In this special episode of Industry Focus: Consumer Goods, Jason Moser talks with VR/AR expert Sophia Moshasha -- director at Brightline, vice president of the Washington DC VR/AR Association, and co-host of Everything VR & AR -- about the industry and the future of this exciting technology. They discuss:

  • how customers across industries view AR/VR today;
  • how AR, VR, and MR work together now and in the future;
  • some use cases in healthcare, aircraft design, and more;
  • Microsoft's push into immersive education technology;
  • some of the most exciting interviews Sophia's hosted on her podcast;
  • life in the AR/VR consulting world;

and much, much more.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Dec. 10, 2019.

Jason Moser: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market each day. It's Tuesday, December 10th. I'm your host, Jason Moser, and I'm really excited about our guest for today's show. Sophia Moshasha is a director at Brightline, a company focused on the creation of virtual and interactive experiences. She's also the vice president of the D.C. chapter of the VR/AR Association. And, she's also the co-host of the Everything VR & AR podcast, which you can catch wherever you get your podcasts, and I highly recommend that you do. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

OK, Sophia, I like how you guys start your shows with the story of the guest. It just gives some good context there. So I'm putting you on the other side of the table here. What's your story? Give us an idea of what led you to the work that you're doing today.

Sophia Moshasha: That's great. Thank you for having me! I'm sure a lot of my listeners would be wondering the same thing, actually. [laughs] I actually came from a DoD contracting background. And then I just kind of fell into the technology space. When I first joined Brightline, I had assumed that they would be doing something IT or cyber-related since we're in the D.C. area, and got very excited that they actually did a lot more than that. They do everything from all interactive technologies to include facial recognition, motion capture, object tracking, motion tracking, touchscreen, and now interactive VR and AR. That was kind of an obvious add to their repertoire of interactive technologies. It's been a fun ride since then. I've been there for about 2.5 years. Then we joined the VR/AR Association. Almost two years ago, they asked us to start the Washington D.C. chapter, just because of the type of work that we were doing in the industry, and just how pressed we were to further the education on VR, AR and MR technologies.

Moser: Yeah, I just was consulting the pricing schedule about a membership for the Association. I think I've got everybody talked in here to go ahead and cover the membership fee for the D.C. chapter membership. We'll talk about that in a few minutes.

I want to dive into some of the work that you're doing over at Brightline first. Brightline, correct me if I'm wrong here, but you're in the business of creating virtual and interactive experiences, basically, it sounds like. Looking over some of the brand clients you have, Coca-Cola, Geico, Toyota, just to name a few. It really does seem like, based on what we're watching, the evolution of this technology, it does seem like we're to a point now where the interactive and mixed reality, it's no longer a fad or fancy technology that really doesn't do anything. It really feels like it's gaining traction, and a lot of companies are buying into it. What is the feeling among your customers these days regarding mixed reality? Do you still have a lot of work to do in convincing them that there's going to be a return on that investment? Or is that return on investment really starting to become more apparent now?

Moshasha: I mean, it's definitely constant education for everyone, in every industry, on what the ROI is. And we're continuing to see more of those use cases pop up, so we can kind of point them to those. Everybody is certainly interested in how they can utilize a mixed reality technology. For us, it's a little easier, because we already have a big stake in the game as far as what we're doing for our customers now with other interactive technologies, and they just want to take it a step further.

I always say, a big part of our job, and anybody in an emerging technology industry, is education and consultation. A lot of times, people will come to us either not knowing anything about how mixed reality would apply to them. Or, they would have an idea of what they want, yet it's totally off. So, we work backwards from there, saying, "What is your goal here?" And then we would let them know what the appropriate use cases are for virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and how it could augment the way that they're doing business or reaching out to their target audience, and affecting the way that they do business. It's very use-case-centric. People will come to us saying, "VR is cool. We want to do that." And then the next question we ask them is, "OK, why?" And that's how we get to the answers faster, and consult them on the best way to utilize the technology.

The ROIs and use cases are out there. Again, it's still a big part on us to educate people on the appropriate utilizations of the technology.

