Storie in XR: Elisabetta Rotolo

Le storie in XR e social VR incontrano Elisabetta Rotolo, Chief Executive Officer & Founder di MIAT. Ci siamo conosciute su LinkedIn ed in particolare grazie alla VR/AR Association. Ho seguito un suo speech tenuto all’interno di ‘Metaverse’, evento dello scorso dicembre e da allora sono una fedele lettrice dei suoi articoli pubblicati su Artribune.

Chi è Elisabetta Rotolo

Elisabetta Rotolo è CEO, Founder, Creative-Executive Producer and Artistic Director at MIAT (Multiverse Institute For Arts & Technology).

La storia di Elisabetta

Scopriamo insieme i primi passi di Elisabetta nell’XR. L’ho intervistata per voi. Su sua richiesta l’intervista è in lingua inglese.

primo piano Elisabetta
Elisabetta Rotolo

What were your first experiences in the XR and your impressions?

I started to take interest in emerging technologies and among them XR in 2016 after my MBA in the UK. I was undertaking a PhD because I was interested in understanding how serious games in VR could develop emotional intelligence to enable authentic and transformational leadership and how they could help creating and developing more and more Learning Organizations that are guided by authentic, widespread and shared leadership. From that moment I realized that XR technologies would become the next computing platform and that they would be disruptive across all industries, as well as transforming our lives: the way we learn, entertain, shop, experience, meet. For me it was immediately a very clear vision, as if what I saw, and had not yet developed, I already had at hand. It was natural.

Subsequently I returned to Italy and instead of returning to work within a company, after 20 years as Global Chief Brand Innovation and Communication Officer, I wanted to deepen these issues even more and after researching and touring in different countries in order to understand what was happening in the world. Then I founded MIAT – Multiverse Institute For Arts & Technology, where we train the talents of the future and design and produce immersive experiences based on strong research and with an Artech approach.

If 23 million jobs are expected in XR with a 2100% growth in 2030, as indicated in your ‘Metaverse’ speech, what could be the role of VR or AR and why? There will be a greater investment in AR (see probable launch of Apple’s smart glasses) due to the high costs of the viewers, the scarcity of VR content, etc. or will there be a change dictated by Meta?

In recent years in the field of immersive technologies we are witnessing a real revolution dictated partially by the pandemic situation in which a large part of the world is pouring, but also by a change in attitudes and consumption that came with generational change and technological progress. In a short time, the major companies that produce VR / MR headset have reduced the size and costs of the latter, allowing the devices to reach both the homes and offices of companies.

The growing awareness of the AR and VR sectors has led to an exponential market growth. For example, during the Christmas period, the most downloaded App in the Apple store was Oculus. Consumer habits are changing rapidly.

Both AR and VR demand have reached new highs as, for example, the need for remote collaboration or participation in virtual events has begun to gain prominence in the commercial sector and new work habits. Meanwhile, the consumer segment continues to be driven by games as a primary use case, fitness has gained some traction within virtual reality, while media consumption remains popular within the consumer segment for the AR.

According to IDC, shipments of AR and VR headsets reached 9.7 million units at the end of 2021 and are projected to grow to 32.8 million units by 2025 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR). 45.9%. While VR headsets will undoubtedly lead, AR will face substantial growth from 2023 to 2025 and will acquire a third of the share by the end of 2025.

Regarding the offer, 100% of the content productions are already made in digital contexts, pushing companies to redefine their business and digital offer, brand strategies, business, art and offer of cultural services. This has given rise to numerous new jobs and opportunities for both young people and individuals and companies who want to undertake up-skill programs. The jobs of the future that underpin the XR sector and the metaverse are of different genres such as: digital creators, directors for immersive content, XR producers and showrunners; XR developer, software engineers, UX / UI designers, Web developers, 3D artists, Animators, Motion Designers and VFX, creative technologists, blockchain engineers.

