Today, Skyward, A Verizon company introduced advanced airspace intelligence for drone pilots. Skyward’s drone airspace map provides a clear design, airspace data, and LAANC access, now combined with essential ground intelligence including 3D views of key structures, transmission lines, and more than a million vertical obstacles.Read More
Our executive director, Sean Guerre, had a unique opportunity to interview Karen Snyder, Managing Director of TYM Studio and Adjunct Professor of Digital Media at the University of Houston. It was perfect timing as Karen’s newest industry connecting project, XR Showdown™ and the Industrial VR/AR Forum have recently become Industry Partners.
Karen is producing an episode that showcases each team and their immersive technology projects for the Amazon Prime reality show and live-stream, XR Showdown™, to the Industrial VR/AR Forum in February. Sean sat down with Karen last week to gain a better understanding of her vision of immersive tech applications and how the XR Showdown™ is a platform for connecting the dots between education/interns, technology and the rapidly growing industrial, Houston-based VR/AR/MR community. Most importantly how the industrial immersive technology industry can get involved with XR Showdown™.
SEAN: Can you walk me through a little about yourself, what your current roles are and what you’re doing right now as it involves immersive tech?
KAREN: I’m the Managing Director of TYM Studio, which is a technology and media internship studio. I’m also an Adjunct Professor of Digital Media at the University of Houston, where I teach a wide range of courses... all the way from simulation gaming, over to transmedia marketing, to video production.
SEAN: What got you interested in immersive technology, and how has that interest progressed to where you are now?
KAREN: Well, going back… my child is now 14 – so this would have been 15 years ago – I went to my first video game conference. I was heavily pregnant. I was the only pregnant woman at this strongly male video game conference.
But why did I go there? Because I saw the trends. The trends were that, as a communicator and a storyteller, if you wanted to involve the audience, it was heading toward interactive means.
Now, granted, at the time, it was focused mostly on entertainment purposes, but transitionally you can see that now gaming allows expansion into serious realms such as marketing, research, training, and education.
As one of those people who always wants to do whatever it takes to get to the audience and communicate with them, I wanted to be there. That’s where I originally got into video game development.
Since then, simulations have moved from entertainment over to other sectors because of the need. Now we can grow immersive thinking and holistic communication into all new areas.
SEAN: Please walk me through a little bit about XR Showdown™ and the predecessor event that you did around healthcare games? Tell me a little bit about what’s about to happen in this next edition of your ‘reality world meets internship, meets interactive and immersive technology for the enterprise’.
KAREN: It’s a bridge event, to bridge our community, our spheres of young talent to older executives, and, in the process, transform this particular space.
We started with the Healthcare Games Showdown™. This came out an economic impact report for government officials that I wrote up three years ago that involved the video game industry, jobs for tech and media and how they cross and diverge especially in the video game space. From that report, it was very clear that Houston had the potential to be the serious games and simulation mecca of the world, if it so chose. There is no one out there, as a city or zone, who has pushed effectively for this space. Houston has all the ingredients necessary to be the world’s leader in serious games and simulations.
At the Healthcare Games Showdown™, which ran this summer for a month, students were creating video games for healthcare for Texas Children’s Hospital, AT&T Business and the Mount Sinai Abilities Research Center. Digital healthcare is where we’re heading. Pharma going digital is our number one trend for this year, in addition to digital rehabilitation.
We could see that these teams could solve real-world problems as healthcare emerges into new, effective ways of handling its data.
What really helps most people understand the value in serious games is that video games are nothing more than data made beautiful and highly engaging. Do you have data you need to engage with? Time to play with it. We have the ability to take data and now engage with it through means that normally no one has thought of before. That’s the extension of the VR, AR and MR space. From the Healthcare Games Showdown™, other corporations started coming to me and saying, “I like the idea of this bridge event. I would love to see something for my space.”
Top questions that came back were, “Can you do something for me in AR? Can you do something for me in VR? Can you do something for me in MR?” Well, okay. Let’s see if we can figure this out.
ExxonMobil and their innovation and simulation department were exceptional because they really got it. They said, “We agree. Houston could be a serious games mecca. And indeed, in enterprise, it can help visualize and enhance training. We would like to help propel this.” That’s when we decided to see if we can do another showdown towards the XR theme and really galvanize this area for enterprise.
SEAN: Great. So, what should we expect with the Enterprise XR Showdown™? What’s going to happen?
KAREN: For six weeks in the Spring of 2020, we’re going to have students and recent grads from all different colleges and universities create VR, AR, and MR for enterprise and serious use at Station Houston. Team projects usually fall along the lines of training, simulation, and/or research projects.
