Photos by Paul Flessland
Feature photo above is of Jesse Hoffart, Gravity Gaming manager at ByteSpeed
Photos by Paul Flessland
TECH ON THE TUNDRA
Even though there are many miles between our chilly region and Silicon Valley, North Dakota is definitely not late to the party when it comes to utilizing technology on the rise. And you might not have known it, but these industries are exponentially growing right here before your very eyes. We dove into a few of these popular sectors of the technology industry that are being developed locally and making an impact all over the nation– not just for businesses, but for people just like you, too.
VIRTUAL REALITY WITH GRAVITY GAMING, DEVELOPED BY BYTESPEED
Virtual reality is a noun defined by dictionary.com as “a realistic and immersive simulation of a three-dimensional environment, created using interactive software and hardware and experienced or controlled by movement of the body.” Not long ago, virtual reality seemed like something only seen in movies and you’d never think it was being developed right here in town. Jesse Hoffart, the Gravity Gaming manager at ByteSpeed, deals with the virtual reality industry every day and knows exactly how it can change our lives in multiple ways.
ByteSpeed and Gravity Gaming
ByteSpeed is a Moorhead-based company that, since 1999, has custom-built desktops, laptops and servers for various uses and companies–such as education providers, financial institutions, city governments and healthcare facilities–all over the nation. Gravity Gaming is a sub-company developed by ByteSpeed that offers custombuilt PCs for gaming and other various uses, and provides the same type of warranty and support for different markets.
“We do so much work all over the nation right here from our location in Moorhead, but we’re still pushing locally. It almost seems harder to do local work than it is nationwide, because people just don’t know what is really here locally for this industry. There’s so much in FargoMoorhead, and the gaming community is really growing in this area and getting bigger,” said Brenda Clifton, ByteSpeed’s marketing manager.
It’s not hard to get your hands on an actual virtual reality headset, but what to do once you have one is where Gravity Gaming comes in. Although they don’t regularly supply VR headsets, they’ll provide you with a VRready PC that is specifically designed to support your specific VR needs, whether you’re an average consumer or not.
“There’s a certain level of performance that you need to run VR, otherwise you’ll have stuttering in the images. One thing that’s important to think about when it comes to virtual reality is that you want to make sure you have enough power behind it because you can’t just have a headset, you have to have a PC too,” said Hoffart. “That’s where Gravity Gaming comes into play. We’ll make sure you have what you need to use that headset. It kind of gives the average consumer a gateway to do a lot more than what a laptop can, and it’s not just for gaming.”
Utilizing The Benefits
Hoffart explained that there are three industries that Gravity Gaming currently caters to the most: education, gaming and business. The gaming benefits of virtual reality are a given–a more immersive experience while fighting off robots or realistically shooting a bow and arrow in virtual reality is truly a one-of-akind. And even in the business world, Gravity Gaming sees companies such as engineering firms using virtual reality to design buildings and give clients an actual walk-through of their building for a better sense of scale, as opposed to just seeing a 3D image. But education is a market that Hoffart says he’s seeing major growth in when it comes to utilizing their virtual reality-ready systems.
“We deal a lot with education and it’s currently an exponentially growing market. You’re basically able to transport yourself and do something like view the anatomy of a person, visit the Great Wall of China or have a virtual science lab right in front of you so you can mix chemicals to solve problems or identify minerals,” said Hoffart. “There’s this huge education side where people are actually learning by using virtual reality.”
Education might not be the first thing that comes to mind as an industry that would benefit enormously from virtual reality, but it only makes sense. Can you imagine being able to immerse yourself in a historical event instead of just reading about it in a textbook? In fact, this has been seen in the last few months with Time’s recent “Remembering Pearl Harbor” virtual reality experience–an interactive roomscale experience that transports you back to that unforgettable day in 1941 through the eyes of a surviving lieutenant.
“If you’re thinking about the education market, the VR (virtual reality) systems can also have a purpose for things like AutoCAD, Project Lead The Way, homeschooling and different educational initiatives,” said Clifton. “People think high-end machines and they think gaming, but there’s so many different purposes and things that you can do with a high-end gaming system.”
“Through ByteSpeed, we do trade shows around the country and see all of the potential. So, we’re pushing that to our current customers–to try out VR for education. We stick to what we know when it comes to the hardware side, because other people know how to do software development way better than we do. We know how to build the PCs and support them and keep them going,” said Hoffart.
“I haven’t seen much else for rapid growth except those three markets. If you think about it, your casual life, your business life and your educational life take up a lot of your life, so I do eventually see it being used quite a bit in everyday life. Where it goes will be interesting,” said Hoffart. After visiting numerous trade shows over the years, ByteSpeed’s staff said that they have also seen the possibility of virtual reality being used in the medical world when it comes to something like being able to learn surgical procedures and functionally use those tools to do so in a VR space.
Even something like augmented reality (AR), which is an entirely different concept, is something that can take things to another level in the future. Hoffart explained that there are just development kits for AR and no consumer-level business products for it yet.
“Imagine you wear glasses and you’re looking at a table and suddenly you can just put something on top of it. Unlike VR, where you completely black out your vision, AR allows you to still be in your environment but it can transpose objects right in front of you,” he said. “I see that one being used a lot for something like a trade profession. Let’s say you’re a mechanic and you can have step-by-step instructions appear right in front of your face or something like that.”
The Reality Of Virtual Reality
When it comes to virtual reality headsets themselves, Hoffart explained that the two “juggernaut” consumer-grade headsets that Gravity Gaming deals with are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Although they each have exclusive features, both are extremely comparable in the sense that they both track the height of your eyes for 360-degree room viewing, have full room-scale capabilities and controllers that allow you to also use your hands in virtual reality.
“I honestly think, in the future, virtual reality will definitely become more in-place in our lives. Getting the hardware cheaper is going to be the next step because we’re only really on the first generation of headsets. I see the resolution inside the headsets getting better and even the price going down as they keep coming out,” said Hoffart. “Overall, it looks very much bright to the future that most people are going to see and use it at some point in their life.”