Antonia is an experienced keynote speaker (an official speaker, compère and mentor for TEDxBristol) and works as the Senior Advocate and XR Technical Specialist (for Industry) at Unity Technologies. Unity is the world’s leading platform for creating and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content. Creators, ranging from game developers to artists, architects, automotive designers, filmmakers, and others, use Unity to make their imaginations come to life
Caspar Thykier: It's a real pleasure to be joined today by Antonia Forster, who is an XR technical specialist at Unity Technologies. So Antonia, could you perhaps give everyone some background on how you got into XR yourself, and then maybe a bit about the amazing work that you're doing at Unity in this area?
Antonia Forster: Sure! So I don't have a traditional background. I don't have a computer science degree. I actually come from biology and animal behavior. So I used to work in zoos and science museums as a presenter, and I ended up working in a 3D planetarium; actually, the only 3D planetarium in the UK. But because I was creating content there, I started to learn to program in a language that was specific to the planetarium, because it was 3D spherical content. I had the intuition that it must be kind of similar to VR, which is also 3D spherical content. So I started learning C# and Unity. I've just taught myself using YouTube, using free online resources. And then I ended up becoming a Unity developer at another organization, full-time. And then I got a call from Unity to go work for them as an XR technical specialist. So a very non-traditional route. I don't work so much on the gaming side of things, but more on how different industries are using XR stands for extended reality for anyone who hasn't heard that umbrella term, as it covers VR as well as AR. So I look at how industries like automotive or transport manufacturer architecture, engineering, construction, and also film, media and entertainment, how they're using augmented or virtual reality to change their workflows either to speed things up, to save money, and also to do things that weren't possible before. I code and I build demos. I also give talks and I help clients to fix solutions. And then I create educational content to empower others, to become XR developers.
Caspar Thykier: That's amazing. I love it. And it's so true, isn't it? It's just that the breadth of different industries and sectors that are embracing the technology is vast. How have you seen that sort of evolve then over the sort of the last period, and have there been any moments where you've sort of seen sort of inflection points at all in that development, in different sectors?
Antonia Forster: Yeah, it's a really great question. XR is such a fast-moving industry. So every year things are possible, in terms of the hardware that's available. It's getting cheaper and more accessible, but certainly like the advancement of the hardware is just incredibly fast. So we're seeing more and more industries adopt XR. Also because the price points are coming down, it's becoming more accessible for them. And we're also seeing the industries that are using it are using it in more and more advanced ways. One of the inflection points I think is the support of hand tracking. So controllers are obviously really useful for certain applications, but for others, hand tracking is really crucial. If you have an engineer, for example, who is wiring something up and needs live instructions or is doing guided maintenance or repair, they really need both their hands available. So it's important to have things like augmented instructions that they can then respond to with one hand and then carry on using their hands for their task, rather than having to pick up a set of controllers and put them down. That's really been game-changing in the world of, of head-mounted AR in particular. So yeah, there's, there's been a couple of different developments. I think also the use of metaverses is increasing so matter versus just means a virtual space where people gather. And they've been around a really long time. Like second life is a type of metaverse. But particularly in virtual reality, we're now seeing these kinds of semi-permanent spaces where people will come and go to meet each other. The pandemic has been huge for VR. A lot of people have started using it to have that sense of presence with people. So I think that's been a really big turning point as well. And I think. I hope what we see is this integration of different metaverses across platforms so that people can have some consistency. They can go with their friends from one world to another, even across different platforms and applications and have that kind of consistency in terms of maybe taking something with them. I think that'll be a huge thing in the future.
Caspar Thykier: And obviously Unity have been putting a lot of investment and time into building the sector. How have you seen that sort of journey play out across the years, and is it somewhere that businesses are focusing more on?
Antonia Forster: Yeah. So in terms of the metaverse, as I mentioned, AltspaceVR is built on top of Unity. There's a lot of different platforms and, and Unity has sort of the common building blocks of many of them. So I think that allows people to build tools that will work with all these platforms and also to build assets and, and some kind of permanence. I also wonder if this is more speculative on my end, but I wonder if cryptocurrency also is going to tie into that as being a virtual yet real currency that can transfer between those and in terms of augmented reality. So one of the things I'm most excited about at Unity is Unity MARS, which is an augmented reality tool. And what that's done is really transformed the way we create augmented reality applications. Anyone can use AR Foundation for free to start building augmented reality. But a lot of the time you're going to need some level of coding experience to get started. Whereas with MARS, it really provides a lot of tools and a workflow that allow people even without any coding experience, to change things in the editor, and also to see how it's going to look in the real world without having to deploy it to their device, which is an absolute game-changer. If you develop AI you'll know that that's a really slow part of the pipeline is that constant deployment. So by cutting that out, that's really been a game-changer for a lot of industries.
