A few months ago, my son, like all the kids in his class, got the dinosaur craze. Dutch grocer Albert Heijn began giving out interactive dinosaur books with trading cards that kids could collect over time.
Unlike any trading cards that I grew up with, these cards could be combined with an app and through virtual reality/augmented reality technology and interactivity, the dinosaurs on the cards became more than just an image, but a digital image that engages with the user’s environment. It wasn’t that long ago that Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) was something people fantasised about while watching sci-fi and now it’s going mainstream. And it’s no surprise that one of its hot testing grounds is Amsterdam.
Since its inception, the city of Amsterdam has been redefining reality and changing the perceptions of what actually exists. If it were not for close collaboration and innovation, the city itself would not be inhabitable. What was nothing more than a swamping marshland ravaged by rain, wind and flooding, evolved into one of the most culturally and financially significant hubs in the world through collaboration and innovation. Just as the city literally reshaped itself with its complex canal and dam system, its current innovators are reshaping today’s reality.
“Amsterdam has always been a place that has reshaped reality as we know it,” says Michael Koenka, pitch trainer and city director, House of Genius. “Amsterdam startups are socially inclined and are always finding ways of improving our existence by making processes more efficient and enjoyable. The incorporation of VR and AR into the city’s culture is just an extension of that philosophy.”
With companies like Jaunt VR recently establishing a development hub in Amsterdam, and Samhoud Media setting up the world’s first permanent VR cinema, Amsterdam is recreating its own reality by defining it. This year’s World Press Photo saw exhibitions like ‘Displaced’, which used VR as a key storytelling tool. Though it was once something few had access to, the World Press Photo, Samhoud Media and Jaunt VR are making the VR experience accessible to all. Taking a cue from this, VRbase, a new incubator and co-working space dedicated to VR, has announced it will be opening its doors on 1 October.
Living street art – from passive consumption to active engagement
VR has become synonymous with the image of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg walking down the aisle at the Mobile World Congress, with the audience on either side in VR headsets. People were quick to tweet (myself included) and write about the ‘creepiness’ of the photo, its ‘Orwellian nature’ and that if this is the future, then no thank you, we want no part of it. But AR and VR – now thanks to Samhoud Media’s Albert Heijn campaign – are not just about passive consumption.
Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA), an upcoming interactive VR/AR project is one such project. Stretching the boundaries and looking at things from a new perspective, Amsterdam’s only recognised street art museum, is looking for partners to incorporate VR and AR into its tours.
With over 50 pieces of artwork, SAMA visitors will be able to visit a curated collection of street art and experience it from a VR point of view. For example, in real life, you might see a mural before you, and with a headset, you can see that same mural moving, changing and becoming ‘alive’. A project like this not only brings a whole new dimension to an average city tour, but can be applicable to other cities and used for other purposes.
Anna Stolyarova, the founder of SAMA, says that the idea behind the VR/AR project came from wanting to preserve street art and graffiti. “Street art is not permanent. VR and AR give us an opportunity to not only preserve the art, but enhance static content and create a true 3D experience.
“Imagine standing here, and seeing what may not necessarily exist in the physical space anymore,” she adds.
This is what makes Amsterdam unique. Amsterdammers don’t look out into the world and see what’s already there; they look out into the world and see what’s possible. And now with its next generation of VR and AR innovators and inventors, it’s helping the rest of us view life from that very same perspective.
Nehmi Klaassen, co-founder, The Quill