REM5 brings us to the Metaverse
We were joined by leaders from REM5, a Minneapolis based virtual reality development and event company. They share about their company and give their current definition of the metaverse.
RICHFIELD, Minn. — Art takes work, and the mural at East 72nd Street and Chicago Avenue in Richfield is an example of that. Standing 80 feet wide and 12 feet tall, the rainforest mural is a reflection of community collaboration at it's best.
"In order for a rainforest to prosper, there has to be diversity," Galaxy Food owner Arun Motilall said.
Motilall and his friends began the process for the mural two years ago when Galaxy Foods decided to get the community involved in the artwork. They held a few events where they cooked for their neighbors and asked what they would like to see represented in the mural. Artist Ricardo Reyez says community members from different cultures wanted him to bring a rainforest to Richfield.
"We brought elements from a lot of cultures," Reyez said.
There is a mix of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Caribbean representation in the masterpiece. Rem5 Studios helped bring it to life outside of the walls.
People scan one of the four QR codes on the mural through their camera setting on a smart phone. They can then click the link that pops up and open Instagram to see the art pop off the building.
"Seeing people engage with technology that is basically like magic, " Amir Berenijan, Rem5 Studios CEO said, "It never gets old."
BJ Skoogs works with Berenijan. It was his idea to mix the augmented reality into the mural. He says the mural wouldn't have been possible without their community partners, and help from the City of Richfield.
"I grew up here," Skoog said. "I love it here. I think it's that bridge city. The beautiful thing about a bridge is it connects people."
Rem5 Studio plans to update the AR every so often so the art work can change without having to physically add more paint. Berenijan says AR is apart of a growing movement of art sustainability.
Steps Of Privilege is available for free on the Meta Quest via the App Lab.
We’ve talked heavily in the past about VR’s unique empathetic capabilities. In addition to entertainment, immersive technology can and is being used by numerous organizations to instill a sense of compassion while educating users on a variety of important subject matter.
This includes REM5 Studios, an XR experience agency that for the past several years has been working on Steps of Privilege, a one-of-a-kind educational experience that explores the subtleties of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Put simply, the app is a kind of privilege test designed to highlight the advantages and benefits one may inadvertently receive due to their unique social background.
“This exercise provides participants with a unique opportunity to understand and reflect on the intricacies of their own privilege in a safe and judgment-free environment, while not exploiting the stories of others,” says REM5 on their website.
Throughout the course of the exercise, participants listen and respond to 20 statements delivered by a virtual monitor. One question you might be asked, for example, is whether or not you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school. If you hear a statement that applies to you, you’ll be asked to physically move forward; if the statement does not apply, you’ll take a step back.
You can also listen to the reflections of other users by interacting with a handful of floating orbs and even leave your own. At the end of the experience, you’re able to look around the room to see how far your privileges took you compared to those with different backgrounds and experiences.
“The Steps of Privilege experience accelerates the timeline for an individual to reach an intercultural mindset, recognize where they fall in the social construct, and empowers participants to work for social justice.”
Steps Of Privilege is available for free on the Meta Quest via the App Lab and coming soon to the Quest Store as well as PC VR headsets via Viveport. The app is currently a finalist for Games for Change, an annual awards ceremony celebrating the best social impact games from around the world.
We had the opportunity to go hands-on with an earlier version of the app a while back. Since then the developers have implemented a variety of interesting features, such as hand-tracking and the aforementioned floating orbs. That said, we can’t wait to see how this unique experience continues to grow.
For more information visit rem5forgood.com/steps.
A shared community does not always produce a common experience. To be able to walk in another’s shoes to see the world from their perspective is not so easy to do. However, through a virtual reality – or rather extended reality (XR) project, Opus College of Business students, faculty, and staff had an opportunity to consider how varying life experiences can inform perspective, especially as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The immersive virtual experience as co-sponsored by Business in a Digital World and DEI initiatives at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business to expose students to the systemic inequalities prevalent in Minneapolis.
“Minneapolis is a great place to live, great schools, great place to raise a family, but when you start to pull back the layers when it comes to things like education, incarceration rates and wealth, we have some of the worst racial inequities in the country,” said Amir Berenjian, CEO of REM5 Virtual Reality Labs.
