When most people think about augmented reality, they think about the Pokemon Go cell phone game craze from 2016 – but when it comes to marketing and software, the technology has only scratched the surface.
Clark County’s software sector, one of five key industry sectors that the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) is actively promoting, already has a strong start in both augmented reality and virtual reality. The county currently has about 262 people employed at 43 firms in the software publishing area, many of which are involved in the technology. And across all software sectors, Clark County has 2,386 people employed at 492 firms, said Max Ault, interim president of CREDC.
“We see great opportunity for growth within the software sector, with data pointing to over 100 new potential job openings in Clark County each year for the next decade,” Ault said.
So far, the augmented and virtual reality software components are growing a bit quietly, but as more companies launch options, it’s very likely the technologies will rise to the same dominance as social media did when it launched about two decades ago.
“I think augmented reality is going to be 10 times bigger than virtual reality,” said Joshua Swanson, who launched a company called Futriciti in Vancouver last year with a partner in Texas. “With virtual reality, you are truly building something from nothing. It’s on you to build the entire environment. With augmented reality, your camera on your phone is the device. It can marry the digital world with the real world. And everyone’s carrying a device to see it in our pockets.”
On the virtual reality side, Futriciti, working with another company Swanson owns called Go To My Apartment, builds digital versions of commercial or residential real estate projects that customers or clients can tour remotely. It helps those companies or consumers see what the environment will be like before it’s ever constructed, Swanson explained.
On the augmented reality side, Futriciti is in talks with a major California museum to enhance displays with moving characters and pictures to help visitors better understand the history of items through a one on one technology experience.
“It’s that perfect marriage of technology and experience that Millennials are looking for,” Swanson said. “Both technologies are difficult. Virtual reality is incredibly technical, building a space from nothing. Augmented reality, you have the space already, and you have to design within that creative box. It gives you more of a boundary.”
Kristine Neil, brand architect for Markon Brands, a Vancouver marketing, design and branding firm, said her firm also sees the growing importance of the two technologies. It’s something that other companies with marketing needs may want to start investigating, she said.
“The average small business owner may not think the world of augmented reality is available to them but with technological advancements coming quickly, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to integrate AR and VR into your marketing plans,” Neil said. “We’re especially excited for the level of cross-promotion it offers to those with brick and mortar stores. AR will turn in-person shopping into an interactive event, spurring repeat visits, while at the same time help online shoppers feel more intimately connected to the brands they love. It’s all about turning interactions with your brand, even virtual ones, into memorable experiences.”
A host of other companies in Clark County are also working on the technology, and as they grow and demand for virtual reality and augmented reality options increases, the sector looks like it could dramatically take off, Swanson said.
“I think the business environment in Clark County is very beneficial for growing the sector,” Swanson said. “I think there are a lot of creative jobs coming this way. And what Washington State University Vancouver is doing (educating people in the sector) is a very innovative college experience, and it’s really helpful for us.”
Futriciti recently hired a graduate of the WSU-Vancouver Creative Media and Digital Culture program as part of that, and the company hopes to hire perhaps five more people with VR and AR skillsets from that program and others in the next year, he said.
Ault said those jobs, which are generally high paying, are one of the goals CREDC has for the sector.
“Software sector jobs are critical to the regional economy as these occupations are among the highest income earners in Clark County, with an average salary of $102,545,” Ault said. “Talent development is vital to support this growth, and CREDC partners closely with the Southwest Washington STEM Network, WSU Vancouver, Clark College, regional workforce partners and others to foster a pipeline of strong and highly skilled talent.”
And more companies are taking interest in the area as a hotspot for developing virtual and augmented reality, Ault said.
“As AR/VR/MR continue to be seen as the future of technology, it is exciting to see companies like RealWear (Vancouver) and IM360 (Camas) thrive in Clark County, and we will continue to work closely with partners to expand the footprint of this sector in our region,” Ault said.