Moser: It sounds a lot like what we do here in regard to investing. A lot of people come in, they see this notion of investing, I can buy shares of stock in this company and I can sit back and five years from now, it'll be worth more money. That's great. Let me get started investing in. But then you have to backtrack for a second and say, "Why do you want to do it?" I mean, of course it's to make money, but really, it's about financial goals. It's about what stage in life you're at, what you're trying to achieve. So, certainly, that makes sense with companies, they see that cool technology, "Yeah, let's do that!" But yeah, exactly, why do you want to do it in the first place?

Moshasha: And I would say, where the industry is at now in terms of creating content for end users and end customers is, we're in the prototype proof of concept stages. There is money out there to be invested in mixed reality solutions. But entities companies are testing the waters right now on how they can apply the technology toward their specific company and industry. So, people are spending money out there. And now what we're seeing is, not just us as content developers preaching to the choir of how this could potentially affect industry, but we're seeing now industry attending these technology conferences with us, and actually standing on stage with us, telling the audience how much immersive technology has been a value-add to their company.

Moser: Where do you think we are in the mixed reality stage? And what I mean by that is -- I'm assuming you know about the hype cycle. You hit that trough of disillusionment, where it feels like we've been for a while. Maybe we're starting to realize some real-life applications for this technology, whether it's mixed, or virtual, or augmented, or all three. It feels like, at least, judging from my Twitter feed, there's a new headset initiative from another company seeming every other day. Obviously Microsoft is doing great things with HoloLens 2, and we hope to get a HoloLens here to be able to fiddle around with that. Apple is obviously throwing their hat in the ring. Google, giving it another shot. Facebook has Oculus. But then you have all of these other smaller companies. Magic Leap is another one. Amazon, I think their backing company called North that's making some stuff. It feels like now, there is tremendous buy-in on this, just judging from the hardware that's coming to market. Some of it will work, some of the won't, but based on the content that you're producing, the content that's in demand, do you feel like we're on that way back up? It feels like now, we're at that stage where there's buy-in, and we're slowly but surely going to keep on doing nothing but, I think, improving from here. But, I could be wrong.

Moshasha: Yeah, absolutely. The military is one of the biggest spenders of immersive technology capabilities. I think that's a great tell as to where the industry is going with immersive technology.

Moser: The service that I run here is focused primarily on augmented reality, but we know there's mixed reality, there's virtual reality, there's augmented reality. To me, the more and more I learn about this space, the more I follow it, the more it seems like the lines are getting blurred. It seems like it's not one or the other. It's all of them, and they're working together. So, are we headed toward a future where really is less about augmented versus virtual, and it's really all about just mixed and interactive?

Moshasha: I think that, first of all, there's space for everything right now. It's not a competition. And like I said before, it's very use-case-driven. There are times when AR is most appropriate, and there's times when VR is most appropriate, depending on what you're trying to achieve, and also depending on where the software development is at those stages. And, the hardware as well is a big key to this, obviously. In my opinion, AR is the tortoise in the race right now, although I do think that it does have longevity in terms of where it's going. But, then, yes, you're right, mixed reality is going to be like the coin term for all of this. Companies like VARIO, I don't know if you've heard of them yet, but they're doing some incredible things bringing that to light.

Moser: You talk about educating, and AR maybe being the tortoise in the race right now. It's funny, my father, he's a physician. He's 77, I think, now. Still practicing. I was talking to him about mixed reality, virtual, and augmented. He was like, "I think I know what virtual reality is." He's like, "What's augmented reality?" And I'm explaining to him, it's digital overlaying the real world. And then he's like, "Well, how could that help me?" And I start having a little bit of a challenging time really explaining particular real-life examples. It's easier for me to Google a video on YouTube, and show him how the healthcare industry is being impacted by augmented reality. But, yeah, it certainly felt like from the very get-go, virtual reality is the one that's always been at the tip of everybody's tongue. I guess that's just because of the wow factor with the technology. But, to me, it does seem like those lines are getting blurred, and more and more, it's about that mixed reality, that interactive, as opposed to one versus the other.

