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Digital technology & product development: (Product) Life in VR

by Nicole Pickett-Groen

December 17, 2020

Three interviews with three digital spearheads. Based on the themes of the Adyen Meets webinar sessions held earlier this year, in collaboration with Dutch Digital Design. The first interview is with Tijmen Mulder. Co-founder of digital production agency Robot Kittens and creative technology nerd extraordinaire. We talk about what role digital plays when it comes to product design/development, and introduce you to the world of Robot Kittens.

What is a product?

To define what role digital plays when developing a product, we first need to define what a product actually is. A physical, tangible object only? Or can a digital product like an app also be classified as a product? Can one product consist of a digital and a physical part? The definition of product is incredibly broad.

Tijmen: ‘A product is something that people, a consumer or company can use. A something that can stand alone. An app, a physical product or a service.

The role of (a) digital (agency)

Digital can play a supportive role. A role where digital is adding value to a physical product. A fun example, Robot Kittens developed a cool app for Volkswagen - in collaboration with Dutch creative agency dentsuACHTUNG: by attaching your phone to a specially-made cardboard robot-suit and activating the app, you and your suit turn into a Volkswagen car – a ‘Volkswagen Transformer’. This is a playful way of magnifying the personality of a brand or product, making it tangible and fun – bringing it to life.

Of course, digital can also have a more leading role. The agency will come up with a concept, and execute this concept from start to finish, including branding, functionality, User Experience, and, ultimately, production.

Digital products also often support a service. A service that can only exist because of its digital counterpart. Services like Uber. Without the app, Uber would not be able to operate. Its whole existence is based on the app.

Tijmen believes that taking the lead as a digital agency gives you the freedom to look at what technology would work best. That’s exciting stuff. At Robot Kittens they like working on their own hobby projects to experiment with different and new technologies. This way they can test what technologies are most effective for each individual project, and apply them accordingly.

The Annex: buzz-words like virtual production, multi-user positional tracking, and holographic displays are all the rage in the new tech experimentation centre, powered by Robot Kittens.

The process

At Robot Kittens they will start with outlining the framework, the objectives, but also the limitations of a particular project. They will then organise a brainstorm, followed by a detailed plan including functionality and user experience of the product. After this the development/production process will start.

They are currently working on a product that was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. A digital simulation tool for ambulance and police crews. Ambulance and police staff are often trained through physical, life-imitating scenarios. Due to corona, it is now practically impossible to re-create these scenarios out there in the real world. Therefore, a VR simulation tool has become indispensable for training police and ambulance crews. It facilitates the training process. A scenario writer works closely with Robot Kittens’ 3D developers to translate the real world into a digital one.

Tijmen’s favourite digital technologies

Augmented Reality (AR). This technology like many other digital technologies will enhance and, as the name suggests, augment the product or even augment reality. It creates an interactive experience of a real-world environment where objects within the real world are enhanced by computer-generated information, and can be used across a broad spectrum of products and services. For example, AR can turn not so exciting, but essential product manuals into more inviting and interactive tutorials.

Tijmen is especially looking forward to Apple launching their AR glasses early next year. Glasses that have the technology to merge what you see in the real world with virtual information, overlaid on one of the lenses.

Is he not worried that using these glasses will be a little intrusive?

On the contrary. Tijmen believes it is a lot more intrusive to constantly look at your phone or your smart watch. He feels that AR glasses can feed you with information without interrupting your daily routine, making life easier.

Virtual Reality (VR). Tijmen lives, eats and breathes VR. It is his favourite technology because it transports you to another world. It makes things possible. It doesn’t just augment an experience, it creates an experience. It offers you out-there experiences, touching all emotions and senses.

Tijmen: ‘The difference between VR and AR? With AR you add to an existing reality. It is the real world+. With VR you can create your own reality. That’s freedom!’

At Robot Kittens they are currently looking into multi-user VR. Where more than one person in one space can share the same VR experience. This way you can create truly interactive mini-events. Again, great for adding that extra value, buzz to a brand or product. For example, you could play VR football with eleven friends, on a life-size pitch, against your favourite professional football players, your dream-team – wearing VR glasses.

Digital trends

As mentioned earlier, Tijmen is convinced that AR glasses are coming. He’s also of the opinion that 3D printers will become a household object as they are increasingly easier to use. And we are going to further develop simulating smells, making experiences more than just visual and auditory. They call it digital scent technology.

Getting back to his favourite technology VR, the trend here is to create virtual tactile feedback, to feel resistance and touch in a virtual environment.

All these trends in digital technology will facilitate the process of any product development. It will give us more opportunities for product innovations.

Tijmen: ‘I hope these trends in digital technology will give young people a chance to be more entrepreneurial as they can experiment with a lot of technology in their own home environment. Digital technology is becoming more and more accessible.’

Tijmen & the future

What follows now is not for the faint-hearted ;-) Welcome to Tijmen’s world!

In Tijmen’s future we will see AR displays integrated within our (contact) lenses, and skin microchips to pay in shops and restaurants, using biometrics*. To make life easier. Holographic displays** and holograms will also become commonplace. To produce less waste. Digital will play a major role in this. In a world where possession of physical goods will no longer be the most important focus.

* Biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. Biometrics authentication is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control.

** A holographic display is distinguished from other forms of 3D displays as they do not require the aid of any special glasses or external equipment for a viewer to see the image.