REM5 joined with RFTP (pronounced “rooftop”), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that uses storytelling to spark meaningful conversations between people with varying life experiences, to bring awareness to those racial inequities.
“We built an exhibition space called ‘One City, Two Realities’ that through data visualization, photographs, 360-degree photos, video and quotes tells the story about Minneapolis,” Berenjian said.
The XR environment is designed like a virtual museum. Students experienced the museum and its exhibits remotely using avatars. “Think of Roblox, but designed for the common good,” said Berenjian, an expert in the field of virtual reality. “One City, Two Realities” is a completely novel approach to DEI work.
As visitors to the virtual museum and exhibits, students were able to walk around George Floyd Square, march alongside protesters, witness the toppling of the Columbus statue near the steps of the St. Paul Capitol, get an up-close look of the urban graffiti and murals sprayed across retail buildings, as well as see charts, graphs and maps about wage gaps, incarceration rates and housing deficits. The students, as their avatars, were also able to engage socially and connect emotionally with other users.
The anonymous nature of the virtual experience produced conversations that differed from their traditional in-person sessions, RFTP co-founder Tim Harris explained.
“In our live sessions, there was always a hesitancy to talk, given the subject matter,” Harris said. “Being able to speak from behind the avatars gave people a veil. Some people enjoyed it, some people didn’t like it. We provided an app that allowed people to give feedback live and anonymously. That was pretty engaging. We got a lot of data,” said Harris.
RFTP co-founder Latoya Taris-James also noticed that the XR experience provided time for reflection that sparked feedback from those who might not otherwise contribute in one of their traditional sessions. “A few moments of silence gave students the opportunity to actually speak up, and you could tell it was something that they had been processing throughout the session. It gave them the extra time and space to bring what they had to the table. I think it made a huge difference.”
Taris-James added, “Everyone has something to contribute to the work ... A lot of times we hear from people that ‘I’m just A, B or C and I shouldn’t speak on this subject.’ We want to take the stigma away from this kind of work, that you need to have credentials, and reassign that value to personal experience.”
As associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs and DEI ambassador to the Opus College of Business, Nakeisha Lewis is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of the university’s initiatives in the DEI space. While there is a risk for the university to take a chance on a new project dealing with sensitive subject matter, Lewis believes the consequences of not taking that chance are far greater.
“I wholeheartedly believe that we cannot live out our mission if we don’t do this type of work,” said Lewis. “I cannot say that we are producing principled leaders if they are not able to make the world of business more equitable.”
For RFTP, the project represented an authentic institutional investment not without risk. “We’re direct,” said Harris. “The way we go about this work is different than a lot of other organizations, and our hope is to cut through the ... pageantry of DEI work and get right to the conversations, and St. Thomas was with us every step of the way. The fact that they were willing to take a chance and spend dollars and put their money where their mouth was and engage says a lot about who they hope to be as an institution.”
Dr. Rama Hart is an associate professor of management at the Opus College of Business. The students in her Inclusive Leadership class were among the first to experience the new virtual spaces. The students were initially hesitant to weigh in on the subject matter, but Hart said they conveyed a profound impact in their subsequent written reflections.
“It was a very meaningful experience for students and probably one of the most memorable aspects of the class,” said Hart. “Talking about race and racism is very difficult in any environment, but creating an environment that allows participants to experience other realities in a multidimensional format allows students to shift their perspective. I would certainly like to use the exercise again.”
Students were asked to reflect on their experience in the virtual space. These reflections, in addition to their anonymous comments within the virtual environment, were aggregated and disseminated to the development team. The university used the data to better inform the focus of their DEI initiatives.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis has historically been praised for being one of the best places to live. It has beautiful parks, relatively well-connected bike paths. However, it still remains a place with one of the biggest racial inequality gaps in the nation.
"Whether that's red lining, educational disparities, things about housing and systemic inequities in general..." Tracy Nielsen said. Nielsen is the Executive Director of HandsOn Twin Cities, a volunteer center that coordinates companies, nonprofits and volunteers.
She said they've been partnering with REM5, a virtual reality experience company out of St. Louis Park to host something called 1 City, 2 Realities.
