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Interview with AR Professional Dawsyn Borland of NexTech AR

Nextech AR Solutions is a leader in web based augmented reality for eCommerce, advertising, and virtual events with technology ranging from simple 3D Images to hologram technology. Founded in 2018, NexTech has grown rapidly over the past two years, as the prevalence of increasingly advanced technologies, international interest, and the COVID-19 pandemic has launched the possibilities of AR technology into the mainstream. NexTech has capitalized on this attention and has created a wide product line applicable to many profitable industries. Today, they offer viable AR applications for eCommerce, performance statistics, education, and even conferences and trade shows. The quick growth and accessibility of Nextech have allowed it to receive international recognition, such as being voted ‘Top 20 most promising AR/VR tech solutions’ in 2019 by, as well as being featured in very popular publications such as Forbes, The New York Times, TechCrunch, and Wired. 

Now, the company is pursuing four main objectives:

InfernoAR: An advanced Augmented Reality and Video Learning Experience Platform for Events, is a SaaS (service as a software) video platform that integrates Interactive Video, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality in one secure platform to allow enterprises the ability to create the world’s most engaging virtual event management and learning experiences.

ARitize™ For eCommerce: The company launched its SaaS platform for webAR in eCommerce early in 2019. NexTech has a ​‘full funnel’ end-to-end eCommerce solution for the AR industry including its Aritize360 app for 3D product capture, 3D/AR ads, its Aritize white label app it’s ‘Try it On’ technology for online apparel, 3D and 360-degree product views, and ‘one click buy.’ 

ARitize™ 3D/AR Advertising Platform: Launched in earky 2020 the ad platform will be the industry’s first end-to-end solution whereby the company will leverage its 3D asset creation into 3D/AR ads. In 2019, according to IDC, global advertising spend will be about $725 billion.

ARitize™ Hollywood Studios: The studio is in development producing immersive content using 360 video, and augmented reality as the primary display platform.

“When it comes to brand new technology, you don’t need to make the experience simple, you need to make the explanation simple.”

Dawsyn Borland, NexTech AR.

I discovered the work of Nextech through their numerous partnerships with Ryerson University. On  November 4th, NexTech announced that their InfernoAR system will transform their 2020 Graduation, which took place November 17, 2020, into a completely virtual experience using augmented reality. Additionally, the same system will launch the Ryerson Augmented Learning Experience Platform, also known as RALE. The initial launch of RALE will focus on first year Chemistry, Biology and Physics students from the Faculty of Science at Ryerson and enable over 5,000 students to participate in rich, collaborative AR enhanced learning experiences during the Fall and Winter Terms. The company aims to use this same business model to sign up additional Universities in Canada and throughout North America as COVID19 continues to disrupt classes and social distancing remains in place. 

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dawsyn Borland, the VP of AR Innovation and Content at NexTech, to gain a deeper understanding of the capabilities of Augmented Reality and its implications for navigating higher education learning in these precarious times we find ourselves in: 

“Could you start with a quick introduction to your role and daily responsibilities at NexTech?”

“I lead all of our Augmented reality production, and in the new year I will be leading our AR innovation labs, which is a whole research facility that will be dedicated to experimenting and tinkering with technology to create new solutions with the current technology that is available to us and researching future technologies.”

“When did you realize that you wanted to be involved in the AR industry?”

“As a former discovery channel producer, a lot of the stories that I covered were all about emerging technologies; including Augmented Reality. It was then I saw the possibilities of it and decided to go back to school and taught myself AR production through YouTube videos, and was able to make it a career after I graduated.”

“Looking forward, what are some benefits to the implementation of AR within higher education?”

“I think the best thing about AR learning is the art of the impossible. The idea of showcasing things that normally a user would not be able to see. A great example of that is the work that we are doing with Ryerson’s chemistry and biology labs right now, as well as what we are doing for GCM right now. We are working on a project where we are trying to showcase the inside of a printing press, that normally students would not be able to see, and won’t even get to interact with due to the pandemic. That seems like a natural fit for AR, because you can showcase that on video or some kind of illustration, but its not as impactful as if you actually have the students doing the work to operate the machine and seeing how it is integrated into real world scenarios. I like to think of it from the perspective of: is it more beneficial than video? If so, what can we do to solve it?”