Caspar Thykier: Yeah, that's crazy. Cause every different way of things that you need to apply to any sort of spatial sort of computing in order to visualize that as you're developing it, to understand how, how it works in that space. Are you finding that more of the Unity development community wants to do stuff in AR and VR? Is there a sort of sense that there's a growing sort of volume of people who want to get into this area?
Antonia Forster: Definitely. Yeah, there's a lot of enthusiasm. I get a lot of messages about how to get started and the XR. One thing I wasn't aware of really until I started learning XR workflows, is that a lot of the tools you use are the same as if you were developing something that isn't in XR. So if you were building a traditional game or application of any kind in Unity, you have to be different with different design considerations for XR. So for VR and your user interface, you've got to think about how you're interacting with that. Do you want that to be attached to the user's hand? Do you want it to exist in world space? So the user can leave and come away from it? Or do you want it to be permanently mounted in a sort of virtual desk in front of the user? So there are different design considerations, but the actual implementation is actually very similar. I didn't really realize that until I started learning. So yeah, the advice I often give people is if you start developing in Unity in general, you'll be well-positioned to also develop XR applications in Unity. And, and one of the benefits of Unity, in particular, is that there are multiple uses. So you can develop applications for head-mounted AR devices, mobile devices, as well as VR. Just using the same editor just by changing a few settings.
Caspar Thykier: Yes, it is just exhausting now. Isn't it? Because the barrier to entry has been massively lowered. The potential that you can do on lots of different devices is just increasing. So the level of quality and the content is improving, and the amount of interesting things to look at is making it just feel like it is being democratized in the mass market where you look at where we are today and then look a little bit forward. Is there anything that really excites you about sort of what's coming up next?
Antonia Forster: Yeah, I think two things in particular. So I know a lot of people are probably gonna say headsets. Or having AR devices that have transparent screens is useful in some use cases. As I said, the HoloLens is wildly popular, especially HoloLens 2. It's really good engineering. And things like day-to-day. Golf shows that we can wear that, and we'll have a limited amount of augmented reality material on top. I think it is going to be a game-changer as well, but really in terms of very sophisticated overlays. The future is going to be in video feeds being passed through to a VR device, because in terms of physics, there's only so far you can take. I mean, I'm not a subject matter expert in the hardware and the optics of transparent screens, but my understanding is there's a limitation to how small you can make them and how much information you can display on them. For example, whereas in terms of the latency and the resolution of a video feed, going into a VR headset... That really has the power to become extremely accurate. One example of really accurate posture and that XR-3 headset, to the point where people can put a thread through a needle, which is kind of wild. And then being able to overlay that with really high-resolution assets means that you can have this world where you can blend the virtual and the real. But the second one I would say is that standardization. So things like open XR and having [00:09:00] standardized tools means that developers are going to be able to take workflows and while workflows will be sped up, but they can also take assets and implement them over a wider range of devices with more ease. So standardization, I think, is going to be a really big one, even though it's a slightly more boring one.
Caspar Thykier: But it's foundational, isn't it? Is it always about AI? No one really cares about the technology. It's just the end user sort of benefit and what comes out the other end. So, no, I totally agree. One more
Antonia Forster: One more thing I should touch on, actually, if we have time for it is just that there's more developers out there, because people are creating content and also creating educational content and tutorials. Like I said, get on YouTube and learn from it. It is free or cheap, and it is how I got into the industry. We're now seeing a more diverse range of creators. And that's really exciting to me because when you enter XR, you're really entering the world of someone's imagination. And if those imaginary worlds are created by one narrow demographic of people, it's very problematic for a number of reasons. So seeing more diverse creators is one of the things I'm most excited about.
Caspar Thykier: That was a pretty important and a fantastic response. Amazingly, we are out of time for that. I can't thank you enough for joining us. I massively enjoyed that and I'm sure everyone who watched it will too. So thank you so much.
Antonia Forster: Thank you for having me. My pleasure.