The two key factors that have further accelerated this surge in product sales with XR technologies are certainly the shift to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic and the announcement of Facebook’s rebranding in Meta, which put the concept of metaverse in people’s minds, further pushing the demand for XR products, both in terms of devices and in terms of multimedia content and applications, the various business sectors. From healthcare to precision mechanics, from logistics to real estate , from art to culture to entertainment, up to education and the military sector, all activities are approaching and developing business projects and strategies related to emerging technologies.

To date, AR is more usable especially when you can experience it through devices such as smart phones or tablets. For example, the sectors in which AR is most popular and effective are numerous, for example:

  • Education: Games like ARchitect, a game that allows students to build 3D bridges, towers, and other structures while learning about strengths and materials, are just the beginning of a long list of opportunities for using AR in education. Inside and outside the classes.
  • Health: like the Eye4Care app, a platform that connects those in charge of home care with remote doctors (or nurses) by video.
  • Retail: with the try-on in AR adopted by global brands from Bulgari, Nike, Gucci.
  • Tourism, art and culture: with AR catalogs and AR tours of important monuments and points of interest such as on the KeyARt app or Google Arts and Culture AR, AcuteArt.
  • Entertainment: In the entertainment industry, it’s about building a strong relationship with your brand characters and the audience, as Niantic and Warner Bros did with Harry Potter Wizards Unite.
  • Repair and Maintenance: Repair and maintenance personnel are starting to use AR headsets and goggles as they go about their work to provide useful information on the spot.

The panorama of multimedia content that can be used in VR is also in clear quantitative and qualitative growth and is applied to the same sectors, allowing for superior immersion and smoother operation supported by ad hoc performing hardware. VR has been used by large companies in the field of corporate training with programs for their employees and training on soft skills as PwC did. VR can be used in product design and retail as Adidas did, it is functional to education by remote thanks to platforms such as ClassVR and Virbela, and much more as to socialize in VRChat and obviously entertainment with the numerous film productions and documentaries that are found on different platforms such as that of Oculus.

While VR is more immersive, AR today offers more freedom for the user and more possibilities for marketers because it doesn’t need to be a wearable headset.

Last June MIAT (Multiverse Institute For Arts and Technologies) opened in Milan, of which you are founder and CEO. How did the idea come about?

Last June we launched the first Immersive Storytelling Masterclass, which we will relaunch again this year and which is part of the offer of our immersive academy. The idea of MIAT, as I mentioned earlier, was born after an initial interest of mine in 2016 in order to understand the implications of these technologies in developing emotional intelligence and enabling authentic and transformational leadership.

Then, after in-depth research, I had confirmation of the fact that these technologies would change our personal and professional world, but at the same time I noticed that internationally there were no high-level artistic-creative contents applied to these technologies, with whom I have always had a nerdy approach. I noticed there were no hands-on trainings led by international professionals who teach at a theoretical, practical, experiential level and with a creative development approach to becoming the ArTech of the future, also being able to connect students to the market. Hence MIAT was born which is the first creative and educational hub for the arts and technologies where we offer, produce immersive experiences, train the talents of the future all based on strong research.

In MIAT we also have a creative center of immersive content, where we design and produce immersive, multi-platform experiences, including, for example, virtual worlds, NFTs, digital twins, immersive storytelling, documentaries and 360 videos, immersive projects to support marketing strategies. and communication, immersive art exhibition.

foto del corso MIAT
MIAT in Milan

Our teams are international global-award winners, mainly Anglo-American, have a decade of experience in the immersive and metaverse sector, are digital creators, storytellers, XR developers, lead artists, filmmakers, immersive sound designers, 3D modellers, riggers, animators, producers creative and executive, digital curators, marketing, branding and communication experts.

Our immersive Academy is the first in the world where here we train the talents, the ArTechs of the future, both individuals and companies, where e teach them how to develop, understand emerging technologies and their potential, strategic use in business but also develop an artistic mind, creative-technological and strategic and create projects and contents with these technologies. Finally we teach what the metaverse is, how it will develop and how to maximise the positioning of a brand within the metaverse and acquire the skills necessary to respond to these rapid changes in the market. We have a unique and cutting-edge methodology that combines theory, hands- on, experiential, and sensory workshops, and creative design thinking.

