Patrick Corsi is a world renowned entrepreneur and consultant with deep expertise in Virtual Reality. He is affiliated with Arts et Metiers ParisTech and conducts collaborative research between his lab in Laval, France and Virginia Tech, one of Arts et Metiers ParisTech’s closest academic partners in the U.S. This is an excerpt from his most recent trip report in March 2009.
For one, the projects we are currently launching with Virginia Tech around virtual reality technologies at large are intended to ground Arts et Metiers ParisTech's presence further in the USA and advance its strategic collaboration with a number of US Engineering schools. In the context of a global financial and economic crisis, this move appears to capture a timely opportunity.
The manning of an Arts et Metiers ParisTech booth at the annual IEEE VR 2009 Conference and Exhibition in Lafayette, Louisiana, was designed to specifically promote our Laval Virtual Conference and Exhibition international event that is held in Laval, France, in April and which usually attracts 7000 visitors from 4 continents. Visit: www.laval-virtual.org.
Historically at Arts et Metiers ParisTech, our capacity to rely on own educational and research resources has prevailed. Yet today, we are bound to learn mastering paradoxes: our competitor becomes our best ally and reciprocally; teaming up with remote specialists enables us to perfect our core mission and closest projects; attracting distant students is our best investment for local excellence, etc. Should we not heavily care for being visible on the “new silk road” of global ventures, we would soon become pretty out-of-touch, relatively un-referenced and drying up from fertile trade currents and liquid streams.
How to just do that, locate best allies, regain attraction power, have influence and even lead others? By showing up with reason, focusing on own strengths and adapting to global forces. By finding possibilities and enhancing our qualities. In a nutshell, by moving on, pulling ahead and transforming our assets. As we set a circular motion, we at Arts et Metiers ParisTech can bring attraction and manifestation that revolves around us.
As we had the opportunity to directly help found both a Master in virtual reality and an applied research laboratory in Haiti over the years 2004-2008, we could in parallel relate to and observe at length a fairly large number of American labs and specialized companies that were put in the loop either for supplying material, advice or application ideas to Haiti. This gradually grew a unique understanding whereby the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech or VT), a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia represented a pole of interest with three major characteristics:
- An institution with true critical mass, well-engaged into students exchange programs at all levels, having perhaps not yet the full visibility level that would correspond to its already built-in competences. Hence the window of opportunity before having VT reaching its higher status in the close set of top-of-the-world educational and research institutions.
- A world caliber lever for later deploying applications, owning a proper and dedicated set of instruments for funding concepts, attracting funding and transferring inventions and applications to the field and to the world when timely.
- The locating of several VR teams with specific complementarities with our Laval lab in France. One being an ability to design “dual” display panels that become input focus devices and another being the simplification of motion capture in physical scenes whereby physical markers and strips are a thing of the past, meaningful patterns are captured too and remote cooperation can be enabled all at once.
As Arts et Metiers ParisTech already built a number of students and faculty exchange programs, churns out the largest volume of graduates among all French Grandes Ecoles each year, nurtures a vast array of researches over a most varied spectrum of engineering disciplines, a natural resonance with VT was found striking and it was decided to engage into bilateral inquiries over Fall 2008. It took about three months to set up and structure a multi-facet rationale for a visit. Over the two set days, plus the week-end, the local support, time availability from VT executives and responsible in deploying visits, dialogues and was found exceptional and of prime value for us.
Our Presence & Innovation Laboratory in Laval, France - a Carnot Lab - belongs to the ENSAM ParisTech system. It is of modest size yet is uniquely positioned in bringing integrated development methods and tools for virtual environments based on virtual and augmented reality technologies. It strikingly tackles a vast array of industry’s complex applications and collaborative decision-support tasks (automotive, child apparatus and garment industry, rehabilitation at large, etc.) and this represents its major strength. It is also a key think tank for the design of an ever evolving Laval Virtual Conference & Exhibition, a most-renowned VR event with biggest industrial exhibition hall since 1999. These features set our Laboratory somewhat apart from the bulk of French academic labs as it bridges fundamental research issues with fully fielded innovations. Its publication track record reflects such positioning and the lab is ready to gear up in helping VR innovations find their way through across the world.
Our specific objectives with Virginia Tech were as follows:
- To grow a common interest in mutual researches and to understand the mechanisms at work at VT that can unfold VR innovations.
While at VT, I offered a presentation titled “Rooting VR Environments Values in Socio-Economic Realms” and a number of extracts were then delivered to various audiences during my trip.
Virginia Tech, a structured mother ship on the collaborative spot
With over seventy international partnerships over the planet, Virginia Tech (VT) is a huge and leading educational structure that can straight resonate to research, business, infrastructure, entrepreneurship and commerce. Most probably a growing, still young role model for this century, having the visionaries and the field leaders to actuate its potential, VT needs complementing its research topics and staff and this brings third parties opportunities. Graduating students can find a resourceful environment and imaginative projects can be designed in virtual reality, engineering, education. The European Living Labs model strikes a perfect match to their collaborative schemes
Right now 140 companies have been incubated representing 2000 staff and 24 buildings. Microsoft used to select VT in a quest to focus on recruiting top talents among a handful of target locations only instead of any wider search. On top of them, the Knowledge Works incubator hosts 50 youngest companies at seed financing stage, which, says President of the Corporate Research Center Joe Meredith, “won the recognition of The Most Promising Incubator in the World at a recent Paris Conference.”