"1 City, 2 Realities is a virtual exhibition space, so basically it can be accessed in real time via phone or computer when people go into the exhibition," Nielsen said. "It's like walking into a museum — you have an avatar and you're navigating the space."
Nielsen says this experience has been available to her volunteers for a while, and she thought MLK day was the perfect jumping off point to introduce the public to it, so that they can participate too, without leaving their homes.
"Everyday we are working to make people think about themselves on how they can be more anti-racist as a volunteer," she said. "We really believe that by deeply informing of our history that affects our current circumstance, and the existing need, people will become better volunteers to understand those issues."
Amir Berenjian, The founder of REM 5, the company behind building this VR exhibit, says his company's mission had been the same since the beginning.
"When we first started the company about four years ago, we spent a lot of time deploying this technology for empathy building or soft skills, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, using it as an intimate storytelling medium," Berenjian said.
And ever since the company developed this exhibit, Berenjian says he's worked with schools and corporate groups to not only educate but to also help visualize what the inequities look like in numbers.
The exhibit includes dozens of items, featuring information about educational, housing and wealth gaps in our city.
"When you start to look at the data, we have some of the worst race inequities in the country across the board, so if we can open up people's eyes to that data and that content and those stories using this tool as the medium for it, and get those 10, 20, 100 people in that company to engage in discourse around that and what they can do individually and as an organization to counteract some of these systemic issues, then we've done our job," Berenjian said.
If you are interested in the exhibit as well as other events HandsOn Twin Cities is organizing throughout the week, you can find that info here.
The virtual exhibit is free to view for anyone with a computer or a smartphone, but requires registration. You can also participate in the debriefing session hosted by HandsOn Twin Cities throughout the week.
Watch the interview!
Have the Minnesota Twins been uploaded to the cloud? Not quite yet, but the team is again dipping into the digital realm.
On Thursday, the Twins announced their second “extended reality” experience, or “XR” for short. Essentially, it’s a 3D environment that fans can explore from their home computers, or via virtual reality headsets. The team launched its first XR venture back in February, enabling fans to explore a virtual “hall of fame” setting.
The latest XR experience, titled “The Art of Baseball,” features a mix of digital art related to the sport. In a news release, Twins officials note that local artists designed the three virtual displays in the XR program. Fans will also get a look at the team’s first NFT, or nonfungible token, a unique piece of digital art that will be officially auctioned off Sept. 27. On the backend, NFTs are coded in such a way to be not replicable. If you’re still scratching your head, technology news site The Verge recently published a good explainer on the topic.
NFTs are all the rage in some art circles, though, they’re said to pose serious environmental concerns due to the massive computing power they require.
The Twins’ second XR experience, meanwhile, comes with a high-profile sponsor: Richfield-based electronics retailer Best Buy is a “presenting partner” of “The Art of Baseball.”
The company “found the concept intriguing, so they signed on as a presenting partner of Twins XR as part of their existing relationship with us,” Twins spokesman Matt Hodson said in an email. The partnership is simply a sponsorship; Best Buy isn’t providing any technical expertise for the project.
Like the first edition of the Twins XR program, the second iteration was created in partnership with Minneapolis-based REM5 Studios, which bills itself as “full service XR agency.”
The “Art of Baseball” formally debuted today, but it will only be available for a “limited time,” Twins officials said. The first XR program also had a limited run, though spokesman Hodson noted that there’s an “easter egg” within the new program that will lead users back to the “Hall of Fame.”
The Twins aren’t the only Minnesota sports team to take a dive into the digital world. Last month, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx announced a “blockchain partnership,” which will one day enable fans to buy and sell digital trading cards.
With many music and arts venues closed, St. Louis Park musician Symone Wilson is seeking to help create a virtual venue that’s out of this world.
Wilson is teaming up with Kelsey Jo Geiger, who provides instruction on the music industry business at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, and St. Louis Park-based virtual lab REM5. The plan is to create a sprawling virtual venue in which visitors will be able to interact with each other through a variety of devices, take in music, wave virtual glow sticks and even try to find a hidden horse room. The Placebo Records Virtual Reality Venue would be named after Wilson’s own record label.
A St. Louis Park Arts and Culture grant and Metropolitan and Regional Arts Council grant are helping to fund the venue, but Wilson is also seeking to raise $20,000 on GoFundMe.com.
