REM5 is a virtual reality laboratory in St. Louis Park. Like everyone else, they have had to adjust during this pandemic. TCL photographer, Drew Schingen takes us to a truly virtual reality comedy show.
Join hosts Andrew Wegleitner and Rebecca Wilson for three comedians in a “social webxr” experience right from your internet browser. There will be mature themes so 18+ is advised.
REM5’s next Truly Virtual Comedy Show is Wednesday, January 13, 2021. This is an online event that takes place in a virtual environment created by REM5 VR LAB. For more information, click here.
A virtual reality law enforcement training program run by a nonprofit focuses on "empathy first" in hopes of building and reinforcing trust between police and the community.
The Institute for Lawful, Safe and Effective Policing (ILSEP) runs the program, which puts officers through scenarios designed to show how implicit bias comes into play in high-stress scenarios.
"The approach we feel is different, there should be a different approach, there shouldn't be always be a force situation but how can we avoid force?" said Greg Wiley, ILSEP’s executive director.
The first police departments will take the training later this month, according to ILSEP, at the REM5 VR Studio in St. Louis Park.
"It's pretty intense when an officer goes into a training situation if the VR is working correctly, the palms get sweaty the heart rate goes up," said Amir Berenjian, owner of REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory.
The member of law enforcement gives verbal commands to the virtual suspect and the program’s operator reacts to what is said during the encounter leading to different outcomes.
“There's a state initiative to have law enforcement think about how law enforcement could behave differently to make sure those interactions are safer," Wiley said. "If everyone is thinking about how the other person might be feeling, how the other might be stressed, we feel those interactions are going to be safer, that's our goal."
The nonprofit said they are awaiting grant funding to secure money that will allow them to bring the VR training to smaller departments in Greater Minnesota.
North Loop brewery Modist has teamed up with St. Louis Park virtual reality company REM5 to create Haptic, a "virtual reality IPA."
Don't worry, beer lovers. This brew exists in actual reality. But its label was created using virtual reality.
"We've always jived with the Modist brand of pushing the limits of what could be done with beer, and their funky, futuristic vibe fits well with the bleeding edge of technology we offer," REM5 Co-Founder Amir Berenjian said in an email.
The brewery and VR lab first connected about a year ago when REM5 did a pop up at Modist.
REM5 recently got approved by the state to start marketing unconscious bias training sessions to law enforcement. It also created an artist-in-residence program that allows artists to practice painting and creating using virtual reality. REM5 tapped local artist Sherstin Schwartz for the design.
"After a little workflow creativity, we were able to convert a literal 3D can design with extruding flowers and other components and get it printed on a 2D can label," Berenjian said. "Modist was amazing to work with throughout the process and we couldn't have asked for a better partner to go all-in on something this abstract."
Modist describes Haptic as a New England IPA with "fluffy oat malt and smooth wheat malts dry-hopped with a blend of Mosaic, Cryo Mosaic and Denali hops."
REM5 and Modist will debut their brew at a launch party on Friday, Oct. 4. Attendees will have the opportunity to use VR sets to step inside the design and watch the can come to life in a variety of 3D, interactive VR experiences.
To find out what the label looks like in virtual reality, check out the video below:
REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory, 4950 W. 35th St., St. Louis Park, has been increasing its efforts to introduce students to virtual reality as an educational tool.
The business has worked with hundreds of local teachers and more than 1,000 students to integrate virtual reality experiences into the classroom.
Programs allow students to tour the White House, use a public speaking simulator or virtually dissect a frog. In addition to the classroom work, the laboratory has several youth-focused educational programs:
• The innovation lab is a free monthly program to expose youth ages 7-15 to different types of virtual reality technology and expand their vision for virtual reality outside of entertainment and gaming.
• The robotics league is a four-week program during which students ages 8-13 build robots to test teamwork and problem-solving skills in a virtual environment.
• Camp REM5 is a one-week summer program giving students ages 8-13 exposure to a range of past, present and future virtual reality technology.
• Autism-focused programming is designed to create a safe learning environment for children with autism spectrum disorder or related learning differences.
• The business is working with Benilde-St. Margaret’s to develop an internship program for two students this summer, one focused on operations and one focused on marketing.
