Fira Barcelona, Gran Vía
31 Jan - 03 Feb 2023

RISE CultureExtending the reach of immersive tech

Leen Segers crop

Leen Segers is founder of LucidWeb, co-founder of Women in Immersive Technologies (WIIT) and a WebXR expert.

XR has been a feature at ISE for a number of years, both on the show floor and in the conference programme. What inspired you to pursue a career in XR?

For me, interactive technologies (including VR/AR) is the next consumer media, following radio, cinema and television. If technology can drive interactivity and make an experience completely personalised, why not leverage this to different use cases including education, training, marketing and as well storytelling?

I had been working in 2D online video (‘flatties’) for four years and was getting increasingly bored. I felt that if everyone is different, so can audience experiences be; media can adapt to our preferences, our interests, it can be different whether we are looking to the left or to the right. When in 2015-16 VR enjoyed its most recent renaissance, I was at a point in my life that I was looking for the right niche, the right technological problem to solve. Distribution in interactive technologies kickstarted an era that was new and complex, with many interesting challenges, which triggered me to focus on this area. I started LucidWeb in 2016.

You are a strong advocate for the democratisation of rich media across platforms and devices, with browser-based experiences being a key focus. Can you tell us a bit about why democratisation is important for immersive tech?

Research has confirmed that in 2021, there will be 11 million headsets on the market, double that of 2020, but the penetration of HMDs is still low. Until stand-alone HMDs become more widely available, it is key that VR/AR experiences are available on devices people already own, meaning mobiles and desktop.

The quickest and most economical way to distribute to existing devices is via the browser. Showing VR/AR via a browser is made possible via the WebXR API, an open-source standard that has gained significantly in popularity and strength the past few years, most browser vendors have integrated the standard by default. Publishers have misconceptions about the affordability and accessibility of software tools to distribute content, assuming they still need to build an app per device. Working with LucidWeb.Pro (built on top of WebXR API), they reach the largest audiences via one simple URL; the audience from their side have a chance to experience VR/AR with the devices they already own. We truly believe an entry point for a device they already have will be key to making these experiences mainstream.

Then again, we will be the first to claim that the best VR experience is enjoyed in a headset. From looking into our internal data of watching highly curated cinematic VR experiences across three devices, we have found that the average engagement time on desktop-mobile is between two and six minutes, compared to HMDs, where we see an average engagement last between 40-55 minutes for the same content.

You co-founded Women in Immersive Technologies along with other prolific female XR experts. What were the drivers for creating this European community for women?

The international technology scene can be intimidating. I remember that when I was working with a startup in London, I went to a lot of tech meetups where I felt really alone. I was surrounded by men and networking was hard. I attended less and less events because of it. When the VR industry kick-started, I felt the need to at least try to prevent this happening to ‘my new industry’. We launched Women in Immersive Tech to connect more easily at events, give more visibility to female XR trailblazers to facilitate knowledge sharing and industry contacts (local and European level). The group has grown and counts more than 2000 members (increasingly popular as well outside of Europe). We set up an official NGO in Brussels and quickly after, we partnered up with our first brand, Facebook Reality Labs.

How has the adoption of XR evolved since you launched LucidWeb? Have you noticed a change in the type of industries that are approaching you, for example?

Definitely. In 2016, there was global hype around VR. This was a consequence of the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook in 2014. By 2017-18 it was clear VR did not live up to its promises, yet. So, the industry slowed down and provided an opportunity for AR/MR to gain traction. By the second half of 2019 we talked about the XR summer, initially led by Pokémon Go, then mobile AR filters by Snapchat or Facebook. For VR on the other hand, the catalyst was the global pandemic. This crisis has accelerated VR from social VR apps (Altspace, VR Chat and soon Horizon), collaboration apps (Engage) to cinematic VR experiences driven by international film festivals (Venice VR, GIFF, EA, etc). Another huge accelerator was the launch of Quest 2 in October 2020. This device had pre-orders five times higher than its predecessor. In the next two years, VR will come to the same stage that the smartphone was at in 2011, so we can definitely say VR is finally here to stay.