The additional funds would help pay staff for graphic design and marketing work, cover the cost of remaining work on the virtual venue and pay artists.
The venue has a cosmic-style sky along with a variety of rooms for participants to virtually gather to chat or watch videos.
“I definitely want to make it feel like a venue you’ve never been to before or probably can’t exist in real life,” said Wilson, who performs under the stage name SYM1 and worked as a staff member at the SLP Nest youth-centered coffeeshop and music venue.
One space could feature a 24-hour music stream to help create the feel of a listening party. A main stage area would be connected to a Twitch account featuring either live performances or pre-recorded music videos. A “green room” would allow artists to gather together virtually to mingle.
“I want to have that interactive feel, for sure, that everyone craves right now,” Wilson said. “There’s more opportunity for that interaction and engagement, which I heavily miss.”
Like a live venue, a merch booth is planned. It would feature digital art and items linking to an artist’s merchandise website or Instagram page to allow participants to view more of their work.
Beyond seeking to reignite the music community, Wilson said she wants to encourage diversity in the music industry. She plans to create a mentorship program with the assistance of Ro Lorenzen, lead vocalist for the Twin Cities funk band Static Panic.
“She’s a person of color and a person of the LGBT community, which I also am, and so we are both joining heads on getting BIPOC, LGBT and youth involved within the space,” Wilson said of the mentorship plans. “We’ll definitely be promoting that as a big part of the venue.”
In the grant applications, Wilson set a goal that half of the artists involved would be Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBT or youth.
“I feel like consistently marginalized communities, especially the ones that I listed, are left out too often, and if they are included there’s like one token to every group or scene,” said Wilson, who referenced the electronic pop scene that she is a part of along with other genres. “It’s not always like that, and I’m definitely seeing there be an improvement. But I want to see that happen on just such a broad scale.”
She indicated that she wants to promote diversity through her record label.
“I want to see Black people in opera,” she said. “I want to see white people in rap. I want to see everybody in everything – just mess it all up, whatever the narrative has normally been. I want to see it completely different on every level so that you never expect to see somebody in a certain place.”
Work on the venue is ongoing, but Wilson hopes to launch next month.
Brian Skalak, director of marketing and events at REM5, commented by email, “REM5 STUDIOS is incredibly excited to work with such an innovative group of artists and musicians here in the Twin Cities to make this virtual venue a reality for them. We’ve spent the last year really diving into the use cases for this WebXR platform and making 3D, social worlds accessible on mobile devices to laptops – and, yes, VR headsets.”
Skalak noted other recent work REM5 has undertaken.
“Music and entertainment executions are a slam dunk, but we’ve also utilized the tech to create a Hall of Fame for the Minnesota Twins and a museum on racial inequity,” Skalak wrote. “The possibilities are endless!”
The idea for the virtual venue came about after Skalak suggested to Wilson that Placebo Records could host a virtual event. That suggestion prompted Wilson to brainstorm about a more far-reaching collaboration.
“I felt like there was a need for community to be built up in an intentional way,” Wilson said.
With City Pages ceasing production and no music venues open for months, Wilson said she felt a lack of connection with the rest of the music community.
“I want to feel excited about my community again,” Wilson said. “I want others to feel excited about their communities again. I want them to feel like they have support, and so I want to be able to provide that support and excitement in a way that’s never been done before and is also safe.”
While geared toward the Minnesota music scene, Wilson hopes to bring in artists from across the country and abroad.
While she suggested the virtual venue team’s work could emerge into the real world eventually, she said she would like the virtual venue to remain for music lovers to visit if the weather is bad or they feel like staying in.
“Going to a venue is, like, a lot of time and energy, and sometimes we want to just support and see music without having to leave our homes,” she said. “We can now.”
To learn more, visit placebo-records.com. The fundraiser page is at gofundme.com/f/virtual-reality-venue-for-music-arts-accessibility.
If you’re like everyone else, the last 12 months have been both one big blur and filled with far too many video conferences. Nearly overnight, Zoom and other video conferencing tools became the norm for displaced workers to still connect and meet in the new COVID normal. Quickly, video became the norm even when the meeting could have easily been handled over email or a quick phone call.
