards. We help minimize downtime by enabling non-expert staff to perform routine equipment updates and simple maintenance procedures. This expedites maintenance by providing users with the required solutions within the AR environment.

VizVibe works with the corporate engineering department to define the maintenance experience solution. Your team can use an AR-enabled mobile app to scan or access exact information by superimposing guided videos, graphics, and images by indicators called "target areas." These labels provide instant access to overlaid content that assists with questions, quality control, and to quickly troubleshoot with machines. Our systems cut down on maintenance and supplies, reduce product downtime, and so on.

Another solution we have is AR LaunchPad, one of the easiest augmented reality platforms on the market, to help educators, small businesses, and manufacturers get into the AR game. That’s why we put it together, so it's literally a few clicks, and you’re able to have augmented reality through the app. You can overlay videos, audio, green screen videos, and more. The key feature that we love to point out about our platform is anyone can use it, and you can use the tools you already know. You don’t have to learn our platform to design the content, you can use Canva, Word, VistaPrint, and all of those, and film the content on your phone. Then, simply through a few clicks, you’re able to have your content live through the AR LaunchPad app.

Once you set up an account on our platform, it's super fast. We have flexible subscriptions, the free AR app is on iOS and Android, and the dashboard is super easy to use. We also offer white glove services and custom designs on top of it. Businesses, travel, tourism, education, and marketing all utilize it, or we can help build custom.

In your opinion, which types of organizations or users would greatly benefit from implementing Augmented Reality solutions?

When we say “everyone,” it may seem like an easy answer. However, we truly mean everyone can benefit from implementing an augmented reality solution. For companies that do sales, training, setup, maintenance, and communications, we’ve built a variety of applications that run on our AR LaunchPad platform that would not be considered traditional AR. If you’re thinking of scanning and placing something in order to interact with it, we offer those features in every app that we do, we also offer our AR engine to build communication apps, kiosks, or digital sales tablets, replacing the need for printouts and one sheets.

Our technology has been used in trade shows to limit shipping costs because we can project a machine or a product, and you can interact with it and walk around or into a product, replacing the cost where you would traditionally ship machines with some hardware for a kiosk, saving companies thousands on shipping. On the flip side, you also have the ability for your sales team to have the technology to go out and project for the dealer, the vendor, the warehouse, or the customer directly.

Companies that create machinery, robotics, manufacturing, or B2B can replace the bulky manuals, which are often out of date by the time they’re getting printed, giving them an option that can be updated in real-time and help improve maintenance, set up time, troubleshooting, train new employees, and more.

For tourism, you can take virtual tours with you as you walk through the city and experience what it looked like 100-200 years ago or run interactive scavenger hunts and clues that are given in augmented reality.

On the everyday user side, you can do everything from bringing Benjamin Franklin or a revolutionary war soldier to life, or create a spaceship in your backyard, or even making your holiday and invitation cards interactive.

There are all different ways to engage people to get out into the communities, to go to museums, go to bars and restaurants, go to state parks and national landmarks, and experience it all with additional layers of content on top of reality!

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Did you add any new features as a result?

Because of the recent global events, we found ourselves pivoting a lot more towards manufacturing and demonstration using AR. We also found that teachers needed the ability to make something quick, and they needed to understand that since their time was so enamored in the new educational field during COVID when everything was forced online and overwhelming, our platform allowed them to do interactivity at home. As one example, a local teacher in our area was teaching the skeletal system, and we were able to work with her on that.

We also decided that we could experiment a little outside of our usual clients. We already had children under the age of 10 making games with AR LaunchPad, so we decided to create AR Kids Kit, an online on-demand AR platform for kids that we’re still developing. In addition, we also did our first web AR experience, where someone just scans a QR code or goes to a URL in any web browser for their AR experiences instead of needing a native app installed.