“At its simplest level, it’s like bringing a child to a computer lab in the 1970s,” said co-founder and education lead Travis Hoium. “Just the exposure to this technology has the potential to change the way students learn and interact – and it’s a fun and valuable exercise for students.”
For more information, visit rem5vr.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Off a busy street in an unknown part of downtown that seems both foreign and yet familiar, there’s an elevator that looks unassuming for those who haven’t seen it before. Step inside and press “Plank” and the cheesy elevator music accompanies a ride that lifts you 50 stories above a vast city. It’s not until the doors open that your mind goes into fight or flight mode and you forget that what you’re experiencing isn’t real—it’s virtual reality. In reality, you’re in a warehouse in St. Louis Park, but in your mind, you’re 50 stories above the ground with nothing to keep you from falling other than a 2×4 board cantilevered out over the busy street. Can you conquer your fears and reach the donuts at the end of the plank or will the plank conquer you?
It’s hard to explain just how real a scenario like this feels when you’re in it and that’s what makes REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory’s experience so amazing. High-end VR equipment can transport you to the perilous plank, swimming with dolphins on an underwater adventure, or into a new generation of innovative games like Beat Saber, a 2019 version of Dance Dance Revolution, all with the click of a button.
What separates REM5 from other flavors of VR entertainment is the comfortable user environment from the moment customers walk in the front door. Skeptical visitors are treated to a free demo to ease any fears of motion sickness or vertigo (which are not a problem when great equipment is matched with the right experiences). When they’re ready to take the VR plunge, visitors get their own semi-private pod to explore VR. On nights and weekends, you can see everything from a family with young children taking turns exploring VR for the first time to a 60-year-old celebrating their birthday with a local craft beer and a pizza made on-site by a staff that cut their teeth at the well-known Mill Valley Kitchen.
If you wander into REM5 during the day, you’ll see the same VR equipment, but instead of games you might see a local class in a virtual field trip or an architecture firm showing their designs to a client who can now walk around their home as it’s being designed in real time.
There are a million applications for virtual reality and REM5 is an exciting place to explore the possibilities, whether you’re looking for fun or a way to make your business better. Make reservations on the REM5 website or contact them about your VR ideas.
REM5 VR Lab opened in St. Louis Park last fall offering local craft beer, fresh pizza and of course, hundreds of virtual reality video games.
Once customers don a headset and enter one of REM5's virtual reality "pods," they can choose from a wide variety of VR experiences ranging from painting and whale watching to racing and sword fighting. REM5 Co-founder Amir Berenjian believes that these games are the perfect way to introduce people of all ages to virtual reality.
"People understand beer, pizza and entertainment," Berenjian said. "Let's start with those things, and hopefully that will lead to conversations about the huge and ranging potential of this technology."
REM5's core offering is a gaming lab equipped with about a half-dozen virtual reality pods that hold between two to five people. Pricing for pods ranges from $40 for 30 minutes to $110 for two hours. While gaming, customers can order from a menu of local craft beer and pizza. Berenjian's brother, Bijan, manages the food end of REM5.
REM5 currently licenses all of its games from outside companies but hopes to begin developing its own VR experiences in-house.
Berenjian is a big believer in virtual reality. An investment banker by trade, he left his job to launch REM5 with his co-founder Travis Hoium in 2017. The two invested around $500,000 to get the company started, and say that the business is doing well.
Berenjian says that their offerings have been a hit with customers ranging in age from nine to 90. In addition to staying busy on evenings and weekends, REM5 has been completely bought out about 15 times for company gatherings, according to Berenjian.
REM5's founders are also exploring new applications for virtual reality outside of video games. The company recently partnered with Boston Scientific to offer empathy training during Black History Month. REM5 is also experimenting with educational and experiential applications for virtual reality. One of these programs offers users the opportunity to explore what it's like to be homeless for a day.
REM5 is also working with several local schools to create educational programs for their classes. The company hopes to help students with everything from virtual art class to virtual dissection for biology.
Clearly, beer, pizza and arcade games are just the start for REM5's Virtual Reality Lab.