In a recent study by the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, they note that video chat platforms, “have design flaws that exhaust the human mind and body.” They note the four reasons for this exhaustion: Close-up eye contact, seeing yourself in real-time, reduced mobility, and increased cognitive load. Now, amplify this over an entire year, and you can easily see why employees are so drained. Video conferencing is far removed from natural social interaction.
As an innovative alternative, several companies have begun utilizing a new platform, WebXR, that combats many of the factors contributing to “zoom fatigue”. WebXR is an immersive, three dimensional, social experience that runs across devices (mobile, PC, and VR) right out of a web browser.
Think of WebXR like a multiplayer video game that runs online. You control an avatar to move throughout space and talk with others. The really cool features include spatial audio and spatial presence, two things that you don’t get on traditional, 2D video chat.
While WebXR doesn’t look to fully replace video chat, it does provide a unique and alternate option for companies and organizations in any industry. It sits nicely in between video chat and full virtual reality and the fact that it works on mobile and PC makes it just as accessible as your favorite video conference service.
Now besides hosting more immersive, less tasking meetups, meetings, and social hours on the platform, it can also be used as a tool for content delivery in the format of speaker series, museum installations, and brand activations as well.
Recently, Minneapolis-based XR Agency, REM5 STUDIOS, built out an entire Hall of Fame experience for the Minnesota Twins in WebXR. This allowed fans from all over the world to visit and explore together as long as they wanted, whenever they wanted. The 3D modeled space contained multiple clubhouses with shines for each player plus archival photos and video. Fans were even able to select avatars with Twins jerseys from over the years. It was an engaging and immersive brand experience that couldn’t be told any other way.
The Twins and major sports teams are just one example of the unlimited use cases for WebXR. Earlier this year, Sundance Film Festival went all online with an impressive WebXR component for their New Frontiers section of the event.
Another big opportunity is in the education and training space. According to PWC, immersive platforms allow participants to learn quicker and be more emotionally connected to the content. Museums can now deliver immersive content and extend their geography overnight. These types of experiences are just at their infancy and will live long beyond the “end” of COVID as a new tool to reach audiences both internally and externally for years to come.
Virtual reality has been moving mountains across a myriad of verticals. In the past few years, we’ve also been seeing VR as a force for social good. REM5, a Minnesota-based company, is doing just that with a virtual exhibition space called “1 City. 2 Realities.” which is part of their REM5 For Good initiative. It illustrates and educates people on the realities of racial inequity and inequality across the nation.
Tackling Racial Inequity in Virtual RealityThis year on March 21, we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for this year is “Youth standing up against racism.” In the digital era, we’re seeing a new wave of activism and social movements, which rely heavily on technology to promote social, economic, as well as environmental change.
According to REM5 co-founder, Amir Berenjian, they wanted to create a virtual space for sharing different stories about racism and discrimination. Also, they wanted to bring discussions about racial inequity to a meaningful space. Thus, REM5 For Good created “1 City. 2 Realities.”, which highlights the harsh truth about racial discrimination throughout the US.
To make the experience as educational and immersive as a real exhibit, they used VR to power it. The immersive nature of VR makes it highly engaging. Additionally, it enables a forum for social interaction, allowing its users to start those difficult conversations about race and racism.
As you enter the exhibition space, you can view the displays at your own pace. You can also engage with other users. Although you can only hear other users who are close to you in the virtual space, you can engage with anyone regardless of their location.
The “1 City. 2 Realities.” exhibit even comes with a virtual idea board that you can follow using your mobile device.
Virtual Reality as a Tool Against RacismREM5 For Good has two main objectives. They are as passionate about K-12 education and cultural competence as much as emotional intelligence education for large companies. They’ve worked with over 15,000 users and enterprises, such as General Mills, Target, Boston Scientific, and the University of St. Thomas.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Target and General Mills provided their employees with access to “1 City. 2 Realities.” This powerful tool helped raise awareness about racial inequity and racism by sharing real-life stories of racial discrimination. Moreover, it illustrated the impact of racism on communities.
The virtual exhibit provides a safe space for participants to learn and reflect on their actions without fear of judgment. After every session, employees are given a chance to talk about their realizations and listen to others. From there, these institutions can work on addressing racial inequality within their respective systems. They can make positive changes to create fair and inclusive workspaces for their people.