Esercitazione al MIAT
Student at MIAT

Did you find it difficult to create this hub which includes an immersive studio and an e-tech Academy? How did you get over them?

Yes, I have found considerable difficulties. Initially, no one understood what I was talking about. Companies, organisations, investors, friends found it very cool, but they saw it as an incomprehensible and very distant world. In the UK, for example, there is a strong ecosystem and public and private financial support. In Italy, the ecosystem does not actually exist and neither does financial support. The VR in Italy has the logic of small investments with very short exit requests. If we look overseas or even just in Israel, they truly invest in innovation, even in projects that are on paper with $ 1.5 million chips to get start-ups up and running quickly. The phrase I always heard from investors or organisations when they saw MIAT was that it is a visionary project at least 10-15 years ahead of the market and that clearly, I would open it in the UK or the US. Personally, however, I believe in Italy, in my country, a country where talent and creativity are fundamental assets, which is why I decided to open MIAT here.

Nowadays we talk every day about the Metaverse that you defined as ‘multiverse’ in an article by Artribune. In the panel ‘Are we ready for MetaEducation?’ of the ‘Metaverse’ event organized last December by VR / AR Association you specified that: ‘The metaverse will be also an interoperable dynamic multi-user mirror world story-based & story-driven’. How would you explain it to the famous ‘housewife from Voghera’? What future can it have in the short term?

The first thing I would do is to let the housewife live and experience the metaverse. The simplest way to describe the metaverse is as a virtual world parallel to the real, physical world, in which people in the form of 3D avatars (their digital counterpart) will be able to move, interact, and perform any activity: work, play, socialize, buy, all virtually. Let’s just take a simple example of one of the many things you can do.

Imagine waking up one day: you start a virtual meeting with your colleagues or friends with your avatar, present your project or organise a visit to a museum. After the presentation or your visit, you will celebrate with your friends and colleagues at a party where a rock band will give their virtual concert, but before attending, run to your favorite shop and buy the dress or accessories for your evening. After you have chosen what best suits your Avatar, also based on your mood, you pay in cryptocurrency, which will be the currency of the metaverse where you are. After the party, you easily lend your outfit to a colleague or friend who wants to lend it to her daughter, happy to browse it during her concert on Roblox or Decentraland the following day.

Since now even the housewives of Voghera have a Facebook account, just imagine that the famous social network does not appear only in the form of a blank page but that it is a virtual world, with buildings, streets, plants, and people in which to immerse yourself and live just like if you went out the front door, but with an infinite number of possibilities and without ever leaving home. Now, for example, neither virtual reality viewers nor augmented reality applications are needed, all you need is a stable internet connection and a sufficiently powerful computer or smartphone and access the platforms as you access any website or application. In the short term, VR / MR will develop more and more and these technologies together with other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence or holograms, for example, will create a strong sense of presence and interactivity.

Although in people’s minds the concept of metaverse is being consolidated, many platforms are already active and populated, so you don’t need to be a visionary to understand the potential. From a business point of view, it is already possible to access a virtual version of an office and interact with your colleagues just as if we were in the same room, it is possible to access a university campus or a digitally recreated classroom and actively participate to the lessons. Personally, I have several online meetings in a digital sea-like environment, when the temperature outside the home is below zero, it relaxes me, and they are often much more effective than continuous boring online meetings. As for social events, there are many events that have moved online due to the pandemic and in the metaverse instead of looking at a screen, you are immersed in first person.

The possibilities are endless and for now we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, also because it must be considered that the technological infrastructures to take full advantage of these advantages are not yet universally available. But they are developing fast. AR via mobile in all forms and for any purpose, street navigation, games, social media. MR (Hololens, etc) will start first in industrial fields like the computer did by first entering the offices before becoming a “personal” computer. MR for consumer (“personal MR”) will take time. Only towards the end of the next 5 years will we begin to see sales numbers of MR glasses reaching those who have VR headsets today.