It’s up to the team sponsor to choose the type of technology project and problem they’d like to solve. They define it, and then the students come in and apply their skills in a real-world situation under pro mentors.
At the end of the six weeks, there is a finale night where the teams will present their prototypes to a live audience, and they can get the option to potentially be hired on and/or move forward with their project so that it continues to completion.
We’re working with partners, such as yourself, and other organizations. In addition, we will be creating an invite-only Executive Training Session at the finale, to help executives realize other ways that XR applies and matters to them from a financial perspective, as well as demos of new tech equipment.
SEAN: How do you feel the Houston Enterprise immersive tech sector, how is it doing and what will it take to become that world-renowned place for serious games and immersive technology in the spaces we tend to cover – industrial, medical, aerospace, etc?
KAREN: There are five key pillars to seeing a new industry develop.
One of them is the educational sector. Within the educational sector, we, as professors, have banded together within the showdowns to augment our programs.
Secondarily, we have to see government leadership try and open up doors. There's a tremendous shift that’s going on within Houston itself, where we have seen that strategy. Of course, with the ION opening up soon… we’ll see more emphasis, which is fantastic.
We also have to galvanize investors. And that, again, is a pillar is also starting to emerge here, especially within the co-working spaces.
In addition, you also have to see that corporations begin to embrace change. This is still a mixed bag, and, out of all of the pillars, is a concern because it’s not the tech that’s necessarily the issue. A good technology solution has to be wisely defined and be developed in a welcoming corporate environment.
In many cases, too many people focus on solutions that do not fit and are just ‘cool’, and that actually hinder innovation inside a company. We’re trying to beat that within the showdowns. No matter what we do with a student team, the project has to actually fit a business need and can be viable long term, not just a one-off project.
Then, last but not least, you have the community players themselves, which are the people here in Houston who want to make it happen. From a ground-level perspective, we’ve seen a lot of interest, not only within your own organization but individuals themselves who are seeking it out. Either through their small business enterprises, as students or as mid-level folks in different companies and organizations, they are saying, “We want technology like this to help solve our problems and do amazing things within our companies or organizations.”
SEAN: What do you think the industry can do to help the academic learning needs of professionals who are trying to come up with this emerging tech? What is it that the corporates can do, besides embrace or identify internal cheerleaders? Are there a couple of things that you’d like to see from the corporate community to make Houston a bigger destination for Enterprise XR?
KAREN: One of the six things that were listed in the original economic impact report was a hub, and I’m still working very hard on that hub.
Even though we’re getting the opportunity to rapidly build out the enterprise XR community, which is fantastic, we’re still missing more of that interaction with the media industry. At least especially with the PR side of explaining how Houston is transforming its immersive technology and serious gaming sector. Now, thankfully with Josh Ruben and ION XR Labs, we have more of a space dedicated specifically towards the enterprise and industrial VR area. However, most students and young people don’t see Houston as a cool place to live, or as a tech region in which they want to stay and work long-term.
We are trying to bridge their needs to Houston-based employers, and through the live-stream TV show, highlight to the world the innovation we are doing in Houston. Personally, I would like to see more of the corporations, especially starting with the Showdown, be able to embrace live streaming and video production as additional media channels. Because as someone with that background, I know the power of media.
Media is how people realize, “I didn’t know that...I heard the story of someone like me, that’s a Hispanic coder...I didn’t know that that was something I should aspire to. I want to do that.”
Corporations need to be able to extend their messaging through media.
SEAN: What do you think is currently drawing students to this new area of study around immersive tech and XR?
KAREN: Video games, hands down. They want to get in the video games space. They were raised on video games their entire life. Your average gamer, of course, is 36 years old now, and the number one gamers are women, ages 35 to 54. They don’t call themselves ‘gamers’ or think of themselves as such, but they’re the ones playing on their mobile phones for up to six hours per week.
So, right now, at least in the college space, students say, “I want to work at Riot,” “I want to work at Blizzard,” “I want to work at Nintendo,” “I want to work at Sony.” The odds are extremely low, especially with being based in Houston.
But this is where I say, “Hey, folks, the opportunities in serious games are actually better. You’ll have a higher paying job. You’ll have more stability, and you will have more impact if you head into spheres that are brand new. These are jobs so new, in fact, they don’t even have a title yet.” And that’s part of the sell here and part of the reason why we’re even doing the show – not only through live stream but also on Amazon Prime. We want to share the vision that says, “This is truly a place where you could thrive. Join us.”
SEAN: What would you say gets you most excited about immersive technology right now?
