It might surprise you that Cisco, one of the more acquisitive network companies around, hasn’t yet joined the fray of multi-million and multi-billion dollar virtual and augmented reality acquisitions and investments. Then again, Cisco now can look internally for a growing amount expertise in that field.
Cisco’s recently completed Innovation Everywhere Challenge surfaced the Enterprise Virtual and Augmented Reality (EVAR) team, an ad hoc group with user experience, IT engineering and system analysis chops that was among the Challenge’s three $50K winners. And yes, the team incorporated virtual reality into its live pitch at the competition finals.
EVAR aims to integrate VR and AR with Cisco collaboration technologies such as Spark and Telepresence. Or as EVAR wrote in part of its pitch: "A huge opportunity exists to build a robust, enterprise-grade cloud platform for powering social VR/AR applications and experiences, comprising collaboration, visualization and simulation components."
Systems analyst Phil Trease says EVAR’s members, who work in the UK and San Jose, initially found each other through toying around with Oculus Rift and the like in recent years and more recently, via a Cisco hackathon focused on such immersive technologies. Team members in addition to Trease are: Dan Bourque, technical leader, engineering (San Jose); Rich Logan, IT engineer (UK); Bradley Jones, software engineer (UK); and Edwin Zhang, user experience manager (San Jose).
Working around the clock during the hackathon cemented relationships among team members, and new talent will be picked up as the team’s efforts gain attention within Cisco, Trease says. EVAR team members will get to break out of their regular work routines -- some part time, some entirely -- for a three-month spell as part of the Challenge winners’ benefits. They also plan to showcase their progress at the Cisco Live! conference this summer.
EVAR expects to target industries, like manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, where people are already doing things in three dimensions. “We think it’s really going to pick up in those industries first of all, and then as the hardware becomes more ergonomic, cheaper and convenient, we think it will become pervasive across all areas of collaboration,” Trease says. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for this technology.”
Members of EVAR have enjoyed experimenting with immersive technologies in their spare time, like a hobby, Trease says. “It hasn’t felt like extra work,” he says.
Seeing people’s early reactions to VR can be fun, but the EVAR team now “wants to see past the ‘Wow!’ and how we can use it to bring business value,” Trease says.
Of course, if immersive technologies turn out to be big business for Cisco, that could be a lot of fun for the EVAR team, too.