Why should storytelling have a fundamental role in the metaverse? In your recent speech you said that ‘the metaverse needs to be conceived, designed and built by storytellers’.

To be habitable and usable to its full potential, the metaverse must be a dynamic virtual space, full of characters who can interact with each other or who ultimately have a well- defined and recognisable identity and history. Just as cities, regions and geographic states in the physical world are loaded with symbolism, traditions and culture, the metaverse will also have to emulate the physical world and therefore it is necessary that storytellers tell the history and origins of the virtual spaces that we will live.

There is an inherent need for interesting characters and meaningful virtual environments in which to immerse yourself. This brings new and complex narrative challenges:

  • Cities and environments: it is essential to give a history and a clear identity to the virtual environments in which users will immerse themselves, cities cannot be cold and distant, but intriguing and cohesive, to attract users and why not entertain them and arouse wonder and curiosity.
  • Engaging Learning Environments: Academics will find themselves replaced by AI teachers or become edutainers, working with developers, creatives and storytellers to create meaningful experiences for students to experience.
  • Immersive experiences: true, exciting, engaging, to also define how people will meet, live, share and socialise in the metaverse. The contents are not simply generated by storytellers: they also emerge from the interactions between users and favor the birth of entire communities with a precise identity. The storytelling approach to the metaverse is fundamental.
  • StoryBased Characters: With stories and values that can lead to interoperability in the metaverse. This will imply that people can move their Avatar from one platform to another, from one metaverse of origin to a completely different one.

An ethical approach will be essential. Although the metaverse is an anthropocentric virtual world, it is important that it is created with accessibility, diversity, equality and humanity in mind.

  • Accessibility: The metaverse should be accessible to meet various social needs.
  • Diversity: With physical limitations (such as geography, language, etc.), the real world cannot integrate various elements in one place to meet the needs of different people. However, the Metaverse has a space of unlimited extension and one in which to integrate different communities in different environments and achieve true diversity, diversification and integration.
  • Equality: In the metaverse, everyone can control custom avatars and exercise their power to build a fair and sustainable society
  • Humanity: The Metaverse could be an excellent approach for communication and cultural protection. For example, the Metaverse can provide storage and protection of cultural milestones and relics (Ubisoft rebuilt Notre Dame de Paris as a digital 3D model in Assassin’s Creed Unity)

There is a lot of talk about immersive education and universities are experimenting with the use of VR and AR. Last November Stanford University launched ‘Virtual people’, the first fully VR university course. In your opinion, what role can XR play in education and in the Italian school / university?

Due to the post-pandemic educational context, both teachers and students have reached a new level of understanding of technology in the service of education. And this also means that we have learned strategies to cope with the constraints imposed by distance, especially during synchronous lessons.

Immersive education has the potential to revolutionise education and modernise e educational processes which too often neglect the educational impact of non-traditional media. Immersive technologies allow you to take advantage of dynamic, interactive learning environments, to touch what you are learning with your own hands, complete with engaging experiences, all of which can be used intuitively via devices in both AR and VR.

The learning environment is not defined as a single virtual place where students meet but as a decentralized place capable of providing different stimuli to students. It is also an interoperable place where students will “teleport” to virtually any historical place or moment, experiencing firsthand what tends to be studied only in books.

Universities and educational institutions around the world are now on the same starting line. Obviously, there are realities that have infrastructures that are more ready and adapted to this technological transition, but I believe that it is necessary to innovate and experiment with new approaches and tools that can enable all types of activities possible with immersive technologies and above all that are for everyone. They should implement different technological experiences that promote the creativity and collaborative minds of students, increasing engagement and avoiding the risk of boring, ineffective frontal lessons. In Italy we must accelerate the digitisation processes and also the technological infrastructure.

What do you think about the Metaverse?

It is very important to me that those who will build the metaverse, individuals and companies adopt an ethical approach. We are facing a completely new anthropological moment in which having the ability to conceive and create immersive contents that is engaging, inclusive and that can inspire the human being and technologies that enable everyone to be able to experience them are central elements to be able to build a better future together.

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