Virtual and social, two buzzwords on the software side
Two forces, virtual environments and collective users, combine together to slowly shape new ways to play, to work, to relate and to learn. The economy of the 20’s can be sensed from two pulling energies:
- In a world now dominated by an unheard highly structural financial and economic crisis, we already can see why the online world is about to take the lead. Virtual Environments (VEs) are about to capture a new knowledge value that is both fluid (i.e. not stuck in financial silos), fast movable and sharable (i.e. not bound to physical constraints, more open in terms of common authorship), repeatable (because mostly immaterial) and that is about to fast shift the economic value from classical vertical models to open schemes, (educational methods, VEs as a driver of a new economy? That is indeed possible now. -
- The notion of ‘user’ is probably soon outmoded and replaced by ‘social conductivity’ platforms. These computing environments express immediate added-value social links, almost independently from physical proximity. The sheer number of such platforms currently being developed definitely points at teenagers being the most implicated in their usage. The nineties made a revolution through the convergence of telecoms and IT. At present, it is a confluence of social and individual behaviors that is poised to underpin a revolution in behaviors where users become actively promoted.
These two forces exacerbate in the game industry where the 4 years of development and 30-70 M$ range of budgets is now found at odds with the pressure to involve users in a spiraled co-development and to avoid risk of fatal market feedback at any first failure. New games are being developed that want to co-involve users into a an always-evolve-never-devolve gaming experience where the user is no longer punished but raised to awareness conditions about his environment and its stakes, along with a new global consciousness that teaches him a truly sustainable behavior. And where a late user can catch up with anterior, more advanced gamers. Top designer Tom BOYD from Electronic Arts longs for games that are immediately good at social conductivity level but confesses “We don’t know how to make it cheap” say half a million $. And envisages immersive solutions hat are « online, innovative, simple; socially-embedded, with presence and multitasks (play many and maintain); that get the whole planet population. » Can giants such as Electronic Arts survive long then, should they not succeed in changing their structure? Can the same giants turn themselves upside down and learn to “love the low-end” in a quest for truly empowering users? This cure may not be avoidable and would apply well to all the majors of all sectors indeed… Automobiles of the world designed under Creative Commons? Sooo cool…
Luc Barthelet was famous at developing the SIM’s while at Electronic Arts. By founding TIRNUA (meaning “Terre Nouvelle”) he definitely is one such entrepreneur who takes FACEBOOK as a starting point and engages into such platforms. He inspired me most as he pointed to the surprising deflation of Second Life (and World of Warcraft) as it fatally crossed over the virtual-real border for offering the possibility to monetize Linden dollars into US banknotes, even allowing getting rich in a totally unregulated way. “You can’t protect your margins when facing Internet” he pounds. Indeed this fact subjected the leading Linden Labs virtual platform to real-world’s inflation and its productivity needs, hence put into motion a whirlwind of instability onto itself. I do believe the virtual world will be called upon restoring stability… back into the physical world! By being regulated and by being insulated from the mere physical dimensions. Lawyers and jurists, governments and institutions, G2x and Gen Y to your chalkboard.
From my observations, VEs will also be called upon for faster learning, not only for contents but for behaviors in general, for enhanced users’ roles, such a co-developing products and services. And economic models will transcend the client-server model of current web services. What would happen if automobiles were co-developed with users? A collapse of most current manufacturers? For one, they could then claim co-ownership of companies…
Virtual reality research to the fore
“I’ve stopped looking at what VR is” boasts Prof. Jeremy Bailenson from Stanford University. What is instead seen as important is the actuation of the real ←→ virtual transitions. Experimenters observe that user’s physical behavior can be predicted by watching their virtual behavior and even analyzing their virtual identity.
Says Bailenson “The virtual world affects the physical world” and engages into research on the plasticity of the virtual self as nothing else than a design principle. Instead of leaning in the offline side to act in the online world, it is the online world that enables the fastest and most sustainable learning, in fact in order to act and become in the physical world. What a reversal of viewpoints.
VEs seem to retain the power to act as a generating matrix that reverses the usual going from the real (offline) to the virtual (online).
For more interesting reading, visit the Virtual Human Interaction Lab - http://vhil.stanford.edu.
My gratitude goes to the Direction of Arts et Metiers ParisTech, for their administrative and financial support, as well as to the Presence & Innovation laboratory in Laval to which I belong.
About Patrick Corsi
Patrick started in Silicon Valley at IBM Corp. 30 years ago, and then joined IBM France. He acquired a unique combination of private companies practice and public sector experience at international level. He was instrumental in the success of leading start-up COGNITECH in artificial intelligence in Paris where he designed and actuated a complete technology transfer program in artificial intelligence for the French industry at large. He directed the Advanced Studies Dept. of THOMSON-CSF’s software engineering subsidiary SYSECA. A senior Project officer and a central figure within European Commission’s DG XIII-INFSO&Media in Brussels in charge of emerging software technologies and the applied AI portfolio of projects throughout the 90’s. Patrick propitiously blends technology, business innovation, hi-tech marketing and futures thinking in his missions.
In this century, an international consultant and entrepreneur (founded 3 consulting companies) focusing on business success through innovation. A serial business book author (innovation, marketing, and complexity), frequent speaker, animator, coach of executives and advanced students and long mentor of a few high tech executives, a born teacher who taught at a dozen of European universities and business schools even since a student. Appointed Assoc. Professor at public Innovation institute ISTIA in Angers, France in 2000 where he grew a mini entrepreneurship centre. Member World Futures Studies Federation www.wfsf.com. An ENSIMAG engineer with a Ph.D. from Inst. Nat. Polytech. de Grenoble in Génie Informatique in 1979 and a Maîtrise de Mathématiques from U. of Marseilles 1974. A Solvay SME Business & Entrepreneurship alumnus 2003.