A ‘Hex’ at Colony VR. Photo: Eric Davison.
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Little Italy business offers virtual reality adventures

Colony VR, a local family-owned startup, is getting the jump on virtual reality, as the new technology rapidly enters the mainstream.

The University of Ottawa is no exception to this expansion of VR technology. The new Learning Crossroads building is set to feature a VR studio, while the department of engineering has already hosted several workshops on the emerging technology.

VR headsets won’t be replacing your television anytime soon, but options are starting to open up for those who want to get ahead of the curve. Among them is Ottawa startup Colony VR. Tucked away in a light industrial building on a Little Italy sidestreet, the unassuming space is now the premier spot for VR enthusiasts in the city.

Rebecca Johnston, one of Colony VR’s co-founders, explained that the business has several facets to it. The public access studio allows anyone to try out new VR tech at a reasonable price in what is essentially a 21st-century arcade. As fun as it is, the fundamental goal of the business is to advance the young technology.

“We host the VR Ottawa meetup group here—so that is essentially a discussion group intended to bring different VR enthusiasts across the entire spectrum to talk about VR,” said Johnston. “We discuss where it’s going and what its uses are while providing a community of support for different sectors where VR might be used.”     

Johnston explained that Colony VR also acts as a market testbed, analysing how different people interact with and understand the new technologies.

“In some cases, we have reciprocal agreements with content developers where we feed them back the user experience of their product, whether they have a sticking point or accessibility issues,” she said. “It’s all an effort to try and inform the content coming out.”

Johnson stressed that virtual reality technology is still in its infancy, citing several challenges in its application that traditional software developers have been ill-equipped to deal with. However, she’s optimistic for the future of VR in education, believing that it can be a powerful tool for learning if applied appropriately.

She highlighted The Body VR as an example of the power of VR in the classroom.

“So you are actually a blood cell, and you go and literally float through a vein and go into a heart. Well, that’s a very different understanding of the system and the biochemistry involved,” said Johnston. “You can physically see the plaque and how its impeding flow. You can visualise the body in this magic school bus-type environment.”  

While VR is still a far away from the cyberpunk future of science fiction, it is certainly worth giving it a spin now. The experience is something truly unique, whether you are drifting lazily through the human circulatory system, exploring the deep sea, or blasting drones as a space cop.