My first experience with an Oculus Rift was on a ride of a virtual roller coaster that lasted two short minutes. With each twist and turn, you quickly noticed that you had to follow the track in front of you, as if your head was forced back from the high gravity of a real roller coaster. The experience kicked ass to say the least, especially since the product is in its early infancy. You could imagine where this piece of technology will be in a few years, taking leaps and bounds from where it is now and giving you an experience inseparable from true reality. That’s exactly what the guys at Anomaly Digital, a Cleveland based virtual reality (VR) tech startup, plan on accomplishing.
About six months ago, Matt Zupan (computer science and engineering nerd) and Matt Mazur (virtual reality pioneer) joined forces to form the young Anomaly Digital (AD). Shortly thereafter, the two teamed up with Spread the Word, a local networking creative collective, and began inhabiting the Tenk West Bank Building in the Flats and are currently rolling out a truly unique and exciting VR venture. The team specializes in web and headset based virtual reality development, focusing on practicality as opposed to entertainment. Currently, AD holds 20+ assets for companies and public domains around Cleveland including: First Energy Stadium, The Science Center, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ohio City, Tremont, West 25th, the Warehouse District, and Coventry.
The company is still in an open-beta phase, so to speak, but are poised to make a big splash in Cleveland’s tech scene. I had the chance to sit down with Matt and Matt, along with Trevor Drell and Alex Woisnet, to discuss and check out Cleveland’s next big tech venture and how they plan to take VR to the next level.
WK: While most VR companies are focused on entertainment, why is AD focused on a practical approach?
AD: We have people doing all sorts of projects. Zupan is into the engineering and education side of things. I’m (Mazur) working on a medical product myself. Trevor and Alex are working with retail and recreation. That’s why we call ourselves an anomaly, everyone is doing something different, but we combine our skills and work collectively to create quality, applicable products. We definitely feel good about the real estate side. It’s our first entry into the market and we are trying to pick up as many assets as we can right now to get our name out there. The more avenues we explore, the more assets we get, the more experience we gather and the better our product becomes. We plan to help people, whether that’s medically or through learning and training. That’s what we’re about at the core.
WK: In order to get the full VR experience, you must need some specialized equipment. Can you tell us a bit about what types of equipment you use and why it’s so special?
AD: The big thing for us is high end computers. That’s what mainly runs our show. We use a lot of mobile technology as well. For instance, when we’re at a retail location we can check the previews from our phones. We can’t really get into specifics about the brand of camera we use, but as far as getting a unique and quality product, especially for VR tours, we need a camera that has the ability to take many high quality images simultaneously, and then stitch them together with integrated software and be able to show people right away what some of those things look like.
They gave me a look at the piece of imaging equipment they use and it looks like the eye of an insect scaled up one thousand times. Spherical in shape, with thirty-six 1080p+ cameras facing in all directions to cover as much area as possible.
WK: Can you walk us through the different steps of your process, from getting cameras on the ground, to headset.
AD: We’ll go in and set up the camera and snap a few shots, make sure all the corners are covered. If there are any, get a photo of the entrance to a retail location or a park so it looks like you’re walking into the location and depending on how large of a scale we are working on it could take more pictures. We can check the photos out on our phones or we come back to the office and check out the picture and see where we stand and if we’re happy with it. Zupan and/or Mazur will get on the development end if it. We really try to get a grasp of what the customer likes and doesn’t like, so it comes down to conversations with the customer to see what types of functionalities they want so we can tailor the experience towards their interests. Since this is all novel, we can really explore a lot of different options based on what the customer wants or needs. It’s really a personable experience.
WK: What sets you apart from other virtual reality ventures?
AD: I think that we take pride in being a deviation of all of the other VR companies. We take a lot of pride in “nobody is your boss here.” You’re doing what you’re passionate about, and we connect on a personal level. We aren’t a cookie cutter company. We care about our product just as much as you care about your company. And last but not least, we want to steer this technology in positive and productive directions, making practical applications and solutions for the real world.
WK: How do you envision the future of the company?
AD: Our office is currently in the Tenk West Bank building, and we definitely think this building is part of our future. We want to establish the city’s premier tech lab here, and really delve into the education and medical sectors; establishing ourselves as the premier Virtual Reality development company and set this place up like a fantasy factory/virtual reality theme park. We want people to come in the door, but we also plan on making it available to others by going mobile.
Anomaly Digital has bold goals, but an even stronger team, making the head first jump into a relatively unknown market. Taking chances and betting on themselves, they have a passion to bring people the best virtual reality experience possible through their own passion for technology. What they offer is individualistic and exclusive, and through the use of innovative techniques and technologies, you can bet on a reality that is anything but ordinary.