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.
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 has had millions of 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."
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.
It gives us (the AR/VR Garage as a whole) the ability to pitch on bigger international virtual reality jobs. ”
Creating authentic VR content
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."