While all of these experiences were being created, we took in as much feedback as we could get and used them to make our systems faster and more scalable. While there weren’t new features for AR LaunchPad specifically, we got a lot of practice with other AR-based solutions, such as the product demonstration we mentioned before.

Why do you think companies hesitate to try out new innovative solutions that would enhance their operations?

I actually think a lot of companies might be reluctant to utilize new technologies because of the comfort and familiarity with how it already works. A lot of times, we run into this in conversations. What typically tends to happen is with anything new, we have the tendency to say, “No thanks, get that thing away from me,” “I do not want to try it, I'm good with what I know,” and other knee-jerk reactions to stick with the familiar.

We’ve found that there’s often a fear of “I don't know about this new technology” leading some people to think, “This might replace me.” Where we’ve found less resistance when we run into this has been changing their perspective and showing how it can help make a tedious part of their job take up less time and effort or how much money the new solution can save in the long run.

Beyond that, there’s also the IT factor for companies with an IT Department. Often, IT has stress tested the tech stack it uses and knows how it breaks as well as how to fix things when it does. New technology solutions, by definition, aren’t tested with the rest of their ecosystem to see if there might be new bugs and breaks. This can be frightening.

For AR adoption specifically, I also think our industry for the longest time has not done the best job of explaining what Augmented Reality (AR) is. I think a lot of times, people don't realize they can use it in their everyday life.

For example, when we do presentations for companies, conferences, and schools (college, high school, k-12), one of the things we like to do is ask, “How many of you have seen augmented reality in the last 24 hours?”. You might get one or two people that raise their hand. Then we rephrase it to “How many of you have been on social media or a webpage where you did an overlay, effect, or a filter on an image?” 98% of the audience’s hands go up! We then tell them, “That's AR!”

So, what tends to happen is that people don't realize the power of AR. The tech industry hasn’t done a good job of explaining that these filters, plug-ins, and effects we use every day are augmented reality.

This issue, though, isn’t AR-specific. Boiled down, a lot of the time, the company wants to know what your solution does, how it makes things better for them, and why using your new solution benefits them more than sticking to the familiar solutions they’ve already trained their team on.

We’ve found the more innovative companies tend to have employees who look at things and go, “This is interesting. Let our team play around with it!” Those companies and people are often the ones who will be at the front of the race!

In your opinion, where can we expect to see real solutions be used more often in the near future?

We think industrial AR is changing the face of the business! In marketing, it's funny when you see once people start realizing what Augmented Reality is and that it's going to happen when more and more companies like Apple and Google really start pushing their tech.

We think with more and more people in manufacturing or commercial consumer-facing marketing, advertising, and tourism/travel, it’s going to continuously grow in use. We’re going to see these people really looking at adding value for people who can use it and that they can get something out of it other than “Cool, a dinosaur running around my room!” Like We always say, we think that every industry has the opportunity to utilize this technology, but they need to have a developer who understands the technology and how they value their customers, clients, or their employees, as opposed to using it as a gimmick.

We think if it becomes a beneficial tool or becomes additional information or resource for a person, and it gives value to the user’s experiences, the opportunities are endless with this technology!

You will still have people doing the gimmicky stuff, and that works for brands sometimes, but we think there are so many opportunities out there. The playing fields are so vast that as the hardware prices come down, it’s going to become an everyday technology. More people are already opening their eyes to things like trying on clothes virtually and being able to see if it fits before they even like them or exploring a new vehicle and having a visual before they go out to the car lot.

We think in education, the ability for me to not understand a math problem that my 10-year-old has, or if I was a student myself being able to scan it and see the teacher explain it on the whiteboard or blackboard, I think all of that, in general, is an area of growth!

We think the future is bright. We think that we have to do a better job at explaining what AR means and that we have to help people see the value instead of the gimmick. Everyone will use it once we get further along with web AR technology, where we don’t have to worry about the hardware anymore. We think at that point, you can take that and mix it with the social aspect of AR, and it is going to be something that everyone will be using in everyday life. We think that's incredibly exciting!