"We don't like getting paired with arcades," Berenjian said. "In a sense, REM5 is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up."
Just as my dad was the last one on the block to buy a color TV 40 years ago, I’m usually last to jump on the latest-hot-tech-thing bandwagon.
I’m a classic late adapter. And pretty thrifty.
The VCR, microwave and other stuff worked well — and were a lot cheaper — by the time I bought.
I sure wasn’t first in line for the recent spate of virtual-reality arcades. It took a thoughtful young guy who quit a lucrative job at a local investment bank and launched a “VR lab” for me to show up for a tour last month of this tech-entertainment trend.
It’s the several-month-old REM5 VR Lab in St. Louis Park.
“ ‘Eat, drink and VR’ is our motto,” said Amir Berenjian, one of three partners at REM5, located in a refurbished St. Louis Park warehouse space.
Berenjian and his partners have developed a virtual-reality studio where corporate groups or a family of four can eat pizza and wage virtual war on zombies, scale Mount Everest or explore under the ocean for about $100 an hour.
“We’re already positive cash flow,” Berenjian said. “Most of the [software] content is built for entertainment.”
This is a long way from that View-Master we had when I was a kid in the 1960s.
“Our favorite thing is birthday parties,” Berenjian reported. “The kids have a blast. The next week we have the parents and their friends for 90 minutes of VR, pizza and beer.”
A break from banking
Berenjian, 35, an investment banker at the former Greene Holcomb Fisher, decided to resign in December 2016. He was supposed to fly out to New York for new parent company BMO’s holiday party, but looked at his young family and decided to stay home.
Several months earlier, Berenjian, a University of Minnesota business graduate, realized he was going to have to spend a lot more time on the road because of the BMO takeover, and work even longer hours than normal chasing larger deals to make the same six-figure compensation he made at Greene Holcomb.
His old partners are doing just fine at BMO amid the continuing strong trade of buying and selling companies.
Berenjian is the son of an Iranian immigrant who studied computer science at the U, married a woman from Anoka, raised kids and did well at Control Data and Polar Semiconductor.
Amir Berenjian, who leans toward jeans and a baseball cap, wasn’t raised to blow all his pay on a palace, travel and luxury items. He had savings and an entrepreneurial streak.
Berenjian had long discussed a future with old friend Travis Hoium, an engineering graduate and MBA out of the U who once worked at 3M.
“We lived downtown, worked hard, went out on the town and would argue about potential business ideas,” Berenjian recalled of their bachelorhood of a decade ago.
VR “arcades’’ started popping up around town and the world. Most were targeted at kids and gaming business. There are low-end systems for a few hundred bucks for at-home use. The type used at REM5 run close to $5,000. So far, most consumers would rather rent than own one.
Bijan Berenjian, 29, Amir’s brother and a veteran of the restaurant industry, joined REM5 as a minority owner to run the food end of the business.
The family-and-friends owners of this business have invested about $500,000, including a bank loan, to get things up and running.
REM5 employs 10 people.
The owners are already thinking about what’s next. The software manufacturers have focused on entertainment, but REM5’s owners want to increase business during the day. (REM in their name stands for “rapid eye movement,” the sleep stage when most dreaming occurs.)
Education and empathy
The REM5 crew thinks the future is education and empathy programming that will help fill their daytime hours with seniors, students, trainers and workers.
For example, they have played host to a 93-year-old woman for a free “visit” to the village in Norway, thanks to a Google Earth program, where her granddaughter was wed. The grandma wasn’t up to the trip.
There’s a program that helps people understand how easy it is to lose an apartment and go homeless; what it’s like to be a woman in a meeting full of men, or to be transgender for a day; and one on how to cope with a potentially violent situation.
The homelessness program was good. It certainly wasn’t as credible as the real experiences I’ve had with homeless people, including a once-prominent architect who was fired and tossed out of his West Bloomington house and landed on the streets amid mental health and drug problems.
Still, the VR program is a fine entry into the subject, and has tremendous potential as a training tool.
“We think the next wave of this business will be about training and things that help people empathize,” Hoium said.
And whatever it takes, virtual or real, for us to walk a mile in another’s shoes is surely a good thing.