Let's switch gears for a minute. I want to talk to you a little bit about your journey in the tech world. Yesterday, I had the very good fortune to speak with Caroline Feeney. She's the CEO of Individual Solutions at Prudential. Now, this is Prudential, right? That's finance. We're talking about tech here. But you have some similarities then. Our conversation centered around the evolving role of women in finance. We've seen, I think, over the past several years, really awareness, we've seen traction. More and more, we're discovering how important it is that we give women their due in these industries. I mean, you play a very important role. Equality, I think, is really at the forefront of almost every industry now. But it hasn't always been that way. How has your journey been as a woman in tech? I mean, is there a notable difference between where you started versus where you are now?

Moshasha: That's a good question. Absolutely. I do not have a technology background. And I think we're seeing more and more of that, particularly in this space, at least the people that I've talked to. And it's really interesting, the unique perspectives that they bring to the industry. Some of them obviously have gotten into more of the technological roles. But me, I have a background in marketing and strategy. That's what really interested me, is, how can we apply the technology to particular use cases in particular industries? I think it's important for everyone, not just women, but everyone to understand that there is a place for them in immersive technology. We think about it not as just a new technology, but a new form of communication, a new medium of communication. If you think about it like that, there are roles for everybody in this space.

It's been interesting for me, because it is particularly male-dominated. But because of that, I've been afforded a lot of opportunities, as well. So, I think it's both a challenge, but a blessing at the same time.

Moser: Is there anybody in particular that lit the way for you? Maybe someone that mentored you? Was there someone that you look back to and think, "Wow, that person really helped pave the path for me"?

Moshasha: I would say, people that have become good friends of mine are Amy Peck from EndeavourVR, and now heads enterprise at HTC. And, Cathy Hackl, who leads enterprise for Magic Leap. She's a big voice in the technology, named one of the top voices in LinkedIn. Kudos to her. And they're just very supportive. And not only them, but I've seen the industry at large, and then particularly the women, just be very, very supportive, which is very new to me. I think, generally speaking, people just want to see the technology succeed. And because of that, everybody is just giving a leg up for everyone else. It's really inviting and really nice to see that.

Moser: I'm not going to lie, I'm the father of daughters. I have a 13-year-old and one that's getting ready to turn 15. I think about this stuff all the time. I feel like they're entering a time in their lives where the world is their oyster. It is probably a bit cliché, but I think there are a lot of opportunities opening up now, and mentalities that perhaps didn't exist even 10 years ago, that are going to make a big difference for them as they enter the workforce over the next decade. It sounds like finance, tech, it really does sound like the attitude is shifting everywhere you look.

Let's talk a little bit about your role as vice president of the D.C. chapter of the VR/AR Association, and as the co-host of the Everything VR & AR podcast. I don't know where you find the time to do all this.

Listen, I've listened to a lot of your shows. I've enjoyed learning a lot. You have some great guests there. I encourage our listeners to check that out. Who are some of the guests or the industry experts that you've had on your show that you just thought, "Wow, that just sparked an interest in something I didn't know about before," or, "I want to learn more about what they were telling us about on the show"? You have to have one or two guests that just made you think, "Wow, what a great interview." Anyone come to mind?

Moshasha: I mean, first of all, let me say, pretty much everybody on our podcast has had some amazing stories, and are creating some major impact in our industry.

Moser: You have such a wonderful cross-section of guests on the show. It's not just VR hardware. I mean, you've got car companies, software companies, and everywhere in between.

Moshasha: Right. And we wanted to make sure that we were hitting home with all types of listeners, not only the people that were creating the content and some of the main members, I would say, of our Association, but also the people who are looking for use cases to point to and say, "OK, these guys are doing it, and they're doing some really cool things with it. And here's their story." And it's not us touting about it anymore. These end clients and implementers are the ones that are raving about the technology. So, it feels really good to be able to host them.

I would say, one person and one conversation in particular would be somebody by the name of Gabriel René, who is one of the founders of The Spatial Web.

Moser: I haven't listened to that one, but I do remember that one.

