Since its incarnation over 80 years ago, RS Components has become the No. 1 high service distributor of electronics and maintenance products across Europe and Asia Pacific with over 2,500 suppliers of goods.
With a number of significant milestones achieved by the company (eg: the first components company to launch a specialist app for its branch network), and a strong emphasis on discovering new products and innovations that enter the market, a VR experience was required to help position RS at the forefront of technical innovation.
The brief for Austella was to create a series of VR experiences that would help educate employees and visitors on this rich heritage of innovation. The client wanted a mixture of deliverables, including live action 360 videos, a re-vamp of a previous mobile-based VR game, and an interactive Oculus Rift experience – of which we will look at in more detail here.
The Technical Challenge
There were two main challenges associated with this project:
- the interactive elements were to be controlled with the new Oculus Touch controllers, so we needed to build an understanding of how they would work both from a technical perspective but also on how typically non-gamers / VR-savvy individuals would handle the new technology.
- The interactive experience was created in Unreal Engine 4, the live action video and previous mobile game (that was upgraded to work with Oculus Rift) were built in Unity, however all experiences needed to be initiated through a single environment to save non-technical staff headaches in driving the experiences.
Through the development process we also discovered several design flaws, both with the technology and the design, that only became apparent through testing. For example:
- The touch controllers lost tracking when the user’s body obscured the sensors. Therefore many iterations of the virtual environment were created to minimise interactions that would place hands in a position to where the sensor view was blocked.
- The original design used a time travel capsule to transport users from one decade to the next; it became evident that the virtual design incorporated a seat in the capsule, however interactive elements required the user to be standing. Alternating between standing and seated when wearing a VR headset is not advised!
Overcoming the Challenges
The challenges were met by iteration and testing, in short. The touch controllers whilst appearing intuitive to the tech-savvy user are not intuitive for the rest.
We simplified the experience dramatically and redesigned elements that posed difficulties. The sensor array was tested extensively such that we could design the virtual space and its assets to ensure we were within the extremities of their range, carefully crafting interactive elements that minimised obscuring of the sensors. There were still cases where users did something they weren’t expected to, so we had to design a system that alerted the user when they were blocking the sensor view and enabled them to quickly and easily reset their position within the virtual space.
The challenge of Unreal and Unity executables within the same app was solved by creating a wrapper within Unreal that enabled the Unity files to be unwrapped and executed.
“What started as an idea to bring the legacy of our great company to life, today is a centre piece at our reception area showroom. Initially seen as novelty, Virtual Reality became an important engagement vehicle. Our corporate headquarters in the heart of London see regular visits by customers, suppliers and investors. The VR Time Travel experience allows our VIP visitors to experience the 80-year history of RS Components, a fantastic tale of technology that could not be told through yet another corporate video. The ingenious concept of a time capsule crafted by Austella takes the experience to a completely new level, allowing to extend the journey to project the future and bring our ambitions to life.
This memorable experience helps to connect with our brand in a unique, fun way. With the great feedback received we decided to feature the VR Time Travel Experience in our Innovation Hub in Corby for employees and visitors, in RS Local Branches for Customers, and in our mobile Innovation Truck – a 35-tonne lorry bringing Technology to Schools in support of STEM and Engineering.”
Mike Brojak, Vice President, 10X Innovation, Electrocomponents plc.