“NexTech has recently created AR learning for Ryeron’s chemistry and biology labs, could you talk about that, and have you had any recent feedback on how well that is going?”

“Yes, so we have just received student surveys, and from the biology department 66% of students said that AR allowed for them to better understand the course material, which is very promising. Many students liked the AR, but many said they are looking for it to be even more interactive. So once of the challenges that we have faced with AR’s technology is the device that it is showed on. With mobile phones, you can only do so much. We are now at that strange point where people see the possibilities of AR, but we are unable to fully perform these requests due to the computer power of mobile devices. We are now trying to work within the limitations of phones, working within those limitations, and still try to make people feel like they are in a mixed reality environment.

It has been difficult to fully engage students and customers as well, because the average user is so new to this technology it is difficult to find a starting point. Within Ryerson’s RALE system, we make the user pinch to scale up and down instead of physically moving their phone closer to the focal point, which has proven difficult for some people to comprehend. When it comes to the chemistry department, they were looking for interactive AR versions of pipettes and bunsen burners, all of which can be easily shown through video. Now, we are really challenging that and attempting to create a virtual chemistry device that has a miniature explosion.  We are now using AR to show them all of the components that created that outcome, something that they would have never been able to see before. For a biology course, we are developing a program that allows students to dissect a rat. Now, students will be able to see portions of the dissection that they previously would have never been able to see, even with a magnifying glass.” 

“What kind of potential growth do you see for the AR industry and Nextech due to international COVID-19 lockdown procedures?”

“The rapid adoption of our software has been shocking. I think it is mainly to do with increased use of Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat has allowed for the spreadability and sharability of AR technologies to reach a wide range of people. For NexTech, if we are presenting AR as an actual alternative solution for trade shows and conferences, adding something that differentiates our service from Zoom or Skype creates attractive engagement that would not be seen otherwise. Luckily for us at NexTech, in the beginning of March we acquired a virtual events company. We figured out how to enable AR and market them towards producers in such events. I think we have realized that even after the pandemic there will always be a virtual event component to a lot of trade shows, which is very beneficial because even once physical events resume, we can allow people from around the world to attend.”

“Where do you see the AR industry going in the next 5 and 10 years?”

“I think augmented reality will become mixed reality, which is a hybrid of augmented reality and virtual reality combined. It is very interesting because there are new technologies and ideas being created virtually every day. I believe the largest players will be Apple and Facebook, they will put out separate products; where Apple will mainly focus on augmented reality due to the cohesiveness with their previously established technology, where Facebook will focus more on mixed reality. As a whole, augmented reality will have the most use in manufacturing settings first because it is an immediate solution to many problems. For example, it will speed up the training process and lower training costs because new employees can now learn everything they need to know through augmented reality technology training. The rapid adoption for these types of purposes has started now, but then I believe that the main projection for AR will shift into the entertainment industry. And as we all know, the need for entertainment now is bigger than ever. AR innovation and hardware for entertainment purposes has grown rapidly within the past year, and it is going to be really interesting to follow and see what happens after.”

“What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in AR?”

“I think twitter is such a good resource for finding link-minded people. It is very small community at the moment but as the industry grows, so will interest. There are so many interesting facets of AR: developing and 3D modelling, production and business development to name a few. The most important part is just trying to educate yourself, it takes a lot of self-teaching. Today, there are no university programs that teach this type of knowledge, so a lot of it must be done independently. There are many communities online where people will assist one another in their own individual creative endeavors. Also, studying anything that involves user experience will be greatly beneficial to anyone looking to create AR software. 

When myself and my team are creating something new, we think: what does this look like for a first-time user? Will they understand any of this? And most of the time, the answer is no. So we have to go back and figure out the best solution for the widest range of consumers. We are constantly saying no, and revising it, to make it as simplistic as possible to then improve upon it. I did not think this way prior to the start of our ongoing project with Ryerson. I went in with the assumption that Ryerson students are young, receptive to new technology, which could not have been further from the case. When it comes to brand new technology, you don’t need to make the experience simple, you need to make the explanation simple.”

Source: Corp., N. (2020, July 30). Ryerson University Chooses NexTech’s InfernoAR for Augmented Reality Remote Learning Solutions. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/07/30/2070264/0/en/Ryerson-University-Chooses-NexTech-s-InfernoAR-for-Augmented-Reality-Remote-Learning-Solutions.html

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