Peter Clowes

Director & Founder MAXART

I am really excited to see this area of our industry develop over the coming years and I am keen to visit museums with VR and AR experiences. The ones I have seen so far have been amazing and real draw cards to get visitors in the door and engaging with STEM, Art and History.

Q. Why did you start your company? (Bernice, Southport SHS)

A. It was around 2015, when I had recently left a role where I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. I decided I needed a change and I was really interested in some new Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies that I had seen demonstrated online. I had some money saved and decided to buy a few pieces of VR and AR equipment and started building my own applications at home. Immediately I realised how powerful these technologies would be for education and training. It was a huge lightbulb moment.

During school and university I was so bored sitting in lectures watching slide after slide, and after building a few VR and AR apps I really felt the technology had reached a point where we could replace some this eLearning material and make education and training engaging, fun and most importantly impactful. I knew then that’s what I wanted to do as a job.

 Q. In order to accomplish the company’s vision, how big is your team and what are their qualifications? (Bernice, Southport SHS)

A. Initially it was just me. I had to run the business, build the apps, QA, testing, deployment. It wasn’t too bad because I was able to rely on years of business and software development study and experience. We were able to build the company to where it is today because myself and the team are still driven to make long term and meaningful change to how people are educated and trained. Our team is passionate about learning by doing, and learning through failure, and we’d love to see more education and training developed in this way, whether at school or in the workplace. We believe VR and AR technologies are (right now) the best way to deliver more learning by doing courses. After 4 years we now have a team of 15 people, and they are a mix of qualified software developers, engineers, 3D artists and 1 psychologist. If I was to put our success down to one thing, I would say it is teamwork, everybody does their job to the best of their ability and all headed towards the same goal.

 Q. What is your highest goal that you hope your work can help put into place for coming generations? (Marni, Atherton SHS)

 A. Right now, I think the ultimate goal would be a mix of things for me. Firstly, I want our customers and partners to love the software we build for them and to love working with our team. Secondly, I want our entire team to be happy and love and be proud of their work. Finally, I want to be able to go home at the end of each day and be content that we are making a difference in people’s lives by making great education and training tools. If I can achieve these three things consistently, then that would be my ultimate goal…..for now.

Q. How is the VR world progressing and changing? (Emma, Babinda State School)

 A. The industry changes every single day. In fact I spend so much of my time every day just reading and researching. It is really important for our team to be constantly questioning how we go about things, and that relies heavily on where the industry is headed. Right now, it’s an exciting time as we have standalone VR headsets (no computer necessary) that are wireless and offer hand tracking. It’s an incredible experience to be able to move freely in a virtual environment and use your hands to interact. And the industry has achieved this feat in such a short space of time, which makes me incredibly excited for the future of VR technology. I foresee a day where every home will have a headset and a dedicated space just for VR games, education, training and social virtual reality.

 Q. Do you have any plans for using VR to explore the world for people that can’t physically travel, bringing the world to them? (Emma, Babinda State School)

A. Personally I don’t have ambitions to develop this use case out, but it’s an incredibly powerful and important use for the technology. There are lots of people in the VR industry building out incredible products that can do this already, and there are so many more to come in the next couple of years. It’s very exciting and I hope to see more funding given to this area of the industry.

 Q. Are there common AR and VR applications we use every day but don’t realise? 

A. In terms of VR, no, unfortunately only a small portion of the population have headsets, and an even smaller portion are using them on a regular basis. In terms of lifecycle, I think VR technology right now is in a similar spot to the first PC’s that went into homes decades ago. It will be many years before we see them in every home and used on a regular basis. AR on the other hand is used more often. Pokemon Go and other Niantic applications are probably the most commonly used AR applications right now. There are bunch of others as well, and I’d recommend just searching on your phones app store. There are heaps of great mobile AR apps to play with and I am really grateful for companies like Apple and Google leading the way with mobile AR platforms, tools and apps.

Q.How are we using AR and VR right now during COVID-19?