In this age of ever-evolving technology, what do you think are the key security practices both businesses and individuals should adopt?

We’re pulling in Eric for this one. In almost all cases, the answer for individuals is actually going to be the exact same as the answer for businesses!

One thing we always recommend for everyone is we strongly advocate using a password manager. High on the list of worst things someone can do for their security is reuse passwords for their various sites and services, and with the number of websites being visited every day, that can mean a lot of unique, hard-to-remember passwords get built up for a person. Password managers are a way to do this much more efficiently.

This also leads to our second practice, which is to update your passwords. In general, but especially if you’re notified that a service you use has had a security incident. Password managers make this significantly simpler, and some even let you automate the process.

When choosing a password manager, it's easy to get swept up in using one just because you see it advertised or read about it in a comparison article. It’s a wiser decision to look into the password manager you have in mind. We always recommend doing research into the history of that manager, including past incidents that have happened within the company and how they handled both the incident and disclosing the incident to customers.

Additionally, VPNs are a (potentially) great tool for privacy and security. While a lot of the advertising for VPNs overpromises what they do, such as preventing you from being hacked, they do offer a layer of protection while connected online. For individuals in particular, we think they’re vital if you find yourself needing to use public, free Wi-Fi, where it’s relatively simple for a malicious actor to spy on, log, and even interfere with your activity and device. A trusty VPN lets you push your activity to another network, where those malicious actors often can’t follow.

As a business-specific security practice, we advocate never sending sensitive information without verifying the person receiving it and, even then, never sending it together in one shot. As an example, say a client emails you asking for the login information for a system you made for them. You can text them to verify they really emailed you, and if they did, you can email the client the username for a system and send the password via a secondary channel like the number you texted them at. This way, if one piece of information is compromised, the person would still need access to the other communication method to have everything.

Security practices can be a bit inconvenient, but in the end, having information get leaked or finding out your system is compromised is going to be a lot more of a headache for everyone involved.

What predictions do you have for the future of content creation?

The biggest thing we see becoming more common is “social AR.” We’ve seen this with things like TikTok and Snapchat. As this younger generation is growing up in this field, that is what they’re going to expect from companies going forward. As times change, so does content creation. YouTube and Twitch were once the major, nearly uncontested platforms, and now that’s changing.

AI is also developing at a rapid rate, so much so that we can’t really comprehend what technology is going to look like in the next ten years, maybe not even in the next five years! Even in the time between us getting these interview questions and sending the answers, AI has improved by an astonishing amount. As technology goes out, content creation is going to be such an opportunity for people. A lot of people that are in traditional marketing, advertising, and content creation might be a little hesitant of it going forward, and we can’t say they’re invalid fears.

What we can say is that this is why our team is building tools like our AR LaunchPad platform to make it easier for people to step into augmented reality. With companies providing low barriers to entry for this complex technology, the power of content creation is going to be in the hands of the masses like never before, and the experiences that we all have are going to be much richer and deeper for it.

As more people become aware of the power that you have in not only teaching, marketing, or selling but also in connecting with someone, those connections and interpersonal relationships in tech are going to be increasingly entwined with everyday life.

Change is going to happen faster and faster as this technology develops, and instead of pushing it away, we think we should embrace it and find a way to utilize the new technologies as new tools for creating new,engaging content. If content creators see it as just another tool in the tool box, and not a replacement, that is going to engage a whole new set of possibilities, which we think is exciting! The next 5-10 years are certainly going to be interesting to see!

Would you like to share what’s next for VizVibe?

For VizVibe, web AR is our company’s future focus. Additionally, we’ll be continuously innovating our AR LaunchPad platform and continuing to provide innovative AR solutions for our clients. Web Augmented Reality is going to be a game changer, and we see it as being an incredibly significant extension of our AR LaunchPad platform.

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