Imagine donning a pair of VR goggles and suddenly finding yourself submerged in a completely new environment. You could be diving deep in the ocean, experiencing the adrenaline rush of skydiving or learning how, for example, to operate complex machinery.
Tampere-based Leonidas* believes these immersive experiences have the power to transform education, training and entertainment, and is thus putting its money where its mouth is. One million euros’ worth, to be exact. The company’s seven-figure investment in the development of new VR products is also being complimented by the hiring of 20 new employees.
“VR and AR [augmented reality] are estimated to be a 120 billion-US dollar market by 2020,” explains Harri Lammi, Leonidas’ co-founder. “It is a huge market, but we are also personally very interested in VR technology. Our goal is to find areas in this sector where we can create new business, products and services that enable international growth.”
Along with an expanded budget and more personnel, Leonidas VR pursuits are also supported by Tekes**, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, as part of its research project on enhanced VR and 360-degree video analysis.
Leonidas is among the first companies in the world to apply this technology to education. Developed for traffic safety agency Liikenneturva in cooperation with Rakka Creative, the company’s first VR application combines 360-degree video and gamification to teach nine- to 12-year-olds traffic rules. Once the VR goggles have been donned, the youngsters ‘learn by doing’ as they seemingly bike about in a real city.
“The response from kids has been they much prefer this to studying from a book,” Lammi says, with no small understatement. “The experience combines a real environment with guidance. The kids can safely try out different scenarios and receive instant feedback.”
All the right pieces
Leonidas was started in 2008 by seven friends to introduce agile methods to software development. In the nine years since the company has grown from its CEO’s living room to an 18-employee operation specialised in web and mobile solutions.
VR was introduced to this mix last year, but for Leonidas’ founders the technology has been a passion for considerably longer. Two years ago, Lammi and Kari Peltola, Leonidas CEO, founded Virtual Reality Finland, a non-profit organisation that seeks to drive its development in Finland.
The duo is convinced VR is a major opportunity for the Nordic country. All the necessary pieces are already in place: strong hardware skills, successful gaming companies, world-renowned education expertise and mobile prowess cultivated by Nokia’s heritage.
And it is not only Finns who see this as an attractive combination. Magic Leap, the Florida-based AR startup backed by 1.4 billion US dollars in funding, opened an office in Helsinki last year.
“VR requires taking into account many different things,” Lammi explains. “There is the technology, but you also need to understand storytelling and soundscapes. In Finland we have a lot of experience in all of this.”
Seeing is believing
Leonidas sees VR as a gateway to global markets, but instead of a detailed internationalisation plan the company wants its products to speak for themselves. A big moment will be next autumn, as Lammi teases that Leonidas is set to launch a VR product guaranteed to raise interest far beyond Finnish borders.
While this is all he will reveal right now, Lammi emphasises the time is ripe for companies to invest in VR and AR.
“When I was a teenager I saw how the Internet developed,” he enthuses. “This is a similar moment where we have a new platform still looking to take its shape. Now is the time to explore these technologies and trial new things.
“When they start on a huge growth curve and you already have the experience, contacts and assets, it is easy to be at the forefront of the competition.”
*Merged with Wakeone in 2019
**Part of Business Finland since 2018