A. I’d suggest most organisations right now aren’t utilising VR/AR that well. There are lots of reasons for this, but probably the most simple reason is because many just weren’t setup to develop, test and deploy the technology prior to COVID, and it’s even harder to do this during the pandemic because of time, cost and logistical constraints. I think right now video conferencing is thriving, and I believe one reason is because it’s been around for a decade and the solutions available are mature and able to be deployed to teams within hours. And the conferencing tools can do everything we need them to do right now.

Maybe after a decade of VR and AR technology development, it will be possible to rapidly develop, deploy and support great solutions. With that said, we work with companies that are already quite mature in their use of VR/AR technology, and many are using this period to develop capability that they can deploy in the next 12 months. For example we are currently building a suite of modules for hands on labour tasks that use to be taught face to face, but now using VR can be taught anywhere at any time, saving our partners time, money and delivering better, more measurable results.

Q. You have used augmented reality so people can experience history through the eyes of those who were there. How important do you think AR can be to enhancing our experiences at museums and galleries?

A. In 2019, we worked with ROMEO Digital and the Queensland Museum to build an AR application where players (playing as a journalist) travel back to historic World War 1 events and have to capture stories and publish them in their own newspaper. It was a wonderful project, and we felt the end result was successful in taking the player back to these historic events and giving them an experience of what World War 1 was like. Personally I think both AR and VR technologies have incredible potential to create rich and memorable stories, and therefore have a huge role to play in the visitor experience of museum and gallery patrons.

Especially in the current pandemic, where more museums and galleries are looking to leverage digital technologies to bring the content to you at home. I am really excited to see this area of our industry develop over the coming years and I am keen to visit museums with VR and AR experiences. The ones I have seen so far have been amazing and real drawcards to get visitors in the door and engaging with STEM, Art and History.

 Q. Are there ways AR and VR can help save money, for example, before building starts or a product is designed?

A. Absolutely, and it’s something we are very passionate about. For too long we have designed in 2D and constructed in 3D, and to do this we have relied heavily on experts in the field to get projects built properly (thank you to those experts). We experience life in 3-dimensions, so why do we continue to plan our buildings in 2D? The good news is the construction and product design industries are changing rapidly, and many organisations now use 3D design tools.

Unfortunately though, when these designs are taken to site (or plant) for construction, they often fall back to 2D drawings on paper. And mistakes are often made that cost time, and ultimately money. We believe AR (and to a lesser extent VR) can change this, by allowing construction experts to visualise designs localised to their site, allowing them to see the day’s work ahead of them, and then audit the final construction against the designs at the end of each day. We believe this will not only save, time and money, but also the mental strain and effort of construction professionals, allowing them to focus more on their craft and less on the design work.

Q. What other skills do you need in AR and VR to complement your core STEM skills?

STEM skills are a really good foundation to have in this industry. These skills will help you understand and interact with technology on a very high level. But if you want to do more than this, then you will need some complimentary skills, either for yourself or within your team. I’d suggest learning about 3D modelling and animation, it’s a huge part of the industry, and an area I was completely ignorant of when I started my journey.

It’s really important you understand what is graphically possible, and understanding 3D tools and techniques will ensure your applications can look as visually nice as possible. I’d also suggest a good business/consulting background helps in chatting with potential clients, customers and partners. Finally, I personally believe the most important attribute of successful professionals in any new industry (especially working with new technology) is a great attitude. I think you want to be able to work hard, fail with as little risk as possible and then learn from your mistakes to build better products and solutions. And a great “I can do this” attitude almost always ensures you can get over all hurdles in you way.

I am the founder of MAXART, one of Brisbane’s leading virtual and augmented reality technology companies. I have worked with some of Australia’s and the World’s most recognisable brands and have been invited to share my ideas on immersive technologies at conferences and seminars throughout Australia.

Our team at MAXART want to share our vision for spatial and collaborative computing with the world! To achieve this, we are building virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications that transform how we interact and engage with next generation of computers.