Moshasha: You should. He has a book out on Amazon. The audio will come out in about a month now, but he also has a paperback book. If you haven't read it, I really encourage you to read it. It'll kind of open your mind as to why we're putting such a heavy focus on immersive technology, and all the peripherals around it -- the Internet of Things, and he talks about robotics and blockchain and why all of these things are important and coming together to create what we call an immersive ecosystem.

Moser: There was one interview you had with an individual from Microsoft. I can't remember which interview it was, but it led me down a rabbit hole. And then I discovered Julia Schwarz with Microsoft, and a YouTube video that she had with the HoloLens 2 demo from earlier in this year. The demo was just really cool. I'm like, I have to get ahold of this HoloLens because it just sounds like you can do so much cool stuff with it.

Moshasha: Come to our office, we got you.

Moser: [laughs] Do you have one?

Moshasha: Absolutely.

Moser: Alright, I consider that an invitation, then. But, another one that I listened to recently, the interview with Ross Finman from Niantic. I guess he actually was the co-founder of Escher. That was acquired by Niantic. Now he's the head of AR strategy at Niantic. Niantic is a company I've had on my watch list here for the service, because I'd love to see it go public at some point or another. I think a lot of folks know Niantic because of Pokémon Go, and the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite game. I think those are games that just scratch the surface of the potential there with AR on the consumer side. But, again, it goes so well beyond the consumer. You have such a great cross-section of guests there. That's just what's always really impressed me.

What are some of the markets that you feel like are big opportunities for mixed reality, whether it's augmented or virtual, mixed reality? I think a lot of our listeners, they probably think, "Well, it's entertainment, it's gaming, it's consumer-related stuff." The one thing I've really had a lot of fun with in my service is discovering all of these markets that really benefit from the technology, even though it may not necessarily be consumer-facing. A great example, I think, is healthcare. You see what these physicians are doing with this interactive reality software and hardware, and it's just phenomenal. Are there any markets that stand out to you as big opportunities that you're excited about?

Moshasha: I would first say that us being in the market, we have to understand where the market is now, and where it's going. Where it's going is maybe not where we should focus our efforts now. It may not be consumer-facing, other than the gaming industry. And that's OK, but it's important for us to know that so we can gauge where to put our efforts. So, for us, it's basically any industry that has a big focus on training. Where are they going to receive the biggest value in reducing the time to retrieve, retain, and then deploy information? So, healthcare is a big industry for that. Military is a big industry. Oil and gas. And then, I would also say, some of these industries also, it's hard to train, or it's impossible to train for some of these circumstances because it's dangerous, or they don't have access all the time, and those types of things. Immersive technology can create that access.

And then, the other thing I would say is visualization. Anything that will reduce the time to do mockups, builds, and --

Moser: So, simulation type stuff.

Moshasha: Simulation type stuff. I'll give an example. Bell Helicopter, their usual process is to do a mockup CAD drawing. And once those specs are OK-ed, they do a mock build of the helicopter. Then they'll have their pilots sit in the helicopter and just make their remarks about what they like and what they don't like. And the engineers are taking their notes on that. Then they'll go back to the drawing board, remock that up, and then rebuild. And they do this process over and over again until they have something tangible that they like, and then they'll go and produce it. Whereas now with virtual reality, they're doing their visual mockup inside VR, and then putting their test pilots in VR inside the cockpit. And then, in real-time, they're making adjustments based on the recommendations of the pilots, and then they go into production. So, it's reducing costs, reducing time, all of those things, to get a plane or a helicopter into production.

Moser: I'm glad you said that, because there's a company that I added to the service a little while back, you may have heard of it, you may not have, it's called ANSYS. It's a simulation software company. They build simulation software. Big presence in academia. A lot of students are actually being trained on this software before they're even getting out into the workforce. If you're trained on that software, when you get out into the workforce, they don't want to retrain you, so they're making sure they're getting that ANSYS software out of the workforce so they can just continue on.

