Winnipeg goes virtual with VR smartphone app

January 30, 2018 Alyson Shane

An immersive tour of the city’s businesses and attractions for the world to experience.

The Winnipeg VR app

Winnipeg is stepping up its local tech game with the recent launch of a virtual reality (VR) experience that features some of the amazing places and experiences the city has to offer.

Winnipeg VR, the product of a collaboration between Bit Space Development and The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, is intended to showcase Winnipeg in a whole new virtual light.

“I was in a meeting at Futurpreneur with Jackie from The Winnipeg Chamber and we were discussing the 360 VR framework,” says Daniel Blair, Founder and CEO of Bit Space Development. “We offered to let The Chamber use it for free because I thought it would be a great way to promote local businesses.”

“We wanted to open up VR as a medium for advertising and storytelling for businesses who may not be able to afford it or be up-to-date with how tech is changing,” he adds.

Loren Remillard, the President and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, explains how this new project fits into their mandate. “We’re always looking for new ways to showcase our members and our city, especially as Winnipeg gathers increasing international attention,” he says.

Adding "tech" to traditional business

When selecting the companies to feature in the app, Blair identified several critical components that were essential to building a well-rounded showcase of some of Winnipeg’s top local attractions and places of interest.

“We didn’t want to work with anyone who was currently in the virtual reality or interactive digital media (IDM) space,” Blair states. “We wanted to use this project as a chance to promote more traditional businesses who may not have a strong tech presence.”

“We didn’t want to show just one slice of Winnipeg,” he adds. “For example, we worked with the North End Resource Centre to showcase that Indigenous communities have great resources.”

As a result, the group of businesses featured come from diverse industries, represent different cultures and prioritize showcasing female business owners here in the city.

In addition to locations like CN Rail, Lennard Taylor Design Studio and The Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, Winnipeg VR offers a personal message from Mayor Bowman, as well as immersive 360-video experiences of other local businesses including Frescolio and Across the Board Game Cafe.

Stores in 360-degree showcases

Chantal Hogue of Frescolio was one of the local female entrepreneurs selected to participate in the experience, and was impressed with how easy it was to set up and be featured as part of the app.

“It was really cool,” she recalls, discussing when Daniel and his team at Bit Space arrived to shoot a 360-degree video of the space. “Our retail space is really distinct. We’re an oil and vinegar tasting bar, and we sell it in bulk in big, round, stainless steel jugs which hold up to 10 litres. We have over 70 in the store and it’s really visually striking.”

“I was really interested in how quickly and simply they could set up with their tripod and take the 360 shot,” she adds. “We just hid in the back for a few minutes and then it was done.”

The birth of a virtual mall?

Lennard Taylor, who owns a fashion-forward boutique clothing store currently located at 246 McDermot, also participated in the experience. He sees the value of 360 video and virtual reality as the next step in online shopping.

“I think it’s hugely viable,” Taylor states. “VR is the future of shopping. In the next 10 to 15 years we’ll see the birth of the online virtual mall, and people will buy everything virtually. They’ll sit in their homes and buy it from there instead of the mall.”

Taylor dreams of a future where his customers can peruse his designer collections from the comfort of their own home, sipping a glass of wine and relaxing.

“I’m very interested in developing my own VR retail store,” he says. “I see tremendous value in it.”

Helen Halliday, the President and CEO of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, was equally as excited to participate in the experience. “It was an absolute honour for the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada to be profiled by the Winnipeg VR app,” she states.

“The museum continually aspires to engage our community, aviation enthusiasts, students and tourists in Manitoba’s unique aviation history through emerging technologies. Winnipeg VR provides an ideal platform as it shares the museum with potentially a new audience that we have not reached before,” Halliday adds.

Showcasing the best of the 204

When reflecting on her experience working with Bit Space and The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Hogue remembered being struck by something Mayor Brian Bowman said at a recent event.

“I remember being at a Winnipeg Chamber event where the Mayor was speaking,” she recalls, “and he reminded us about the National Geographic article about Winnipeg. I remember thinking that there are a lot of people who would be really surprised by that article who haven’t come here before.

"People who have never heard of Winnipeg could use the app and experience what it’s like to live and work in Winnipeg.”

For The Chamber, that's exactly the goal of this immersive technology. “(The app) is another marketing tool to support our members, as well as an engaging curated tour of Winnipeg for those looking at Winnipeg for investment opportunities,” states Remillard.

Winnipeg VR  was developed for Oculus and Cardboard, and is currently available on Android and iOS.

 

Up Next: Winnipeg's Sightline Innovation shares the benefits of 'MLaaS' adoption.

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About the Author

Alyson Shane

Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.

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