Fast-moving Auckland company Staples is making the most of a surge of interest in virtual reality (VR).
Fast-moving Auckland company Staples is making the most of a surge of interest in virtual reality (VR). Staples first began renting out advanced filming equipment but has also quickly moved to the cutting edge of producing live action VR content.
Staples VR and Rentals, founded by Aliesha Staples in March 2014, was one of the first tenants in The AR/VR Garage established by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) in late 2016.
The garage in Eden Terrace is a unique innovation hub for ambitious augmented and virtual reality companies and has become the Oceania branch of the Los Angeles-based VR Society.
"Being together and talking with others in the same sector, some with different skill sets, is very helpful," says Aliesha. "The garage has helped push us in front of people locally and internationally. It gives us (the garage as a whole) the ability to pitch on bigger international jobs."
Staples has already completed some exciting projects. Staples filmed a VR video called Escape My House for the New Zealand Fire Service – and the video had more than eight million views on social media.
The video shows a clothes rack catching fire which spread to the ceiling within 40 seconds and made the room unsurvivable after 2m 52s.
"It was a call to action to make people talk about an escape plan and make it out of a house fire safely," says Aliesha. "A fire is deadly fast and the video is so realistic – it can save lives."
It gives us (the AR/VR Garage as a whole) the ability to pitch on bigger international virtual reality jobs.
-- Aliesha Staples
Founder of Staples VR
Before filming, Staples had to develop a VR camera that would withstand the high temperatures. "We were told it couldn’t be done but the more testing we did the more we realised we could build a heat resistant camera," says Aliesha, winner of the Young Achiever category at the 2017 New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards.
Led by Edward Bellamy, Staples modified three GoPro cameras, taking out the parts that would melt, and housing the others in a fibrous concrete casing. They found frozen putty and glue that withstood the heat, and they replaced the plastic lens with glass – ending up with built-in 220 degree glass lens with a wider field of views. The result was the world’s first fireproof VR camera system.
When Staples first started, Aliesha introduced drones and hand-held, camera-mounted gimbals to New Zealand that made filming easier, faster and cheaper. She learned to use the stabilising gimbal system while working as a video editor and camera operator in South Africa. Aliesha loves new technology and creating authentic VR content.
Staples, working with the Auckland District Health Board, has produced the world’s first patient preparation VR video for children. The game was created in the `real world’ of Auckland’s Starship Hospital, and using the HTC Vive headset, children can experience the reality of having MRI and Cat Scans, X-rays and radiotherapy before the procedures actually take place.
The video uses animated robots to explain what is happening and to put them more at ease. "If we can help reduce the number of children being sedated for the procedures using VR, then that is amazing," says Aliesha. "The hospital project is our pride and joy – it was technically difficult to do."
Staples is promoting the VR game to other hospitals in New Zealand and overseas, and it can be bought online.
In conjunction with Mercury Energy, Staples told the story of six-year-old Eli, paralysed from the neck down and since April 2016 living most of the time at Starship Hospital. Staples gave Eli a 360 degree virtual reality experience of friends at school and family on the dairy farm. It made him feel closer to home even though he was 600km away.
"We can capture VR content for elderly people in rest homes – they can’t fly but they can view their grandchildren in their home environment overseas," says Aliesha. "The opportunities are endless and a pipeline of work is happening."
Staples completed the first live-streaming of an event in full 360 degrees virtual reality after taking delivery of a high-tech Nokia camera with eight sensors and eight lens. The event was the 2degrees SIX60 concert on iHeartRadio.
Working with ATEED, Staples has created virtual reality Auckland tourism content, which will be displayed at trade expos. One of the projects was filming the release of the first kiwi on Motutapu Island.
Staples has opened a Melbourne office and its staff grew from two to 10 in nine months. Following an introduction from ATEED, the go-ahead Auckland VR business is talking with Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise about research and development and business support – and further extending its 360 degree vision.
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