KAREN: Augmented reality because it allows new forms of visualizing that can assist in communication.
Example. I am adamantly trying to find a sponsor for an idea I've had for quite a few years, about taking an Excel spreadsheet and making it more like a 3D infographic. So many people I've worked with over the years have struggled with understanding a spreadsheet, understanding accounting terminologies and seeing how it actually applies to themselves and their tasks… Without understanding the numbers, well, you can see why so many businesses struggle to make their numbers.
If I can hold up a phone and within AR, I see my spreadsheet in 3D form spread out around me in digital space and it happens to tie into visuals that correspond to the parts or to a graphic, that is towards more spatial thinking. That allows me to then touch the data or play with my numbers differently -- and literally awakens new parts of the human brain.
3D visualization can open up data understanding to all kinds of brains that really have a hard time and are closed to understanding. As a teacher, I have to reach auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and visual learners. That is no easy feat. Any communicator, especially in marketing, will tell you how hard that is to try to reach all those kinds of brains. And especially when you add in, here in Houston, how many cultures don’t speak the same language.
So this is where we can take augmented reality and very quickly and immediately transform whole sectors because we helped bring in visual awareness and spatial awareness all around ourselves and understand concepts in greater capacities.
That’s my biggest passion and excitement in this space.
SEAN: That dovetails with what we’re seeing as the fast-emerging on the industrial side around XR. In fact, I think I just saw something similar on LinkedIn recently. It was an AR demo visually showing, a mathematical formula in 3D. I thought, “That’s so interesting… to be able to learn math and visualize computations that way instead of just on a page?”
KAREN: Absolutely agree. This is why, to me, especially with these Showdowns, there’s an efficiency side… if we can develop this, everybody understands it all at once or visualizes it collectively.
SEAN: Great. How can our community support and help your initiatives?
KAREN: With the TYM Studio there are three different ways.
One is that a company can be a part of a specific Showdown. The Showdowns are themed in terms of what is being curated, and they are televised through live stream, as well as through Amazon Prime. That allows a unique way to get the technology built and the media awareness in one sponsored swoop.
The second way is to do a yearly outsourced internship. Many companies struggle to actually do a quality internship because it takes a lot of time and energy to train people. As an educator, I totally know this. We act as a third-party resource. If a company works with our team, our mentors run the internship with students trained specifically under the needs of that particular organization.
And then the third way is where a company wants to do a one-time project rather than a yearly internship. The one-time internship could be short-term or based on a single project.
SEAN: So, secondary to that, what is the best way for people in our community to contact you?
KAREN: Through my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to do my best to see how we can coordinate their needs either in a showdown, a customized internship or a one-off project-specific internship.
Stay tuned for additional information on how you can see all of the XR Showdown™ project updates during an episode at the Industrial VR/AR Forum in February 2020 and see the grand finale live at the Ion XR Labs in March 2020. For more information about the XR Showdown™, visit XRshowdown.com.
More on Karen Snyder:
The Managing Director of TYM Studio™, an internship training studio, and a Lecturer of Digital Media at the University of Houston, Karen Snyder has over 15 years of experience in developing and creating multi-media projects. She enjoys hunting down problems and solving them by mixing her creative skill-set with technological insights. An advocate for serious games, she is creating and producing various showdowns that allow young talent ways to work with enterprise as they develop serious simulations.
The Creator and Executive Producer of the Healthcare Games Showdown™, she created an internship event for college students to produce video games for healthcare for companies such as Texas Children’s Hospital, AT&T Business, and Mount Sinai Abilities Research Center.
The Creator and Executive Producer of the XR Showdown™, this event involves young talent working on enterprise VR/AR/MR projects and is presented by ExxonMobil.
She has managed and directed teams of up to 35 both in-house and globally distributed as they develop and create multi-media, social media, and transmedia projects that involve technology, design, branding, marketing, social media, finance, and business strategy. Karen earned her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Media Design from Full Sail University and earned the distinction of being valedictorian of her class. Previously, she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Business Administration from Capella University.
As KYS REALM, she is the creator of the world’s first transmedia romance series, The Elements Club®. One of only a hand-full of female video game producers focused on the casual game space, she created and launched The Elements Club: Unity Match® video game.
She presented and led panels regarding full-motion video game development, esports, and transmedia at GamesBeat, SXSW, Dreamhack, Comicpalooza and other conferences. Karen is the co-founder of Kazap Company, a transmedia production studio. In all these endeavors, she is focused on developing transmedia projects that incorporate full-motion video games, video production, and mobile technology.
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