Another thing you were talking about, training. In a different life, I worked for a while at Travelers Insurance, and I worked at Bank of America as a loan officer. There was training involved with those jobs. I can remember the web-based, "go to this web page and click these buttons and do this and that" training. And it was boring, and it was tedious. But now, you're seeing where this augmented reality and virtual reality is taking over. It's making training a little bit more palatable. It's certainly more effective. And, I think companies out there like PTC, another one that is building out that software and those experiences for training. That's really cool.

Moshasha: I'll tell you about a cool study that's been put out. It's not only use cases, it's companies like Microsoft who are doing intense studies on the ROI of this technology. They put out something called the Class of 2030. It's available for download for anybody who wants to view it. What they did is, they put two sets of university students in a traditional lecture-based learning environment and then immersive technology learning. And they set a minimum standard of comprehension for those sets. And what they found was that the set that was in the immersive learning environment reached that minimum standard 60% faster at one letter grade higher than traditional-based learning.

Moser: Wow. It strikes me -- again, this goes back to some of these markets, where you feel like there are just these big opportunities -- education, clearly. From higher education all the way down to elementary school. This is technology, I think, that will continue to take over. I've read case studies where grade school classes have augmented reality experiences that put them in the middle of the Civil War, where they're seeing sights and smelling smells and feeling impacts of things. It provides context that none of us ever really grew up with. To me -- that's not surprising, the result that you say, but it's really encouraging that that data exists. I think it'll only hasten the move toward this.

Moshasha: Right. And even though it came out from the educational sector of Microsoft, it just showcases the power of the technology in totality, and what it can do for other industries that are looking to educate or deploy information faster, and have people resonate with it faster. What traditional forms of communication do is provide more of a semantic memory. Semantic memory is more of memorization. Words on a page, things you're listening to, hearing people talk, even videos and pictures, those types of things. And then, what immersive technology is doing is building more episodic memory. That is lived experiences. Memorizing something is different from creating a memory. That is exactly what immersive technology is doing. And that's what makes it so powerful.

Moser: That makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense.

One of the things about your jobs -- and I'm using the plural there -- it seems like your jobs afford you the opportunity to go to a lot of these industry events. That's part of what you all do there, I think, at Brightline, is helping with those industry events, to a degree. You were just at the Microsoft Ignite event down in Florida, I think it was?

Moshasha: Yep.

Moser: Give us a little insight as to how that was. What were some of the highlights?

Moshasha: It was great. Microsoft actually invited us to come down there and interview some of their keynotes that were doing things with immersive technology. Surprisingly, there wasn't as much of an influence of immersive technology or showcase of immersive technology there on the conference show floor. You kind of had to hunt for it. Some of the people that I met at the bars -- engineers coming there for CLEs or whatnot -- didn't even know anything about VR or AR. They knew the term HoloLens, but that was about it. So, I took some time to blow their minds a little bit about the technology, and got them to want to learn a little bit more through Microsoft.

I think Microsoft is doing a good job of being one of the leaders in the technology. Their mixed reality department works a lot like a start-up in a large business. They're still fighting the same struggles that we are as small businesses in the industry. It's interesting to be able to lead that charge with them.

Moser: That's cool. Have you been to the Augmented World Expo?

Moshasha: I actually have not. I actually attend more industry-focused conferences, and we bring the technology expertise to those conferences. So, apart from the VR/AR Global Summit that I attend every year, I attend mostly industry-focused conferences and bring the tech to them.

Moser: Nice, nice. Well, I think I've sweet-talked the powers that be here into letting me go this year.

Moshasha: It's a good one.

Moser: If I don't see you there, then I will circle back with you when I return.

Moshasha: Please do.

Moser: We'll go over some notes, and maybe we'll meet back in the studio and talk again and catch up.

Moshasha: That sounds great!

Moser: Alright, you can catch her co-hosting the Everything VR & AR podcast. You can follow her on Twitter @ShopiaMosh. Sophia Moshasha, thanks so much for coming in this week!

Moshasha: Thank you for having me!

Moser: As always people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and the Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Today's show was produced by Dan the homeowner Boyd. For Sophia Moshasha, I'm Jason Moser, thanks for listening and we'll see you next week.